There is a pair of ravens in the valley. I often hear an unmistakable ‘kronk’ when I am out walking, but up until now, other than a distant view high over the wooded ridge, I haven’t seen them. Recently their behaviour has changed. On Christmas Day I saw one flying along the edge of the wood and I have come across them, hunting in the fields by the river or sitting on a fence post, every day since. In this familiar context it becomes apparent just how big these magnificent birds are, they dwarf the ubiquitous crows, gulls and jackdaws. Yesterday I spotted one perched on a stunted stag oak which marks the far point of my daily stroll, and looks wonderfully atmospheric shrouded in mist. It seemed very apt somehow, and set me thinking.
I love ravens, and am always happy to hear or see one. I listen out for them when I am doing my dormouse surveys, and look for their silhouettes on the pylons when I am checking my otter sites on the moor. I remember being amused by the antics of some fledglings at a peregrine watch site some years ago and finding them far more entertaining than the birds I had gone to see!
It’s not just ravens, I’m fascinated by the whole crow family, although I realise that in some circles they are deeply unpopular. They may be regarded as malevolent, or sinister, but in my view they are intelligent, resourceful, and playful, certainly never dull. Some are beautiful; the first time I saw a chough I realised why people have gone to such lengths to protect them, and the jay is one of the most handsome of garden birds.
Even rooks, which I thought were spectacular coming to roost, but otherwise unlovely, have stunning iridescent plumage when viewed at close quarters. I had no idea of this until I was eating lunch with my husband in the car park at Whitesands Bay in Pembrokeshire, on a particularly dismal November day. A solitary rook approached the car and waited; it soon became apparent that it was cadging for food. We watched if for some time, and I could see the outline of every exquisite feather. It was one of the most surprising and memorable wildlife encounters of our holiday.
It saddens me that many people consider corvids to be villains. I’m as guilty as the next woman of applying value based adjectives to wildlife, but human morality doesn’t apply to the natural world. No non-human animal is evil, not even a snake!
We know that predators, corvids among them, can cause problems, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of admiration and respect than a lapwing, or a skylark. This isn’t the time to discuss the rights and wrongs of lethal control, but vilifying an animal is not a good way to start when making decisions about it’s management. The sparrowhawk that snatches a blue tit from a feeder is no more ‘cruel’ than the blue tit, which snatched a caterpillar from an oak leaf ten minutes earlier.
It may not always be convenient to us, but every living creature, even the mosquito, has its own unique place in the infinitely complex web of life.