The Carrion Crow


A large black bird that feeds on the carcasses of beasts

Dr Samuel Johnson


I didn’t think this shot would work. My little Kodak EasyShare was on maximum 5x zoom. But when I looked at the image on screen, I decided it was worth posting. It anyway illustrates an important fact about carrion crows. They are very hard to sneak up on, which is why I couldn’t get any closer and take a better shot.

The next second it was gone, flying off with its guttural ‘kraaar’ call.

Carrion crows are solitary birds unless, that is, they have a mate. This one does have a consort. The pair’s territory includes Windmill Hill, the Linden Field and Townsend Field behind our house; at least this is where I see them foraging together. They are usually a little way apart, rooting  through the grass. They are also notorious egg thieves and snatchers of poultry and pheasant poults, and so are much despised by country folk in general, and game keepers in particular.

When separated, the crows call one to the other. The single ‘kraaar’ that echoes through the trees, or across the fields. It is  a melancholy sound, but also a wake-up call. I find myself instantly responding, scanning the landscape, tuning in to its resonance. What’s going on out there?  Perhaps I have crows in my ancestry.

These birds are very clever. In nest-building season they perch in the tops of trees and watch where the other birds are building their nests.  They also, as their name and Dr Johnson suggests, eat dead animals. Well somebody has to clean up the environment.

You can tell them apart from rooks by their longer, sleeker profile. Rooks are altogether shaggier with a long, greyish bill and a face-patch. Rooks of course hang out in crowds, some of their rookeries being known to have several thousand nests.

But all in all, I like the crows best. They teach me to be watchful.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

26 thoughts on “The Carrion Crow

  1. Wanna photograph crows, albeit regular old crows? Come to LA. It’s been maybe 15 years that they all decided that urban living is just up their alley. If you see an angry old man muttering and cursing at the crows eating plantlings on his lawn then it’s probably me.

    1. Oh dear, Bumba. There is definitely a point when birds become a pest. Sounds as if they more than reached it in your neck of the woods. Here we have pigeons. They are a menace from both ends.

      1. I think historically crows never went into cities. Their incursion into LA looked like a masse decision, like they had a referendum. They do very well in town – on top of the food chain, on top of all the trees cawing and squawking. LA also boasts a population of escaped parrots.Talk about squawking.

      2. Well I know rooks hold parliaments, so maybe your crows have adopted similar democratic principles. They knew a good thing when they saw it – a never ending supply of food- waste and otherwise.

    1. Crows, though wary of humans, will actually go into gardens to forage. I would think there should be the odd crow along the river near your house, and certainly up on the Common.

  2. All our crows are entirely black. The differ only by size and color of beak, feet, or eyes … which you can’t see from a distance. And they all make the same sounds, too. Mostly, we have fish crows, the smallest of the lot. A few ravens … which you can tell because they are rather big. All the other crows? Unless I have them in my sights — binoculars or camera — they look pretty much the same. We don’t seem to have big flocks of anything these days, except sometimes geese.

  3. My mom’s brother Dave loves crows so much, he feeds them table scraps in the yard, like pets. And a friend recently taught me how to distinguish them from ravens, and nothing like hearing a raven take flight, the sound of its wings setting off, deep in the forest, alone. Have you heard the call they make that sounds like a drop in the water echoing in a cave? It’s a deep, exotic clicking, dripping sound – that’s the best I can describe it, and still quite can’t. I have a friend who does ‘environmental sound,’ field recordings, and together at another friend’s deep in Eastern Washington we recorded one with my friend’s good microphone. I’d never heard anything like it, entrancing. I can see why American Indians thought so fondly of them, ascribed personalities and legends – there’s so much in the black marble of their eyes I think, and the bluish iridescence in their wings, gorgeous creatures.

    1. I’m longing to better aquainted with ravens. I’ve only spotted them from afar, so not heard their call, or indeed their take off sounds. I can now imagine them, thanks to your descriptions. (Must go and look on YouTube, there’s bound to be some footage/wingage there). They are of course, as I’m sure you know, associated with the creation of light on earth (stealing the sun) in North American/Inuit legends. Compelling chaps in all sorts of ways.

    1. They don’t seem to be very common round here where you might expect them to be more plentiful. At least I’m assuming the pair I see is the same pair. According to Bumba in the comments they’re all on his lawn in L.A.

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