Scarecrows, shotguns, bird scarers …. people have a long history of battling with the crow family. But are they an asset or a problem in the garden, and are all corvids the same?
When we (very reluctantly) had to lose the magnificent dying cedar tree at the foot of our garden, we also lost a large flock of starlings and a variety of corvids that had used the tree as a perch and magnificent vantage point over the row of gardens, hedge and fields.
Gradually, the corvids have been coming back, with magpies lining up to walk along our neighbours’ shiny, high new garage roof (a new vantage point). Jackdaws use our own badly capped chimney pots for nesting. Magpies fight, mate and generally cause a rumpus in the trees along the Cornish hedge, stirring up a cacophony of alarm calls from smaller birds. The occasional rook can be seen perched on the wall hoping to grab a mealworm from the ground under the bird table before I notice. One glance out of the window, and the rook is gone.
Corvids are omnivores and opportunists, using their great intelligence to find food in a number of innovative ways. They have demonstrated that birds can use tools, and they can learn or invent useful tricks, such as dropping nuts or other shelled objects from a height in order to break them.
Sadly, you are unlikely to see our national bird, the Cornish chough, in your garden as I write (June 2020), unless you live on remote cliffs with short, invertebrate-rich turf or heathland. I did see choughs flying over a small farm settlement on the Isle of Man, though. They were landing in small, rough cliffside fields to forage alongside grazing Loaghtan sheep, a local breed that was being kept traditionally, no doubt encouraging invertebrates through tight grazing, natural manuring and a lack of pesticide use or other agricultural disturbance. Fertilisers causing rank vegetation growth would reduce the ability of choughs to probe for invertebrates, for instance.