Friday, 10 January 2014


Members of the crow family are to be found on Sliabh Mannan in considerable numbers. 

Probably most numerous are rooks (Corvus frugilegus), whose noisy flocks build villages of untidy nests in the tops of the tallest trees in the surrounding woodland.  They are very sociable and commonly go around in large groups.  Quite often we see a collective search for food in grass fields, with several birds all speaking at the same time.  The uproar sounds just like a session of parliament and it is easy to imagine votes of censure being passed by the assembled birds against farmers who regard them as pests and shoot at them in the lambing season. 

Rooks (above left) are easily distinguished from the similar-sized carrion crows (Corvus corone) (right) by their grey beaks and grey patch of skin on the face. 

The crows tend to appear in much smaller numbers, often ones and twos. They are very hard to photograph because of the uniform blackness of their plumage, from which it is very difficult to pick out clear features.

Magpies (Pica pica) do a very good impression of being always dressed for dimmer, but since dinner is likely to include small birds and nestlings they are not often welcome guests. They are rumoured to harbour larcenous intentions as well.  From a bird photographer's point of view however they do offer at least the potential for better compositions than their all-black relatives.

There is at least one pair of ravens (Corvus corax) in the neighbourhood, but so far I have seen them only in flight and photographed them poorly.  The easiest distinguishing features of this bird are the wedge shaped tail and 'cronk' call note.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) families have moved into a couple of disused chimneys of our house, which seem to be large enough to contain nests for these smaller members of the crow family.  This was not too much of a problem until the night when one fledgling fell down the chimney and landed sootily in the bedroom!  Fortunately I was able to release it without too much difficulty or damage.   The jackdaws, with their shorter overall length and stubbier wings seem to be capable of some remarkable aerobatics.

I have mentioned in an earlier post how good the crow family are at mobbing buzzards.  Usually the aggrieved raptor will just lumber stolidly away, doing its best to appear unconcerned.  Recently however I observed an interesting variant.  The buzzard simply climbed in a spiral until it exceeded the operational ceiling of the mob, all of whom promptly dropped away and descended again to the tree tops.