20 May 2004

(41) Crow Court


I became interested in crows (ravens are hardly to be found in Holland) when I was a young child. Out of boredom during long holidays you could often find me staring out of a window or sitting on a tree branch. And that's how (at about age 9) my interest in crows began. Even at that very young age I noticed they were different somehow from the other bird species. I could always notice they were actually thinking about their next move. For instance: I once watched two crows walking alongside a wood-pigeon on a public garden that was between two parallel roads. I just KNEW they were up to something from the way the kept an eye on the pigeon. Then it happened: a fraction of a second before the next car came by, they both at the same time and from the same direction scared the pigeon with very loud cawing and jumping on him and chased him exactly in the path of the car; "Dinner's served! Mashed pigeon!"

Another rather special event, also when I was young, was a crow-gathering, a 'parliament' as it is sometimes called, in the woods near my hometown. I was sitting on some climbing bars for children, wearing a black coat and sitting without moving a hair. When the sun setted, crows came flying in from all directions and landed on the very large open playingfield, some distance from where I was hiding. BTW, I just happened to be there, dreaming my time away and not yet willing to go home to my parents. There were thousands of them and a lot of cawing was going on. Then suddenly it became quiet. On open space was formed in the middle of the crows on the field. A few caws and one crow entered the circle, behaving rather submissively. Two crows standing at the edge of the circle flew up and dived at the lonely crow. He flew away quickly, but was chased by the two other crows. They overtook him within short time and a fight started in which the two crows quickly pecked the crow to its death. Not only that was an amazing event, but the attitude of the crow that was to be killed was amazing too: he hardly resisted, as though he knew he was punished or something. The execution of a lawbreaker? After that all the crows flew off silently to the treetops surrounding the field and to trees farther away. I decided I could come out of hiding and went to see the dead crow I could see lying on the gound from far away. His eyes and the rest of his head were smashed in, the rest of his body looked undamaged.

From Literature:

One curious feature of the behaviour of crows is their seeming capacity to hold 'courts' at which, by numerous accounts, they pass judgement and carry out summary execution of such of their numbers as, for some mysterious reason, they consider deserving of it. As Edward Stanley, the Victorian naturalist put it: "In the Northern part of Scotland, and in the Faroe Islands, extraordinary meetings of crows are known to occur. They collect in great numbers, as if they had all been summoned,for the occasion; a few of the flock sit with dropping heads, and the others seem as grave as judges, while others again are exceedingly active and noisy; in the course of about anhour they disperse and it is not uncommon, after they have flown away, to find one or two left dead on the spot."
Another writer (in Dr Edmonston's "Shetland Isles"), says that these meetings will sometimes continue for a day or two, before the object, whatever it may be, is complete. Crows continue to arrive from all quarters during the session. As soon as they have all arrived, a very general noise ensues, and shortly after, the whole fall upon one or two individuals, and put them to death; when this execution has been performed, they quietly disperse.