Crows in the British Garden
Five species of the crow family may be seen fairly regularly in gardens. Two of them, the magpie and the jay, are so strikingly coloured that they are unlikely to be mistaken for anything else. Seen from a distance, the magpie appears to be a black bird with a white belly and a vivid patch of white on each wing. It is only on closer view that the beautiful iridescent blue and green in the wings and tail become apparent. The tail is exceedingly long and rounded, giving the bird a total length of 18 in.
The jay measures about 13 in. from beak to tail, but is not so much smaller than the magpie as the measurements would suggest, for its tail is much shorter. It is a beautiful pink bird with a white rump and a bright patch of blue barred with black in each wing. Normally it is very shy, more often heard than seen, but in recent years the jays near London have become bolder and may even be seen searching waste-paper-baskets in the city parks in their quest for food. The note is a loud harsh scold—’skaark’.
The jackdaw is common about old houses and churches and frequently nests in chimneys. It is much the same size and build as the jay but uniformly black save for a greyish patch on the nape. Its pale blue-grey eyes are also a distinctive feature.
The carrion crow and rook are much bigger birds, measuring about 18 in. from beak to tail, and at first it is difficult to distinguish between them. The distinctive features of the rook are a bare greyish-white patch on the face, round the base of the bill and a shaggy appearance to the feathered part of the leg. The feathers on the leg of the carrion crow are much smoother and trimmer, the face lacks the grey bald patch round the bill and, because it is a flesh eater, the bill is a trifle more stout—less dagger-like. Unfortunately young rooks do not have the bald face patch and this can cause some confusion in summer.
After a time it is possible to tell the notes of the two species apart, though the rook has a very varied vocabulary. The call of the carrion crow may be written ‘kraak’—a harsh, somewhat nasal note repeated several times. The rook’s note is generally set down as ‘caw’, but remember that there are many variations. An old gamekeeper once explained the difference by saying that the rook’s note was ‘caw’, but the crow says ‘pork’—because he is fond of a bit of meat—quite a good way of remembering the difference.