Scotch Crow: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 2

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare [lit., “cause to be clarified”] His praise in the islands.  

(Isaiah 42:12)
HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix) over water, Wikipedia photo credit

What could be more Scottish than “Scotch Crow” (Corvus cornix)?  The Scotch Crow is better known, especially on the Eurasian landmass, as the Hooded Crow (a/k/a “Hoodie Crow” by some Britons, and “Grey Crow” by some Scandinavians and Irish).  As the following paragraphs will document, the opportunity-grabbing Scotch Crow (a/k/a Hooded Crow) is as resourceful as a Scotsman (or Scotswoman).

Yet we need not be surprised at the wisdom of crows, because Proverbs 30:24-28 teaches us that God has caringly chosen to give wisdom to many of His creatures.  For more explanation on this, with more corvid illustrations, see “Clever Creatures: ‘Wise from Receiving Wisdom’”, Acts & Facts, 46(3):21 (March 2017), posted at www.icr.org/article/clever-creatures-wise-from-receiving  —  as well as “Jackdaws Identify ‘Dangerous’ from ‘Safe’ Humans”, Creation Science Update (May 4, 2020), posted at www.icr.org/article/jackdaws-identify-dangerous-from-safe-humans .

Hooded Crow, Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides)
A.D.2019 photo by Marnix Roels, “Hooded Crows from Scotland”
MarnixBirdGallery.WordPress.com

The black-and-grey Hooded Crow, like other corvids (i.e., members of the raven/crow superfamily), is a generalist—like the scavenging Carrion Crow (Corvus corone, its “southern cousin”, with which Hoodies sometimes hybridize), it eats almost anything available, dead or alive—carrion (which includes a huge variety of remains form other predators’ hunting successes, as well as roadkill), seeds, nuts, food scraps discarded by humans (esp. junk food), insects gathered on pieces of meat, grains (including corn), other plant materials (including fruits), small birds, bird eggs (such as eggs of seagulls or cormorants), crustaceans (such as Green Crabs, gooseneck barnacles), gastropod mollusks (such as European limpet, Blue-rayed Limpet, European periwinkle, rough periwinkle, Atlantic dogwinkle rock snail, thick-lipped dogwhelk mudsnail, European mudsnail, top snail), bivalve mollusks (such as Blue Mussel, Warty Venus hard-shell clam, Palourde clam, cockles), purple sea urchins, small mammals (such as Norwegian rat, mice, frogs, Eurasian pygmy shrew, juvenile rabbit), spiders, insects (e.g., fly larvae and adults), fish, snakes, etc.

In sum, Hooded Crows—such as those who make a living on coasts of the British Isles—are resourceful generalists.  These coast-living crows are not picky eaters!

Hooded Crow perching with food   (BirdsAcademy.com photo credit)

In fact, Hooded Crows who habituate coastal territories, such as beaches of the British Isles, have been studied to see what their diet looks like. 

In one such research investigation, the diet of Hooded Crows was scrutinized (and quantified) near Lough Hyne Marine Reserve, a saltwater-fed coastal lake of West Cork (County Cork, Ireland).  With informative details and quantified data, these corvid diet research results were reported in a Copenhagen-based  science journal (“The Diet of Coastal Breeding Hooded Crows Corvus cornix cornix”, ECOGRAPHY, 15:337-346 (Oct.-Dec. 1992), by Simon D. Berrow, Tom C. Kelly, & Alan A. Myers).

The regular collection of prey items from these [coastal food-acquisition] sites … was integrated with pellet and stomach analysis to determine diet.  Intertidal organisms [e.g., beach shellfish] occurred in over 80% of pellets and 43% of stomachs and occupied over 77% of the total weight of foods identified in pellets.  All prey items recovered from drop sites originated from the intertidal habitat, involved either large-sized species or larger individuals of smaller-sized species, and were only dropped during October to February.  Twenty-five intertidal species were identified but only a few of these species contributed to the bulk of the diet.  Hooded crows were shown to consume a wide range of intertidal species throughout the year, though the species composition in the diet was seasonally influenced.  Depletion and weight loss of intertidal molluscs through the winter was shown to have a minimal effect on selection suggesting that prey switching was driven by the bird’s nutritional requirements. 

[Quoting Simon Berrow, Tom Kelly, & Alan Myers, at page 337]
Hooded Crow eating a beached fish   (OutOfSamsara photo credit)

Interestingly, the Hooded Crows somehow know that they need protein rich foods for their nestling young, plus they need calcium-rich food when their bodies are preparing for the breeding season.  These reproductive-linked-to-phenological requirements of corvids is alluded to by Dr. Simon Berrow’s research team.

Vertebrate remains and insects were the most frequently occurring prey items in six food boluses fed by crows to their nestling [young] and together accounted for 90% by volume.  Dipteran [i.e., fly] larvae and adults occurred in half of the boluses with Lepidopteran [i.e., moth/butterfly] larvae and Araneae [spiders] also present. 

[Quoting Berrow, Kelly, & Myers, at page 340] 

. . .

The nutritional requirements of a predator [such as Hooded Crow] have been shown to influence prey selection.  Ravens in Scotland tended to feed only on prey items obtained from the seashore during the breeding season which was attributed to their requirement for calcium. ….  In the winter, crows tend to have an energy rich diet, but during the breeding season more protein is requiredfor provisioning the nestlings.  Insects are considered a good source of protein for crows with dependent young and calcium for bone development may be obtained from crabs.  Although small gastropod molluscs are abundant at Lough Hyne they are only consumed by crows during the spring and summer, which may also be a reflection of the birds’ calcium requirement. 

[Quoting Berrow, Kelly, & Myers, at page 345]

Now that’s something to crow about!

Hooded Crow at the beach   (Freepik.com photo credit)

Like all corvids, the crow is also extremely intelligent. Specimens of Corvus cornix [hooded crow] living on European coasts have developed a simple yet surprising nutrition strategy. To feed on molluscs, they drop the shells from heights … [so] that they shatter on the first attempt, so that they can feed on the animal hidden inside. Furthermore, they deliberately ignore smaller shells and focus on those that guarantee a larger meal. 

[Quoting Federico Fiorillo, “The Hooded Crow—Not So Pretty, But Very Smart”, AviBirds.com (accessed AD2021-12-29)]

In other words, Scotch Crows—like the Scotch people—are opportunistic, versatile, adaptable, flexible, resourceful.  Whatever is available will be used to achieve whatever is needed.  Very Scottish! And the Scotch Crows (a/k/a Hooded Crows) of the Western Isles are no exception—they will find and eat what they need! 😊

Scotch Crow (aka Hooded Crow), Outer Hebrides   (Mister T / Hebridean Imaging photo)

So, what could be more Scottish than a “Scotch Crow”?   Wonderful birds are there to be seen, in the Outer Hebrides (“Western Isles”).  If you get the opportunity, go see them!  Meanwhile, appreciate that they are there, living their daily lives—filling their part of the earth—glorifying their Creator. As Isaiah (42:12) said, these birds cause God’s glory, especially in the islands, to be clearly seen (Romans 1:20).

><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com 

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