‘The Birds’

The Carrion crow (Corvus corone) famously features in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film, ‘The Birds’, where swarms of these crows start attacking people.

However, unlike how the film portrays these crows, C. corone are more solitary birds, and will only show aggressive behaviour when threatened, or searching for food (which isn’t live people, thankfully).

The scientific name for carrion crows derives from both Latin (Corvus), and Greek (corone). Here, ‘Corvus‘ can be translated to ‘raven’, and ‘corone‘ means ‘crow’.

Carrion crows are native to areas of western Europe, and parts of Asia. They are widespread across most of the UK, excluding north-west Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man. Here, these crows live in a variety of habitats, including parks and gardens, cultivated areas, wetlands, forest clearings, woodlands, on inshore islands, coastal cliffs, and tidepools.

Map source: RSPB (carrion crow page)

C. corone are medium-sized, with a wingspan of 45-47 cm, and an average weight of 93-104 g. They are black, with green-purple sheen, even their bill, legs, and feet are black. Juvenile crows have a brownish plumage and blue eyes, both of which darken to black-brown over time.

Carrion crows can easily be mistaken for other members of the Corvus genus, including rooks (Corvus frugilegus), and common ravens (Corvus corax). Unlike rooks, carrion crows have a black bill with no bare patches, and does not wield feathery ‘trousers’ on its legs. These crows are also solitary, and usually found alone or in small groups, whilst rooks tend to gather in large groups. Carrion crows are smaller than the common raven, and has a square-ended tail, whereas ravens have a diamond-shaped tail.

C. corone, are scavengers and omnivores, and, as their name suggests, they primarily feed on carrion of all kinds. However, they will also eat insects, earthworms, grain, fruit, seeds, small mammals, amphibians, and scraps. These crows have also been known to take eggs and chicks from other birds nests.

The breeding season for carrion crows typically starts between May and early June, but this can vary depending on location. During this time, both adults build a bulky stick nest, consisting of twigs, rags, bones, and anything else they can find. This nest is usually placed inside a large tree, but cliff ledges, old buildings, and pylons may be used as well. The female then lays 3-4 brown-speckled, blue-green eggs, which are incubated for 18-20 days. Whilst the female is incubating the eggs, the male assists with feeding the female. Once the chicks hatch, both parents feed and defend them, until after 29-30 days when all the chicks are fully fledged. Often the offspring from the previous year stay and help rear the new hatchlings, by looking for food and helping the parents in feeding the young.

C. corone have only a few natural predators, and are known to engage in group mobbing behaviours as a method to defend themselves. They will do this when predators or competitors enter their territory, or threaten them or their offspring.

Carrion crows are amongst the most intelligent animals on earth, where they have shown the ability to solve problems, recognise human faces, and even use tools. Most times, these crows use tools and their intelligence to find and gather food.

Due to the colour of the carrion crow, they have been long associated with many ill-omens and superstitions. Black in many myths is associated with grief, and people once thought that if a crow were to land on a house roof, it would be a portent of death. The Saxons believed that seeing a crow on your left meant a sign of disaster. For some reason, it is also said that seeing a single crow is unlucky, however, two would bring good fortune.