Thursday, 10 May 2012

Corvine Capers

Being at home a lot of late, I have been amazed by how many bird-strikes we have on the windows. We had two on Tuesday morning alone and the bangs were loud enough that from upstairs, I feared it was a bottle of my elderflower wine exploding and had to go and check my "cellar" for shards of glass and spilt liquid.

But now, there on the window, next to the transfer of a kestrel which I affixed in a vain attempt to prevent such mishaps, was the outline of a bird, a pigeon to be precise, beak agape and wings outstretched like the imprint of a surprised angel, arrest in flight by this invisible, unyielding barrier. I tried to take a picture of it but it is remarkably difficult to photograph an imprint on glass when there is a garden for the camera to focus on in the background. Perhaps someone with a knowledge of photography can kindly explain how I set the camera up to do this.
Pigeon splat on the kitchen window.

The pigeons, are, I hasten to add, robust enough to survive these impacts and don't even have the intelligence to look embarrassed by the indignity. They are constant attendees at the buffet of dropped sunflower seeds discarded by the goldfinches and bullfinches on the bird feeder. It costs quite a lot to keep this topped up but it has been a lovely comfort to watch the birds during my recovery.
Goldfinches: Too beautiful, I feel, to be native to England.
Except the pigeons which, come Autumn, will almost certainly be culled and made into a pie by my son who detests them with a passion for their greed and lack of grace when taking off, due to their bloated bellies but rather likes the taste of pigeon breast. We may as well recoup at least some of our investment in bird seed and they do look rather plump and tasty.

So, as I sat there with my cup of tea and slice of fruit cake for my elevenses, a commotion in the garden caught my attention and I wish I had had my camera on hand to capture it.
There are crows nesting out in the tops of the alders next to the river out of the front of the house. These crows are rather aggressive and will dive-bomb walkers with small dogs. I confess, the sight of a pekinese or Yorkshire terrier crawling along on its belly in terror of the assault from above is utterly hilarious to behold.

But these crows also have a wicked side. They seem to take great delight in waiting in the maple trees out the back, or upon television aerials, until the pigeons are feeding on the lawn, and then swooping down and driving them off and into obstacles such as the fence or my windows.

Without my resorting to undue anthropomorphism, it seems to me that they then retire to a nearby roof, seemingly to cackle and laugh amongst themselves at their sport. They truly do seem to have a mischievous and slightly cruel sense of humour at the expense of the stupid pigeons.

My research seems to indicate that crows have far larger brains than is necessary for creatures of that size and this appears to make them exhibit some quite sophisticated behaviours (such as tool making, always assumed to be a measure of intelligence and largely unique to humans and the occasional chimpanzee).
Indeed, a colleague was recounting to me over lunch earlier this year how during a snowy period, he observed a crow sliding down a snowdrift over and over again, an action which could not possibly have been the result of any desire except that for fun and entrtainment.

I often wondered if animals did things just for fun. Ok, we ave all observed dogs chasing about for the sheer joy of it and cats having a "funny five minutes" around the furniture at dusk. But crows really do seem to have a laugh. I rather admire them for their attitude. And oh! What was that! Not another one, surely?! Let me go and check the windows.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Pete:
How very splendid to think that, possibly unknown to us, the birds that we observe about us are, for the greater part of their time, having fun. We should like to think so. However, the seagulls which we see when in Brighton always appear to be of a serious nature and can, when scavenging for food, become quite aggressive. But so interesting what you say about crows. We shall look at them and think of them in a new light!

We are with your son in our enjoyment of pigeon breast.

PerlNumquist said...

Indeed, I hear often of some postman or resident of some sleepy suburban street who is being terrorised by an evil territorial seagull preventing them from going about their business. My usual thought is "But surely that can be cured by the judicious use of a cricket bat!"

Librarian said...

Crows have been subject to intelligence and behavioural tests many times; not that long ago, there was something about them on telly, and really seem to be quite on the clever side (not only in terms of tool-making, which was also shown in the program).
Here, they have a colony on and around the water tower near where I live. It is a great vantage point for them to observe anything from walkers (with or without dogs) to other birds, and I often see one or two of them, sometimes even more, attacking a buzzard. They always win, because the buzzard is not stupid, either; he/she wouldn't risk injury to a wing, because it would mean death by starvation when he/she can't hunt.

Pigeons here are mostly quite docile and nice, making a lot less noise than the sparrow conference taking place in the hedge between our garden and the next every afternoon, sometimes for hours.

And blackbirds - to wake up to their song in spring is second best only to... well, I'm not going to go there now.