Sunday, 1 June 2014

The roof community

Among my most treasured and favourite acquaintances, visitors always welcome, I would include Benedict and Mrs Corbie – a pair of crows who live near us and drop by every day for breakfast – and lunch and supper as well if they’re on offer.

Their society is a delight. I love crows. Intelligent birds, avid problem-solvers, they recognize human faces and allocate names to their human friends. They are masters of cross-species communication (both by telepathy and by gesture and demonstration), curious, friendly and loyal.

Just at the present time, things are tough in our garden for Benedict and Mrs Corbie.

A pair of jackdaws is vying for the spot on the old capped chimney where the Corbies were hoping to build their nest, and in recent times those jackdaws have stepped up their harassment – buzzing and dive-bombing incessantly – to a level that’s wearing us all out.

The jackdaws used to call by to bully the Corbies, but this weekend they have begun patrolling the roof with a vengeance,

striding along the ridge tiles

drinking from the gutters so they don’t have to leave

keeping vigil on the chimney pots

The Corbies don’t stand a chance.

A pair of herring gulls living on the roof next door also competes more fiercely than before for any corvine tidbits put out for the Corbies. They have a good reason, though.

And the seagulls are courteous and patient about helping themselves to food.

They watch

and wait

asking nicely and approaching cautiously. I let them have something even though it’s really for the Corbies.

After all, since the jackdaws are right there on the roof the minute the seagulls go out for their groceries, it’s better if Mama Gull has supplies near home so she doesn’t have to be away too long.

There are also sparrows who come and go under the roof tiles next door, but they declined to sit for their portraits today.

I hope in due course to be able to post photos of the Corbies, but with all the commotion and harassment involved in competing for a roost, Benedict spotted my camera, said “Whoa! What the hey?” and flew off without his afternoon tea.

This was the best I could do. Can you see him?


But though wary and shy, he is a good friend. He is well used to me and Hebe, and where Hebe goes the cats are usually not far behind.  This morning early as I sat on an upturned flowerpot, guarding the Corbies’ breakfast from opportunistic seagulls and magpies, waiting for Benedict to turn up, suddenly came a short snarling row from the garden next door. In a flash, two things happened. The old dog fox (who also visits us most days, whose food we put out at dusk at the end of the garden in a private, secluded dell) jumped up onto the wall dividing our garden from the neighbours, still snarling over his shoulder at the adversary who’d startled him. On the instant, Benedict was there in the lowest branch of the nearest tree, roaring such threats and insults that Brother Reynard hurried away, intimidated. Watching down into the darkness under the trees beyond Komorebi, I saw a foxy face appear in the shadows, he still scenting the delicious smell of cat-food in the bowl on the grass. But he thought I looked dangerous – me and my corvine friend; so he withdrew, silently.

The adversary who’d startled Brother Reynard? Our black cat Miguel, who appeared over the garden wall once Benedict had scared off the fox, puffed out to twice his size and strolling up to the house with a nonchalant swagger.

Since the Corbies like to have breakfast shortly after sun-up, there’s usually no-one else around to take photos when they come by, but if I can I’ll get some pictures for you. They are the most beautiful birds, and dear friends. I hope despite the territorial war going on, they can find a nook of their own that suits them well.


Judy Olson said...

Thank you for the lively description! We do not have jackdaws here in the northeast U.S., neither have we rooks or magpies! I feel a bit deprived. I so enjoy our ravens, though.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) I'd love to see a raven - the largest of the corvids.
We have rooks in East Sussex but I haven't seen any right near us. Rooks and crows are the same size, but rooks have grey beaks and are very social birds living in large colonies. Crows are shiny black all over, beak included, and are solitary birds. You just see the two of them - Mr & Mrs Crow - together. We do have a large framed picture of a rook in our house - this one:
In case that link doesn't come up for you, It's Rudi Hurzlmeier's “Krähe” (though he's wrong: it's a rook - "Saatkrähe" - not a crow).

Judy Olson said...

Pen, that illustration is amazing! Thank you so much, rooks to me are pieces in a chess game! Ravens live here overhead for the most part. We see them flying, and hear their calls and wings flapping. I always say "hello" when I hear them. Once in awhile, we'll see them on the side of the road. Crows more common in the towns and cities, we live "in the woods". Thank you for writing, you are a treasure.

gail said...

Hi Pen, I have two top notch pigeons who visit daily for a feed of rolled oats. Some very shy little pee wees also have a snack if they think no one is around. During summer we have lots of skinks who love to get inside if I accidently leave the door open. They are so sweet and really quite friendly. Foxes are not really welcome here because they are particularly partial to chickens so we discourage them. Although our girls get locked in each evening and though they free range their yard is securely fenced to keep Mr Fox out. I think you would also love our beautiful parrots and pink and grey galahs who visit in the afternoon to feed on the the grass seed in our lawn. i really enjoyed hearing about your little friends.
Blessings Gail.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

suzy said...

What a lovely extended family of wildlife! My daughter adopted a nestling jackdaw three weeks ago, that had fallen from her nest (she is now a fledgling). She is so incredibly inteligent, humourous and as you say, telepathic in her interactions with us. Corvids have always fascinated me.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Rapunzel said...

Are your crows different from ours then? I've never seen a pair of crows. Here in Bloomington (Indiana) I lived for a couple of years in an apartment where there was a colony of crows, the trees were thick with them. Maybe 200 or so. Gorgeous creatures, I just loved them. There's another colony further north in town too, but as I've never lived in that part of town I've got no idea how big the group is. I need to go read up of the crows and their kin. Your garden sounds like quite the little community!

Pen Wilcock said...

Well, I'm wondering from what folks have said if what we call crows you call ravens - because what we call ravens in the UK are massive birds - and if what we call rooks you call crows. Or if they are all corvids but just different in the US from the UK. If you do read it up, come back and say, it would be interesting to know. We have rooks (look like crows but have grey beaks and live in colonies), crows (look like rooks but all black ad solitary pairs), jackdaws (a little smaller than rooks and crows and less angular, with a grey hood), ravens (like humungous crows, very rare; there are some in Scotland, I think, and some live at the Tower of London), magpies (distinctively black and white). x

Rapunzel said...

May be a different species issue, may be a British English/American English issue, may be a bit of both. Will study.

Judy Olson said...

I looked it up before I wrote, there are no jackdaws, or rooks, in N. America. Ravens are large birds with ruffled feathers under their chins. They have a distinctive "kruk kruk" call. They are common where I live in the north woods. Crows are smaller, no ruff, and tend to hang out where there are people. Many cities have large groups of them which can become a nuisance.

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh! cool! That's interesting. I wonder, then, if what we call rooks you call crows, since our 'rooks' also live in large colonies? Makes you want to get up ad cross the ocean to take a look, doesn't it! When I stayed with my friend Rebecca in the woods in New Jersey during the winter, it surprised me to be surrounded by birds I didn't know. The bluejay especially. We have jays too, but nothing like that. And our robins are quite different from American robins, even though they have the same name. I know birds are different in different countries, but somehow it still takes me by surprise.

Judy Olson said...

Of course I don't know firsthand, but "the book" says rooks are not crows. This is the sort of thing that I find so interesting! I know your robins are different, but I didn't realize you didn't have blue jays. They are very common here year round. Noisy squawky birds! Lucky for you not to have them! :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Aha! Thanks for looking! x

Rapunzel said...

I found what we have here in the midwest that we call crows> Corvus brachyrhunchos.
If this link works you can see if they look like yours.

Pen Wilcock said...

That's really interesting! It's like our crows in appearance but like our rooks in behaviour.

Here are the UK corvids:

Pen Wilcock said...

Benedict and Mrs Corbie are carrion crows.

Julie B. said...

I had to look up what kind of crows we have after reading this. Rapunzel was right -- ours are called American crows. Ha. We have many crows gathering together (does anyone really say "There's a murder of crows in our tree?") everywhere, all the time. I think they're fascinating and quirky, but have a hard time feeling charitable toward them since they ate all the baby bunnies in a nest under a tree in our yard. I watched the mother bunny come to tend them, only to find them gone. I know this is the circle of life, but it seems harsh to me and I sometimes can't stand it. Someday things will be put right, including myself. I need it more than crows, most certainly. :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes. It is sad - terribly sad. But then we humans take calves from their mothers to be slaughtered so we can have the milk intended for them. And we gas male day-old chicks in huge batches so only female ones can grow up and lay eggs for us to eat. I can kind of see why one can't ask more of a crow, but I wish we humans could manage to get our act together. I guess baby bunnies just taste nice to a crow. The world holds a weight of sorrow :(

Julie B. said...


Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, I know. Humanity! Even when we're doing our best . . .

Tech Teacher said...

I have been so charmed of your descriptions of wildlife - especially the birds - who thrive in your yard (US)/garden (UK).

This came to my attention and I immediately thought of you. A young US girl from Seattle, Washington faithfully feeds crows -- and they occasionally bring her treasures in return.

This is a followup article that references this same gift-giving behavior all over the world from these brilliant creatures. Endearing.

Peace and grace,

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh - thank you, Annie! I had read the article about the little girl but not come across the second one. We've been delighted this year by the way our crows have brought their children along to be introduced, one by one as they fledged.