Two months into lockdown I was awoken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of a heart stopping shriek coming from our garden.
I peered out of our bedroom window and saw a crow perched on the branches of our apple tree. The uncanny noise was coming from him (her?) and I can only describe it as crying. On the lawn I saw a large pile of black feathers. The bird cried and cried – clearly mourning its loss of a partner or a parent. The sound was heart rending. It continued for a very long time before it finally stopped and only then was I able to get back to sleep.
The next morning I went out into the garden and witnessed the pile of feathers though fortunately could not see any body bits. I gingerly swept the lot up and put it into our garden bin.
Since then I have learned a lot about crows because two have become regular visitors to our garden. Carrion crows form monogamous pairs, who stay together for life so we are probably witnessing a crow partnership. Maybe the one I saw being mourned was a crow baby that had been got at by a fox or a cat? Or did one crow lose his/her partner and quickly found another one?
I watch the crows from our kitchen window as they come and go throughout the day. Usually they bring their own bread and dip it into our bird bath before eating. I am sure my blog followers will know that birds should not be given dry bread but will happily and safely eat bread when it’s wet. This is because the food swells in their stomachs and would very likely kill them. However, if you pre-soak the bread then it is already swollen and thus causes no damage. If I do nothing else today, this information of mine might save some poor bird’s life.
A number of times we have seen the crows with bagels. Not the mini bagels. Full size ones. I kid you not. The other day one of them brought a toasted bagel! Left it in the bird bath to soften and then returned for it later. The bagel was so big that it took up the whole of the bird bath thus deterring other birds of being able to use it. Have you noticed that there is definitely a hierarchy of birds? The smaller birds kowtow to the bigger ones. Crows get first dibs at the bird bath, followed by doves and pigeons. Smaller birds come much lower down in the pecking order – maybe that’s where the expression pecking order originally came from?
Another interesting expression is, “stone the crows”. The older ones among you will remember that this expression was popularised in the 50s and 60s by the radio and television comedian, Tony Hancock (1924-68). He tended to use it in its shortened form of “stone me!” It’s an exclamation of amazement, disbelief or disgust as in, “stone me – the crow’s taken my bagel!” I’d be pleased to hear from anyone out there who has any idea how this expression might have originated.
It’s fascinating watching the antics of the crows. I’ve seen them hide food in our hedge and return for it at another time. The other day I saw one of the crows searching for something he had hidden in the guttering just outside my study window. Suddenly he swooped down and picked up a large digestive biscuit and promptly flew off with it in his beak. I do wonder where they’re getting all this stuff from? I find it hard to believe that someone out there is feeding the birds digestive biscuits and bagels! Yesterday we noticed that our bird bath was suddenly attracting wasps. I looked closer and discovered that the edges of the bird bath were smeared with jam – presumably from the stolen bagel!
Bird watching has always given me pleasure. But never more so than in lockdown. If the bird bath dries out I’ll fill it up with water so that the crows have somewhere to dunk their bread. Other birds visit too. There is a big fat collared dove who likes to drink from the bird bath. He then turns his back and poos in it. The dove is so fat that the bird bath basin wobbles when he sits on it. He also displaces all the water and I end up having to refill it – at the same time clearing out the poo, though I don’t think poo in the bird bath is any kind of deterrent to the crows and all the other birds who visit it on a regular basis.
When I was at school we learned a song about a carrion crow. “A carrion crow sat on an oak, derry derry derry derry down o – watching a tailor mend a cloak” is how it went. In music lessons we all had a song book. The boys in our class took great pleasure in going through the book and altering the words in the song titles. “Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I”, from The Tempest (Shakespeare) was a favourite.
Time for some bird spotting. See you later!
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems