Cornish crows Gill Wild

Gill Wild

It would appear so. Crows are a family of birds that are known to be the most intelligent (the biggest brain-to-body ratio of any bird). And one of just four species that can make tools; humans, chimpanzees, orangutans (who make rain umbrellas from leaves) and crows (who sharpen twigs to scoop worms out of tree holes). In Japan, crows have been filmed dropping nuts onto busy roads, waiting until a car runs over the nuts, then flying down to fetch their dinner!) Choughs are Cornish crows.

How to Know a Crow is a biography of the world’s brainiest bird. Crows are always near us (shouting from lamp-posts, poking around on lawns and taking a bright-eyed interest in everything that moves). So enter the world of these brainy birds, from the moment a baby crow pokes her egg tooth through her shell and emerges from the nest. Learn about crow families, communicationsand play.

Although mostly solitary, crows are even known to hold ‘funerals‘ for dead birds. They peck the dead birds, ward away predators trying to eat the corpse and even make cawing noises, like a hymn. There are a few species of crows in England:

Carrion crows are the ones you most likely recognise, with black glossy feathers. Hooded crows are similar (but with grey bodies) but tend to live more in Scotland.

Rooks have long pale pointed beaks and shaggy feathers (one wildlife charity describes them as looking like ‘baggy shorts’). Ravens are larger and have big thick beaks, and when flying a diamond-shaped tail. Jackdaws are small and black, with glossy grey feathers. They are more sociable than the other crows.

Jackdaws are often seen swaggering about, as if they’re carrying a couple of radiators. They use eye-contact to communicate. That’s why you can be walking along and a jackdaw will look you right in the eye, like he’s reading your mind and make you feel slightly unsettled before flying off. Matt Sewell 

Magpies are known for their black-and-white feathers and distinctive call. It’s not true they ‘steal shiny things’, they are just intelligent and curious. One American birding charity says they are more likely to steal your sandwich, than your silver! Another myth is the ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’ belief. This comes from an ancient nursery rhyme, and has no meaning. In fact, in China to see one magpie is good luck!

Jays don’t look like crows, as they are brown with beautiful blue patches, almost tropical-looking. They are very shy so it’s rare to see them, though they will be around in the woods, you may hear their loud screeches. Like squirrels, they hide nuts away, and remember where they hid them, to go back later on.

ravens in the Tower of London

It’s a little-known fact that the Tower of London is also a castle. Home to many beheadings (including poor Anne Boleyn) today it’s a massive tourist attraction and home to the ravens. Although some people understandably have concerns over clipped wings, these intelligent birds seem pretty happy and can fly off if they want to, but don’t. Raven George went elsewhere after trying to eat TV aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub. But the others remain, not least due to being fed special treats of biscuits soaked in blood?

how to help injured or orphaned crows

Like all birds, observe for up to an hour, as likely parents are watching and still feeding chicks. If not, place young crows in a high tree and observe. If the bird is injured or the parents don’t return (or if the bird has few/no feathers so is too young to stay in the tree), call your local wildlife rescue.

Crows like to nest in the same chimneys each year, and some can fall to the ground or die of heat (it’s illegal to light fires if you know crows are nesting, so use a qualified sweep at end of each summer). Experts recommend chimney cowls and chimney caps which also help prevent smoke blowing back into your home. Install correctly so oxygen can circulate. 

Bird spikes deter some birds, but clever crows often take them away to use as material for building nests. Signs of nesting crows in chimneys include twigs, grass, leaves and hair falling into fire grates. Use gloves if removing bird droppings.

To deter unwelcome crows from gardens (stealing eggs, making a noise) know this is nature. If you don’t want them (say you have cats), keep food and rubbish sealed to avoid scavenging. And keep feline friends indoors at dawn and dusk.

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