Our book group recently read the wonderful Crow Country by Mark Cocker.    I really enjoyed it.   The whole book is a prose poem in praise of the crow, all the better because this bird tends to be a demonised and despised object.

From our childhood in Central Scotland,  I remember a  boy who lived near us, who used to go searching for crows’ nests (involving considerable risk to him as of course he had to climb high into the trees, no doubt harrassed by crows, to get at them).     He would boast of killing all the baby birds.   He invited me to accompany him on one of these delightful expeditions but I declined, and he seemed very disappointed, as though a girl could have no more inviting a prospect for killing a few hours (and birds.)   I have since occasionally wondered whether he graduated onto murdering anything else.   But actually I would guess not for he was not a wholly unkind fellow.   Aged about 9 himself, he appeared to have almost sole charge of a little brother aged about 3, whom he perpetually carried in his arms.   When the brother would cry and therefore was liable to get his guardian into trouble, the crow killer would cry anxiously, jiggling the child up and down, Laugh, Willie!    This expression has passed into family usage and is used to indicate an occasion when you’re invited to laugh though it’s not at all funny.   I hold the murder of the baby crows against him, but I acknowledge that he exhibited some grace and kindness in what was a difficult childhood.

If you actually look dispassionately at the crow, it is a handsome bird in its glowing black plumage with the jewel-like green sheen.   It has a strutting walk, and a bright and intelligent eye.   In their rookeries, some of which have stood in the same places for a thousand years, their raucous cawing as they build their nests is one of the first harbingers of spring.

I had noticed, when occasionally we stay at the Westmorland Hotel, a delightful find at Tebay Services, en route to Scotland, that crows roost near your window overnight in large convocations, leaving in a noisy departure en masse at dawn.   The author explored and researched some of these sites, finding references to crows being in that same place hundreds of years before now.

When we were on Orkney last Autumn, we had a lovely apartment at Finstown.  We used to get up quite early and sit in our comfortable armchairs before the large picture window, having a  leisurely breakfast and watching the wildlife – mainly seabirds, seals and leaping large fish.    Imagine our delight when suddenly our silent view of the sea was filled with crows just leaving their rookery which was behind our house.   The  empty sky would be full of them, noisy and active.   Some of them exhibited that curious ‘falling out of the sky’ dance that they do when they freefall and tumble from a great height, and then seize control of the flight again just before they hit the ground.    John likes crows and so do I.  Realising this happened every morning, he was ready with his camera, and took the lovely photograph below.

When John and I were at the Grand Canyon in the USA, the scale of the canyon filled me with horror and a kind of mental vertigo and I mostly clung to walls and longed for flat places, so I spent some time sitting waiting while John explored places with more enthusiasm than I could muster.     There I watched with delight – wonderful things can present themselves to you if you sit still and silent –  – crows doing what I took to be a mating or pair bonding dance, where two birds would come together and at first rotating slowly around one another, they would tumble and fall and glide on the thermals, while far below them the terrible abyss yawned.

Crows leaving the rookery. Finstown, Orkney.   September 2011.

I hope you share my delight.