Crow - corvus corone
Long before biologists worked out that the crow family sat at or near the top of the avian evolutionary tree –
and way before Darwin enlightened us about the origin of species - ordinary people had realised that crows were
extraordinarily intelligent birds. Many also decided that crows were also evil, or at the very least, birds of ill omen.
Older readers may recall an episode of the old BBC comedy Steptoe and Son in which Steptoe senior claims to have been
given precognition of the imminent death of a neighbour, after seeing a crow perch on her rooftop. The lady soon passes
away and father Steptoe points out that he had foretold this sad event. “But Dad” says Harold “she was 105”.
However, the association of crows with death is a little more logical than this and comes, presumably, from their
appearance on the scene of battlefields or other locations when, not to mince words, a lot of food suddenly became
available. Granted that it couldn’t have been a pretty sight to watch crows dismember human corpses , by clearing
up carrion they were actually performing a very useful service – in fact an essential one in days long before body
bags, refrigeration and morgues.
Recent research has shown that crows can count, as well as use tools. Their practice of caching food (ie secreting it,
for later retrieval) demonstrates that they have extraordinary memories. And the fact that birds have been observed
re-hiding food first cached when they knew they were being watched by potential thieves (like other crows) surely
speaks of what can only be called logical thought.
Crows are extraordinarily opportunistic feeders. One was recorded feeding on a sheep corpse as it floated down a river!
In the Arctic, crows have pulled up human fishing lines from ice holes to remove the bait. Closer to home, crows drop
shellfish on to concrete to break them open or dunk hard, stale bread in water . I’m sure our Kingston crows are very
clever also but I haven’t seen them do very much to prove it - although the closely related jackdaws have taken to
shaking our neighbour’s bird feeder until it spills seed on the ground where they can eat it!