All my local parks are overrun by crows and grey ‘squirrels’ (and overflown by squadrons of screeching parakeets). In one of the smaller parks, favoured by people who like to feed cute critters, the population of crows and squirrels is densely concentrated, and they are increasingly living cheek by jowl – or cheek by wing – and competing on the same territory for the same food.
What crows lack in cuteness, they make up in intelligence, resourcefulness and sheer nerve. Though they are rightly wary of tangling with squirrels – vicious little fighters – they are determined to share in the largesse lavished on the bushy-tailed blighters. So the crows – once shy country birds seen only in ones and twos in town – now jostle boldly with the squirrels as susceptible humans toss them treats, pouncing on errant monkeynuts and flap-hopping away in crow triumph.
But it’s gone further than that. Watching the squirrel-and-crow show earlier today, I realised that the crows have worked out a clever way of supplementing their winter rations. The squirrels are in a nut-burying frenzy, and everywhere the crows are intently watching the squirrels. Sometimes two or three crows together will jostle a squirrel out of the way and grab a nut before it’s buried, but mostly they are content just to watch, wait till the squirrel’s moved on to the next interment and, with a couple of jabs of that powerful earth-probing beak, help themselves to the squirrels’ winter store. Sometimes they only loiter with intent, watching closely – are they, I wonder, memorising where the nuts are buried? They’re known to have good spatial memories.
Will the crows’ superior intelligence and adaptability – not to mention their willingness to eat just about anything – gradually give them the upper claw over their bushy-tailed competitors? As a crow lover, who would rather watch these fascinating birds than those facile charmers the ‘squirrels’ any day, I rather hope they do.