Thursday, May 03, 2012

Park life and death

Last week I was in St James Park and saw a murder and was almost witness to a killing. I was walking along a path that skirted the lake before heading towards Horseguards and The Mall. It was a day puncutated by showers and the park was enjoying a rare moment of sun and shine.

Ahead on the path, in the lee of a large tree, a crow stood on the asphalt cawing for all it was worth. Again and again, without pausing for breath, it called out the same ratcheting cry. In the tree other crows looked on. They fidgeted on the branches sending showers of rain drops thudding to the grass. On the lawns to either side other crows hopped about. Crows are usually very confident creatures, but these looked uneasy, fluffing feathers and hopping quickly from place to place.

At first I thought the crow was a fledgling and was calling so much because it was hungry. Perhaps it was just one of those crows that calls a lot and the others were keen for it to shut up. I got much closer and the calling crow did not stop sounding its caw nor did it move, its gaze did not flinch from the tree's base. I looked where it stared and saw the body of a crow cradled on the roots of the tree.

Eventually I got too close to the crow for comfort and it hopped once, twice and flew away. Its silence rang in the rain. The dead crow was whole, there was no obvious damage, no blood about the beak that would suggest it had collided with one of the park vehicles trundling about. Its body was intact, nothing crushed or maimed to give a hint to what killed it. Clothed in velvet feathers and dusted with rain drops it was quite beautiful. More so, given how strenuously the other crow tolled its passing and called the others to pay their respects. I have no idea how it died, if it was killed or how its life ended but my respect for crows has grown. I know that they are among the smartest of the birds and now I know they can mourn.


Mike Keyton said...

They can also kill - something I'd always previously associated with magpies. Yesterday I saw a crow decapitate and eat a smaller bird whilst the smaller bird's mate hopped, fluttered and shrieked helplessly by. I recounted this story to two American friends who visited us this morning, and to my surprise they had seen the very same thing on their way from London to Wales. What's with this? Killer crows? Maybe they can mourn but they can also kill. Thing is, do they regret?

markb said...

I didn't know they killed, though it doesn't surprise me given how smart they are. The dead crow I saw wasn't being picked and pecked by other crows so I'm guessing it died from some other cause. It makes me wonder how complicated crow society is and, by implication, how complicated dinosaur society was.