“There’s a murder in the back field,” said Bunty. I knew what he was referring to, and grabbed my camera on the way to view the spectacle. We get a lot of murders around here. When the visibility is good, and there has been rain the day before, we’ll see one out there: a murder of crows, gathered in the field and on the trees and the garden wall, and all over the roof of the cottage. They are looking for worms, but it’s a very Hitchcockian sight. However, they have a sixth sense about cameras: all I have to do to make the whole kaboodle take to the air is contemplate taking a picture. I snapped this one by hiding behind the garden wall and then popping up and clicking with blind hope.
At our local shopping centre, there lives a rook with a broken wing. I call him Hopalong. He can’t fly but he can jump quite high, and he lives by scavenging bins around the car parks. I don’t know where he goes at night, but the place is surrounded by trees and thick shrubbery, and the shops have awnings that keep the weather off. When the snows came, and everything froze iron-hard, Bunty and I went looking for him a few times. We didn’t find him, and thought he had perished. But one afternoon, there he was again, hopping between thawing snow-patches, looking sprightly as ever. I love the adaptability of crows.
It’s odd that the collective noun for them is a “murder”, considering that they feed on Chinese takeaways and small invertebrates. I suppose their black feathers and wicked-looking beaks do little for their image. Perhaps this is the real reason behind the proposed nationwide crow cull discussed on Ninjameys’ zoology blog. They are being blamed for a drop in songbird population, because crows apparently feed on other birds’ eggs. The songbirds around our cottage nest in dense hedgerows or hollows that crows are too big to reach into, wheareas invertebrates are abundant and easy to catch; but crows are opportunists, and I am sure they would eat eggs, given the right circumstances.
I think about our rooks in the spring, playing chasing games across the lawn among the bluetits and finches and robins; scavenging for muesli scattered by the guinea pigs, and splashing each other with puddle-water. These are playful, sapient birds. They belong to the same family as jays and bee eaters, whose appearance fills people with joy. Nobody views jays with the suspicion allotted to their black-clad cousins, and I am sure that, though they are also crows, they will not be included in the cull.
Scotland and my mountainous Welsh homeland are both full of hunters. Sometimes they do it to put food on their tables; but sometimes, it feels as though people are just looking for something to kill.