Last weekend I spent an hour looking out of the window as part of the “Big Garden Bird Watch” and how many birds did I see in that hour? None, zero, nada! This is rather unusual, as there are normally a fairly wide range of birds to be seen from our windows. This morning just before I sat down to breakfast, I glanced out the window and noticed that there were a few birds about. So I decided to do a quick count, over the space of five minutes I spotted: some red wings (Turdus iliacus), a pair of jackdaws (Corvus monedula), a couple of chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), several blackbirds (Turdus merula) and some woodpigeons (Columba palumbus). By the end of breakfast I had added a few blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), a great tit (Parus major), a pair of crows (Corvus corone) (which I am hoping will nest again this year), and a magpie (Pica pica). This is a far more representative sample (but far from a full list) of the bird life we usually see round here, so normal service has been resumed.
Just recently I have been watching, with some amusement, a battle between a pair of property developers and a number of prospective but unwanted tenants. This highly desirable city centre property is a renovation of an older property, but which has taken a bit of a battering in recent time. I am keen to see the property developers succeed in their endeavours as I think they will be a good influence on the neighbourhood.
At this point I should, perhaps, point out that the property developers in question are a pair of crows (Corvus corone corone). The property is a nest high in a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) which they built last year. In previous years they have nested in Elm (Ulmus procera yes we do still have elms in Edinburgh) further away from my view point at the kitchen window, so this was an improvement as it gives me a better view. Fast forward to this year, the crows have recently set about rebuilding their nest after the buffeting of the winter storms. The fun starts when they are away from the nest, as there have been visits from a number of prospective squatters. So far there have been a pair of jackdaws (Corvus monedula) who turned up the other day, had a look around then went away again. They came back for another look today and were a wee bit surprised to find a woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) trying the nest out for size. The jackdaws weren’t sure what to do and circled around for a bit, hopping closer branch by branch. At first the woody ignored them, but as they got closer it puffed out its feathers and tried to be scary. At this point the jackdaws decided to make strategic retreat. This left the woody sitting looking a bit smug at having stared down the jackdaws, when it suddenly realised why the jackdaws had made such a hasty retreat. One of the crows had just returned and was not best pleased to find an interloper in the nest. The woody dived out of the nest, closely followed by the crow which took a few feathers off the woody’s neck as a reminder not to come back.
Later, while the crows were away again, a grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) turned up to scope out the nest as a potential drey. At least that is why I think it was taking an interest, as it is a wee bit early in the year for nest robbing. Last year a grey squirrel did attempt to rob the crows’ eggs, but was seen off in no uncertain terms. One of the crows chased the squirrel out of the tree and over a wall. The squirrel then climbed another tree, circling round the trunk trying to hide, but the crow was wise to that move and continued the attack, forcing the squirrel out of the tree and back onto open ground. It then pursued it over another wall out on to a busy road, finally leaving the squirrel to play with the traffic. At this point, the crow ceased the attack and returned to the nest.
The reason I like having the crows nesting nearby is not just that they know how to keep the thieving squirrels in order. It is because they are very good at keeping other unwanted visitors away as well, namely gulls. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of gulls breading in the city, mainly Herring (Larus argentatus) and Lesser Black-backed (L. fuscus) gulls, neither of these species make good neighbours. Fortunately, the crows won’t tolerate these scavenging pests in their territory, so we are able to sleep soundly at night, free of the raucous cry of the gulls. There are gulls thinking of nesting somewhere nearby (but not as I say on mine or the neighbouring tenement), as I saw as couple trying to mob a buzzard (Buteo buteo) the other day. The buzzard did its best to ignore them and continued climbing on a thermal until it could head off over Holyrood Park in search of prey.