Carrion crow on Marsden Moor

The company of crows

I haven’t been as far afield as I’d like since my recent Scotland trip. An already painful knee problem was exacerbated during the moors trekking we did. One (all ok) X-ray (‘now you need an MRI’) and an eight weeks (and counting) wait for a specialist consult – and I’m constrained to smaller jaunts. These are, essentially, dog walks up onto the lower reaches of the moors above me.

The grumbling knee joint means a slower pace and frequent rests to flex it, before walking on. Which suits both human knee and arthritic hound alike.

And that has allowed me to pay attention to the carrion crows up on the moors. I’ve seen them across various parts of the moors and hills (and in the village itself) for years. Often solitary but in small gatherings on occasion. And as it goes, my RAS  has now fired up. And it’s currently on Crow Watch: “CROWS!” “Crows everywhere.” “Look, more Crows.” “Oh, that’s a Crow!”

Am I sure that they are crows that I have been watching?

There are, after all, five ‘black’ (a.k.a Storm Cloud Grey/Oil Blue/Graphite..) plumed corvids in the country. These are Rook, Chough, Crow, Jackdaw, Raven.

Crows are easy to identify I think.
But as an additional elimination process:

– Choughs have red beaks and don’t venture as far inland as Marsden Moor, (He says. I will fact-check that later.)
– Jackdaws are easy to differentiate both by call, size and mob mentality. I see them regularly flocking between the village rooftops and the moorland quarries. And the occasional chancer will land on one of the bird feeders in our garden.
– Rooks are chunkier and (in adults) have a lighter grey and bigger beak than a crow. A bit like a crow in a plague doctor outfit.
– Ravens are bigger still. Raptor like in stature. And as far as I know, don’t frequent these here parts, although they are drifting further east I believe.

But it’s the the triple ‘Kha’ call that often confirms the fact that you are in the company of crows. Crows do make a range of other sounds, I’ve observed them sounding quite ‘chatty’ on occasion. But the triple ‘Kha’ is the signature sound.

Having once played the King of Dead Crows (as you do) in a community play, I feel I can claim special knowledge of crows. Okay, that’s maybe pushing it a bit. I played King Crow a bit like Death / The Grim Reaper in Bill and Ted, in case you wondered. Quite the sight but sadly I don’t think any photos exist.

If you still want to know your crow from your raven, The BTO can help:

Carrion crows are said to be intelligent (among the most intelligent of animals).

I received that wisdom from childhood nature books and more recent YouTube grazing. I haven’t seen specific behaviour to attest to that directly – but I know they sometimes ‘track’ hound and me, when we’re up on the moors.

For example, on a misty, autumnal afternoon amble a week ago, a trio of crows leapfrogged ahead of us on the crumbling pebble-dashed concrete posts that run alongside Blackmoorfoot catch-water. One on each post, the nearest taking off as we walked closer along the path towards them. To then join ‘the back of the queue’ furthest away from us.

Always looking at us as we got nearer.

This cycled repeated a few times, before they lost interest and hopped/flew a short distance onto a nearby millstone grit outcrop.

As we walked past them and onwards, the Kha Kha Kha calls followed.

Verbally intimidating.

Trio of Crows on Marsden Moor
The trio of crows on Marsden Moor, near Blackmoorfoot conduit.

I watched one on the return trip and in the same area, this time it was being physically intimidating. It was buzzing a hovering kestrel that was scoping out the heather and dying bracken just below me.

The crows in question can often be seen in this same area (and there are some other parts of the far-flung Marsden Moor Estate where I tend to see crows).

Carrion crow on Marsden Moor
Carrion crow on Marsden Moor. Spotted on one of my walks out with the hound.

In my early teens, a couple of friends on the RAF housing estate where we lived adopted a crow chick. How that happened, I’m not sure, but Baby Crow was reared by the two teen brothers. The older brother had, like most of us, just got into music. Which was the New Wave days of The Clash, Ramones et al.

The uniform we adopted was all about donkey jackets and army bags. Complementing the utilitarian black finery of Spug The Crow (as he/she was named). Spug would come when called. And the brothers had spent the summer holidays training Spug to swoop down for bits of food from the lamp post he/she liked to frequent, near our houses.

Which was to be Spug’s undoing, once we returned to school for the autumn term.

Spug continued to swoop but now it was on the mums pushing prams around the ‘married quarters’ where we lived. Alas, poor Spug. Neutralised by the military police, we were told.

A murder of Crow , as it were.

Carrion crow on Marsden Moor
Solitary crow above Scout Quarry area, Marsden Moor.

For plumage, my favourite Corvid is the jay. A New Romantic to the crow’s New Wave black jacket and Doc Martens. But for attitude and smarts, the crow wins out.


As I was finishing this post, I realised that friend Steve has also pondered the Corvid:

4 thoughts on “The company of crows”

  1. I could quite get into bird watching, it’s so nice to take your time on walks and notice the things around you. I saw a jay the other day in my local (very urban!) park and got very excited. I chased it round the field like a loon, was a beautiful bird!

    • Jays are great – I have done similar on a footpath not far from the house. And amusing some other dog walkers in the process 🙂

  2. Ah my favorite topic. Corvids are a passion of mine. Their intelligence is astounding. I have reared many a corvid – crows, a jackdaw, a rook, magpies and, of course, I still have Magnus the magpie and DJ the jay. The jackdaw almost suffered the same fate at Spug. He had to be put in an aviary on order of the local police for the same crimes. Many corvids have displayed particularly interesting signs of intelligence- scrub jays prepare for the future, New Caledonian crows use tools (only know animal other than the apes), jackdaws follow your eye movements to see what you are looking at (hopefully to show them where food is) and magpies, they say, have been proven to be self aware.

    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

    • I know this fact I think from conversations on the first Outdoor Bloggers meet, Jenni. And some of your ace instagram pics 🙂

      There’s a bit of turf war (I’m guessing) in the trees at the side of our garden.. the Jays are winning by volume alone 😉


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