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The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 6 – the corvid that drives you nuts, or crackers at least.


Over the last few weeks I didn’t manage to make a Corvid-19 article in this series, which doesn’t bode well for coming quickly out of the crisis, as it won’t be finished until I get to the end of the series, but on the plus side we do have some positive news about treatments emerging in the USA and the UK.   Today we continue our review with another Corvus genus member, one of the less well known Corvids, the nutcracker. This is in fact three species from both the old and new world, and 9 subspecies, but we will be focusing on the one with the broadest distribution for our gang of 19 Corvids, namely the spotted nutcracker.

Thanks to Murray B Henson for placing this excellent image of a spotted nutcracker in the Morskie Oko National Park in Poland in the public domain.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Spotted nutcracker
Other names
German Nussbrecher
French Cassenoix
Russian Кедровка
Polish Orzechówka
Scientific Name Nucifraga caryocatactes
Number of species in the genus 3
Number of subspecies in this species 9
Literal meaning of Scientific name  “Nut shatterer” in Latin and Greek respectively
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Not many references to the species are made in culture. The nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky refers to the metal implement used to crack nuts. In 1693 the word appears in English in the translation of a German travel guide, the bird itself not being found in the UK, although a sister species, Clark’s nutcracker, is found in Western North America but William Clark, the explorer for whom it was named (not in Latin though – it is Nucifraga columbiana – described to science in 1811 based on Clark’s specimen by Scottish naturalist Alexander Wilson, dubbed the ‘father of American ornithology”) only discovered it in 1805.
Wingspan (cm) 53
Length bill to tail (cm) 38
Distribution Again this Eurasian species has a very broad range from Sweden and Poland in the West to the Pacific Coasts of Siberia and China as well as upland Japan. The Himalayan species of nutcracker, the large spotted nutcracker (N. multipunctata) is considered a distinct species. Despite its name it is not significantly larger than the spotted nutcracker.
Remarks They have a range of vocalisations and are social. Their diet is largely the seeds of pine cones and cedar nuts, giving rise to the Russian name of “Kedrovka”. They do not actually crack heavily shelled nuts with their beaks in the way the implement called a nutcracker does, with the exception of some local subspecies adapted for the cracking of hazlenuts. They store the seeds which they do not eat.
Migrations Some of the nine subspecies migrated slightly within the range.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable. Pairs remain together for life and both partners feed the young.
Close relatives The nutcrackers are in a subfamily of Corvids on their own, in fact many people may not realise that they are corvids as they are not a typically crow-like bird. Nevertheless, they are more closely related to true Corvids in the standard cladograms than jays or magpies are.
Not close relatives thought to be close The overall shape of the body and beak could lead one to suspect that the bird is related to the very broad Starling family, including mynahs and a host of tropical birds from the old world, however the Sturnidae are not closely related.
Cultural significance One cannot find much about these birds in literature, poetry or song.

 

 

The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 5 – a look at the rook.


Last week I didn’t manage to make a Corvid-19 article in ths series, which doesn’t bode well for coming quickly out of the crisis, but on the plus side we do have some positive news about treatments emerging in the USA and the UK.   Today we continue our review with another Corvus genus member, one of the better known old-world corvids, the rook.

A rook in England, thanks to Adrian Pingstone for placing this fine photo in the public domain.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Rook
Other names None
German Saatkraehe
French Corbeau freux
Russian Грач
Polish Gawron
Scientific Name Corvus frugilegus
Number of species in the genus 45
Number of subspecies in this species 2
Literal meaning of Scientific name Fruit-gathering crow
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Known and written about from old times, in England referred to in a legal enactment by Henry VIII, who spells them “rokes”.
Wingspan (cm) 96
Length bill to tail (cm) 46
Distribution Distributed in all Europe and much of China, with a narrow belt going throug Russia in the middle. The western variant, C. f. frugilegis stretches over most of the range even as far as parts of China, but shares part of the range with C.f. pastinator.  They tend to live south of the 60 degrees parallel, especially in Winter, where those of more northerly ranges can fly further south for the worst of the winter, returning early in the spring while it is still snowing. The species tend to avoid territories preferred by ravens, so they prefer firelds to forests. They have been introduced to New Zealand where they are regarded as an invasive pest.
Remarks Most vegetarian than other crows. Less likely to exhibit high degrees of intelligence in interacting with humans. Their high nests in large company are known as “rookeries” and they probably have more collective ouns in English referring to groups of rooks than many other species do, and these include: ‘building’, ‘parliament’, ‘clamour’ and ‘storytelling’. They do not have as broad a range of vocalisations as other Corvus genus members, although there is some variety, but their signature rough call is what gives rise to their common name in English. In turn, their name has been applied to the chess piece and to an ungainly human novice or “rooky”.
Migrations Only the more northerly populations are migratory and only for the worst of the winter. The painting by Savrasov “the rooks’ return” shows returned rooks on a snowy backdrop, so they only flee the coldest snaps, not the temperate winter in and of itself. They have successfully urbanised in many large cities such as Moscow or Warsaw.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable, other than a slight crest on some males, which are larger
Close relatives Other Corvus species may be closely related but hybridisation with rooks is rare.
Not close relatives thought to be close They remind one with their bald faces of coots, a water bird not at all closely related.
Cultural significance Although crows themselves have unpalatable flesh, the strictly vegetarian rook is more tasty, apparently – “rook pie” was a meal mentioned in the Pickwick Papers, however this is only palatable up to its maturity, and the season for shooting rooks for food is short. Already mentioned above, one of the finest paintings in my opinion in the world is “the rooks return” by Savrasov. In the main they have been regarded by humans as an agricultural pest, but despite this they remain quite a populous bird.

The Rooks Return, by Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, showing classic nesting behaviour and a return by rooks to a northerly location even before the thaw of the winter’s snow. Seen in Russia as a welcome harbinger of Spring on the way.

 

 

The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 4.


We continue our coverage of the real truth about the Corvid 19 with a move back home to Europe and a closer look at the bird most UK people will have in mind when they hear the word “crow”.

This is practically the type species of the Corvids, and so no Corvid-19 analysis worth its salt should overlook it without needing to eat it.

 

Photo of a Carrion crow scavenging in Dorset by Ian Kirk on CC 2.0 licence. Many thanks to the photographer.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Carrion Crow
Other names Common crow
German Aaskraehe
French Corneille noire
Russian Чёрная ворона
Polish Czarnowron
Scientific Name Corvus corone
Number of species in the genus 45
Number of subspecies in this species 2 or 4 (see below)
Literal meaning of Scientific name Raven (Latin) crow (Greek)
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Known and written about from classical times.
Wingspan (cm) 100
Length bill to tail (cm) 52
Distribution Two distributions, one in Western Europe, the other in East Asia, with a large belt in between of the closely related hooded crow.
Remarks There are two subspecies of carrion crow and it is the most common crow in the UK, and this is what we would call it as I was growing up. One is the West European version and the other is the East Asian one. The bird which separates them is the hooded crow Corvus cornix which was previously considered a subpecies (or rather, four subspecies as itself has four subspecies). In Warsaw we never see fully black crows (ravens and rooks yes, but the crows per se are only hooded crows) and one rarely sees hooded crows in the UK. It is a loner and an omnivore including a penchant for carrion, hence the name.  The bird exhibits extraordinary intelligence and is able to mimic human vocalisations, close to the levels exhibited by ravens. They distinguish between different human and crow faces and hild grudges a long time against people or animals which disturb them. They tend to get into extensive conflicts with seagulls which prey on their nests.
Migrations Slightly migratory. Winter and summer areas are marbled on the map.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable, other than a slight crest on some males, which are larger
Close relatives As mentioned above the carrion crow and the hooded crow are related and also they are known to be capable of fertile crosses but are apparently not to one another’s taste ( a phenomenon known as koinophilia)
Not close relatives thought to be close Confused with rooks, although they have white faces, and ravens which are much larger, but these birds are close relatives also, as is the very similar American black crow.
Cultural significance Countless cultural references exist, one that comes to mind is the “monstrous crow, as black as a tar barrel” in the Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee poem in Alice through the Looking Glass.

 

 

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