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CORVIDS or CROWS including MAGPIES

Corvids are a group of birds all belonging to the Corvidae family, sometimes called the crow family of which there are over 120 species. Corvus is the genus, which is Latin for crow.

In the UK there are eight species and you may well encounter them all in West Dunbartonshire, except the chough which only occurs further south down the west coast of Scotland. Those that you may see include the carrion crow, hooded crow, jackdaw, rook, raven, magpie and jay. 

Ravens are part of the same genus as crows, Corvus from the same family Corvidae, but they are their own species. Ravens do not form their own taxonomic group within the Corvus genus. It's getting technical. Ravens look very much like large carrion crows and particularly if they are immature, can be very easily confused.

Crows in general are associated with various misdemeanors ranging from taking young birds of other species to pecking out the eyes of lambs and in history, also pecking at corpses of the fallen in battlefields. But this is claimed as a great exageration and inaccuracy. They are little different to many wild animals which are opportunist when it comes to food. 

The Bird Fact website tells us that in modern western culture, crows symbolize death, the afterlife, wisdom, intelligence, adaptability, prescience, fortune, destiny, transformation, and the future. Crow symbolism is both positive and negative, and they’re seen as both good and bad omens depending on where in the world you are.

The Ravens of the Tower of London are a group of at least six captive ravens (currently nine) resident at the Tower of London. Their presence is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower; a superstition holds that if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.

We all know what crow's nests look like. Right? Are you sure that you are indeed looking at crows nests? Don't get confused by mistletoe which attaches itelf to trees and grows in fairly large bunches and can look surprisingly similar. 

A magpie nest in Lomond Industrial Estate. Other corvid nests are similar. Note the jumble of twigs with a hollow on top.

Here we have jackdaw niests. Lots of them in a rowdy neighbourhood.

Don't confuse mistletow for crow nests. They look so similar in winter. These are clusters of living although dormant growth with straggling bits hanging down.

If you have even the slightest of interest in thie amazing range of birds, give yourself a treat and get hold of this book : Corvus: A Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson. You will be even more impressed by them and even endeared to them. The following is taken directly from the promotional wording for the book.

One spring, many years ago, Esther Woolfson's daughter rescued a fledgling rook. That rook, named Chicken, quickly established herself as part of the family, and other birds, including an irascible cockatiel and a depressive parrot, soon followed. But it was the corvids - members of the crow family - who amazed Woolfson with their personality and their capacity for affection. This classic blend of memoir and natural history combines the author's fascination with all things avian, from the mechanics of flight to the science of birdsong, with her funny, tender stories of life among the birds. [Amazon]. 

The rook Chicken was adopted by Woolfson as a fledgling and she began feeding the bird a diet of minced meat, eggs, and nuts. Chicken's full name is Madame Chickeboumskaya, after an American drag queen. Chicken has a habit of hoarding food in boot laces, using a table to incubate infertile eggs, and following Woolfson around the house. The rook is able to go wherever she wants to in the house and she "sleeps, bathes, roosts, and preens" in Woolfson's office. Chicken acts similar to a cat or dog and was 18 years old when the book was written. [Wiki].


RAVENS : Corvus corax

Ravens are often confused with the carrion crow. if you see them together, you will imediately notice that the raven has a much heavier beak. In fact adult ravens are massive compared to the other crows, but the younger birds are extremely similar to the carrion crow so you may need to be able to compare them to be sure. As they mature, the birds beaks become more impressive and heavier. They eat arrion, mammals, birds and eggs, insects and other invertebrates, but may also enjoy some morsels intended for other birds such as fat balls. 

Ravens are usually seen singularly or in pairs. Compared to similar birds, they can be identified in flight by their size and wings, the leading edge of which is serrated with noticeable individual feathers. Unlike birds of prey with similar wings which enable them to be quieter, ravens can be heard in flight.


CARRION CROWS : Corvus corone

Where to see them : Widespread across West Dunbartonshire.They can be confused with younger rooks.

The carrion crow is a clever bird! Although it can be wary of people, you may find it coming quite close for food. The one in the photo below lives above Renton. It recognises the car returning home and will wait patiently for a treat of fat balls. It has the strange habit of burying the fatballs under tufts of grass. Invariably these are found by other birds. Their nautural diet is carrion, insects, worms, seeds, fruit, eggs and any scraps.

They are usually seen singularly, but sometimes can be seen in pairs or small groups.

To distinguish carrion crows and younger rooks consider : 

Adult Rooks are easy to identify thanks to the bare, greyish-white skin around the base of their bill. The rest of their plumage is all black.

A juvenile Rook, however, is similar to a Carrion Crow as it doesn't develop the bare bill-base until its second calendar year. If you're not sure, look for the Rook's characteristic flat forehead, peaked crown, ruffled drooping belly feathers and feathered thighs.

Rooks also have a straighter, more pointed bill, unlike the Carrion Crow's thicker, blunter and more curved bill. [BTO]. 

This bird is several years old and has visited a particular home near Renton to get handouts for years. In recent years it been accompanied by two smaller younger birds, probably its own chicks, since now matured. Photographic records suggest, presuming that this is the same one, that in 2024 it was 12 years old. It disappeared in the summer of that year. The web notes that a typical lifespan is just 4 years old. Perhaps the rural environment and hand-outs in bleaker times gave this one a good chance of a longer happier life. We like to think so.

Carrion crows are often seen in groups, but not large flocks as other crows. The one in this picture appears to be one of the now matured offspring of the crow shown above it. It is now fully grown, but not quite as big as its parent bird.

A carrion crow on a chimney pot. At this distance and lighting conditions, it can so easily be confused with other crows as described below.

While rooks tend to gather in large flocks, carrion crows are usually in small groups or by themselves. This one seen in Glasgow is perhaps more used to people and opportunitistic feeding in a park, so was in a group and followed people around for hand-outs. You can clearly see the feathered base to its beak ( in contrast to that of a young rook).


HOODED CROWS : Corvus cornix

Where to see them : In flocks in fields or roosting in trees.

You are unlikely to see a hooded crow in West Dunbartonshire as they frequent North and West Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. (Don't confuse this bird with the jackdaw which has a hood of sorts. They are very different in size and colouration). Winter migrants from Scandinavia are sometimes spotted in eastern England and eastern Scotland. Having said this, you just never know. Birds tend to move around. The RSPB indicates that they just may come here outside of their breeding season.

It is included here as it can be confused with the carrion crow which it certainly resembles in size and form. The hooded crow is grey in colour with a black head, wings and tail. 


JACKDAWS : Corvus monedula

Where to see them : In flocks in fields or roosting in trees.

The jackdaw is often confused with other crows. It is smaller than those described above. It is black, but the sheen of its plumage, can make it look lighter. The pale eyes are also noticeable. The jackdaw call is a familiar hard 'tchack' from which it gets its name. It will commonly nest in chimneys, buildings, rock crevices and tree holes.

Jackdaws cavort on the gravel next to the Clyde while looking for morsels.

Some jackdaws on a crow-stepped gable. Such an architectural feature is not called that for nothing, you know. (Picture taken at Linlithgow Palace).

A jackdaw happily looks for lunch on the Bowling Basin lawn.

Jackdaw lunch from the overflowing wheelie bins of Alexandria.


ROOKS : Corvus frugilegus

Where to see them : Widespread across West Dunbartonshire, but note that younger birds can easily be confused with other crows.

This is a very distinctive bird with a bare, greyish-white face, thinner beak and peaked head. Yet it is often confused with the carrion crow. The bare area at the base of the beak only appears in adults and the near fully grown young look more like small carrion crows. Rooks are very sociable birds and you're not likely to see one on its own. They feed and roost in flocks in winter, often together with jackdaws.

See the notes above to distinguish between carrion crows and younger rooks.


MAGPIES : Pica pica

Where to see them : Almost everywhere where there is open grass, but close to trees. 

You won't confuse the magpie with other crows. You may not have even realised that it was one. Their strikingly black and white plumage and ever active almost mischievious behavior makes them very noticeable and set them apart. They are noisy, chattering away as they look for food and investigating what other birds are eating, perhaps trying to steal it.They are scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers. Their challenging, almost arrogant attitude and tendency to rob the fledglings from the nests of other birds has given them a bad name. But in reality, their behaviour is little different from many birds. Non-breeding birds will gather together in flocks. You may well even find some playing chase and catch-me-if-can. A little rebellious, but fun bird to have around.

A magpie turns over a cow pat to look for tasty grubs.

A magpie chick has fallen from its nest. It safely made it to the shelter of some undergrowth where it was hopefully found and nutured by its parents.


JAYS : Garrulus glandarius

Where to see them : Usually see in or near trees or swooping between them. They like garden birdbaths.

Have you seen a jay today?

These are striking birds, yet not often noticed. You may not even have realised that they are also corvids. They tend to be found in West Dunbartonshire in pairs or small numbers and keep to wooded areas or gardens. They can be somewhat shy, keeping close to cover, but will occasionly dart down to bird feeders or bird baths. Sometimes their screaming call alerts you to their presence. The smallest of the local corvus, They are a pale reddish brown with bluish black barred markings on wings and tail. What makes them colourful is the splash of blue on their wings as they dart between trees. 

They eat mainly acorns, nuts, seeds and insects, but also nestlings of other birds and small mammals. Jays are famous for their acorn feeding habits and in the autumn you may see them burying acorns for retrieving later in the winter.


BIRD FACT website : https://birdfact.com/articles/crow-symbolism

COUNTRYFILE website : https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/birds/british-crow-guide-how-to-identify-each-species-and-where-to-see/

DISCOVER WILDLIFE website : https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/birds/corvids-of-the-british-isles/

THE GUARDIAN : A murder of crows: Chris Packham and the countryside war over bird killings : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/14/a-of-crows-chris-packham-and-the-countryside-war-over-bird-killings

RSPB : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/crow-family/ This differentiates between the crow types and gives detail information on each.

WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvus & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravens_of_the_Tower_of_London

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