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 

Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids: Something to Crow About!

Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids:

Something to Crow About!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

HoodedCrow.WorldLifeExpectancy-photoHOODED CROW   (World Life Expectancy photo)

“Every raven after his kind”   (Leviticus 11:15)

Who provides for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of food.   (Job 38:41)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; they neither have storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them; how much more are ye better than birds?   (Luke 12:24)

There is, as Moses noted, a “kind” (i.e., genetically related family) of birds that we call “corvids”, crow-like birds, including ravens. [In the English Bible (KJV), these birds are always called “ravens”.]

These black (or mostly black – see Song of Solomon 5:11) omnivores are known to “crow”, often calling out a harsh KAWWWW!   Also famous for their “ravenous” appetites and eating habits, it is no wonder that the English labeled many varieties of these corvid birds as “ravens”.

The HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix) lives and thrives in the Great North – including Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  This I learned firsthand, on July 6th of AD2006, while visiting a grassy park near the Vasa Museum of Stockholm, Sweden.  The next day (July 7th of AD2006), it was my privilege to see another Hooded Crow in a heavily treed park in Helsinki, Finland.  Again, two days later (i.e., the 9th of July, AD2006), while visiting Pushkin (near St. Petersburg, Russia), I saw a Hooded Crow, in one of the “garden” parks of Catherine’s Palace.  Obviously, Hooded Crows appreciate high-quality parks of northern Europe!

HoodedCrow.WarrenPhotographic

HOODED CROW   (photo credit:  Warren Photographic)

The physical appearance of a Hooded Crow is, as one bird-book describes, “unmistakable”.

Unmistakable. Head, wings and tail black, but body grey (can show pinkish cast in fresh plumage).

[Quoting Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale University Press / British Trust for Ornithology, 1998), page 271.]

Like most large corvids, the Hood Crow is quite versatile in filling various habitats.

Wary, aggressive scavenger found in all habitats from city centre to tideline, forest to mountain top. Generally seen in ones and twos, but the adage ‘crows alone, rooks in a flock’ unreliable; often accompanies other crows, and hundreds may gather at favoured feeding spots and roosts. Watch for crow’s frequent nervy wing flicks whenever on ground or perched. Calls varied. Typically a loud, angry kraa, usually given in series of 2—6 calls. Unlike Rook, pairs nest alone (usually in tree).

[Again quoting Kightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]

CarrionCrow.YvesThonnerieux-OuisseauxBirds

CARRION CROW   (Yves Thonnerieux / Ouiseaux-Birds photo)

Yet the HOODED CROW is not a genetically self-contained “species”, regardless of what taxonomists might wish about them.  They happily hybridize with other crows, especially the CARRION CROW [Corvus corone], whose international range the Hooded Crow overlaps.

Carrion-Hooded-Crows-mixing.BirdHybrids-photo

CARRION CROWS + HOODED CROWS = HYBRIDS   (Bird Hybrids photo)

CARRION AND HOODED CROWS. The familiar crow. Two distinct races occur … [In the]British Isles and western Europe, Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) is common everywhere except north and west Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Europe east of Denmark, where it is replaced by Hooded (Corvus cornix). Where breeding ranges overlap hybrids are frequent [emphasis added by JJSJ].

[Again quoting Kightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]

The Carrion-Hooded Crow hybrids are also noted within a larger discussion (i.e., pages 224-228) of Corvid family hybrids, in Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227.

Corvids.JelmerPoelstra-UppsalaUniv-image

CORVIDS   Jelmer Poelstra / Uppsala Univ. image

Dr. McCarthy, an avian geneticist, has accumulated and summarized genetic research on Carrion-Hooded hybrids, especially examples observed in Eurasia:

Because the Carrion Crow has a split range … with the Hooded Crow intervening … there are two long contact zones, one extending from N. Ireland, through N. Scotland, to N.W. Germany, then S to N Italy, and another stretching from the Gulf of Ob (N Russia) to the Aral Sea. … Even in the center of the [overlap] zone, only 30% of [these corvid] birds are obviously intermediate. Due to hybridization these [corvid] birds are now sometimes lumped, but Parkin et al. (2003) recommend against this treatment since the two have obvious differences in plumage, as well as in vocalizations and ecology, and because hybrids have lower reproductive success than either parental type. Hybrid young are less viable, too, than young produced from unmixed mating (Saino and Villa 1992). Genetic variability increases within the hybrid zone (as has been observed in many other types of crossings). Occasional mixed pairs occur well outside [the overlap range] zones (e.g., Schlyter reports one from Sweden).

[Quoting Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227.]

Dr. McCarthy, on pages 224-228, lists several other examples of documented corvid hybridizations, including: Corvus capellanus [Mesopotamian Crow] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow]; Corvus cornix [Hooded Crow] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie]; Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus albicollis [White-necked Raven];  Corvus albus  [Pied Crow] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven]; Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus splendens [House Crow]; Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow] X Corvus caurinus [Northwestern Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus cryptoleucus [Chihuahuan Raven]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven]; Corvus corone [Carrion Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow];   Corvus daururicus [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus dauuricus”] X Corvus monedula [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus mondela”]; Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow]; Pica nuttalli [Yellow-billed Magpie] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie]; plus it looks like an occasional Rook [Corvus frugilegus] joins the “mixer”, etc.   Looks like a good mix or corvids!

Avian hybrids, of course, often surprise and puzzle evolutionist taxonomists, due to their faulty assumptions and speculations about so-called “speciation” – as was illustrated, during AD2013, in the discovery of Norway’s “Redchat”  —  see “Whinchat, Redstart, & Redchat:  Debunking the ‘Speciation’ Myth Again”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/12/12/whinchat-redstart-redchat-debunking-the-speciation-myth-again/ .

CorvidRanges.Wikipedia

CORVID RANGES of the world   (Wikipedia map)

Meanwhile, as the listed examples (of corvid hybridizations) above show, corvid hybrids are doing their part to “fill the earth”, including Hooded-Carrion Crows.

Now that is are something to crow about!               ><> JJSJ   profjjsj@aol.com