Dabbler Country – Crows versus Squirrels

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.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

21 thoughts on “Dabbler Country – Crows versus Squirrels

  1. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    November 9, 2010 at 08:15

    this reminds me, my country uncle would tell us, if you see a bunch of crows, they’re probably rooks, and if you see a rook, it’s probably a crow.

    he also had a way of telling weasels and stoats apart – one is weaselly recognised while the other is stoatally different.

    (and, in case you’re wondering, he’s not Johnny Kingdom).

    I don’t mind squirrels.

  2. Worm
    November 9, 2010 at 08:51

    You couldn’t describe a crow’s movements more perfectly than ‘flap-hopping’ Nige!

    Crows will definately win the war; as these supposedly ‘clever’ squirrels have far too many kamikaze suicide factions: two of their troops have thrown themselves under my car already this year.

  3. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 10:04

    Can’t say I’m a fan of either Carrion Crows or Grey Squirrels; neither one of them, along with the Magpies and Jays that abound in these (our) parts, gives the poor old songbirds much of a chance after their depredations.

    However the Greys of Kensington Gardens do have in their favour the fact that they can keep my Jack Russell thoroughly exercised without me having to move from my chosen spot: he probably sprints about twelve miles in the course of an hour’s ‘walk’.

  4. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 10:31

    Fine for yr Jack Russell, Recusant – not so good for those of us trying to eat a quiet baguette and having to fight the little varmints off.
    And you’re right about the kamikazes, Worm – they also have a habit of gnawing through wiring, thereby immolating themselves and sometimes taking out a house with them…

  5. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 11:19

    Nige, for a good conservative like you to take the side of these winged street thugs is very troublesome and recalls the naivité of the German aristocracy who thought they could control Hitler and use him to check the communists. Do you honestly believe they won’t come after your baguettes once they have ridded us of the squirrels and their nuts?

  6. Worm
    November 9, 2010 at 11:26

    even worse, they could enter into some kind of ‘coalition’

  7. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 11:39

    Terrifying prospects both, but I’m still backing the crows – they’ve learnt to keep a respectful distance from humans because we don’t go all soppy over them, exclaim at their cuteness and shower them with treats – most people are more likely to throw something at them. Thugs indeed…

  8. info@shopcurious.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 12:17

    Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, I’ve never been a lover of crows, Nige. But little did I realise I’d be terrorized by them in my new apartment. I’m not sure what the term ‘stone the crows means’, but I’d certainly like to get them back. Several times a day (and often at some unearthly hour in the morning) the crows fly from the trees in the neighbouring park, pick up large pebbles from the back of the roof in their beaks or claws and drop them on a rooflight just above my office. They also dive bomb the roof, have noisy skurmishes, involving terrifying cawing sounds and peck on the rooflight so hard with their beaks that it sounds like they’re going to break through the fortified glass. If anyone can suggest how to get rid of crows without causing a police incident, please let me know.

  9. Worm
    November 9, 2010 at 12:28

    well the best way to get rid of crows that I know of is to shoot a crow and then hang its dead body up as a deterrent. Perhaps you could purchase a taxidermy crow and string it up?

  10. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 12:35

    Instead of leaping in at the top, I thought I would wait….get the drift. Now that I have, I feel comfortable in admitting that I have blood on my hands. And it’s been there for a few years. I’ve never been a twitcher (what a weird crew), but I’ve loved birds since, oh, around the time of the Coronation. In Ireland an expression of that love was easy – just walk out the door. With an SE postmark it was more difficult, but a few years ago I made some ‘houses’, a table, and a few feeders, using chicken wire wrapped around off-cuts of cylindrical timber. Like removing the fluff from the tumble-dryer door, it passed the time on a dull week-end. The result, over a period of weeks, was an increase in the species seen in the garden from half a dozen, to about two dozen. I may need to employ a food-taster if the neighbours get any more hostile about the pigeon shit on their nearly-new 4×4’s, but that is something I can live with. The blood on my hands was grey-squirrel blood. When they swaggered into town, all but the jays (another crow) and parakeets scattered, and apart from robbing the nuts and seed, they ripped everything to bits and, eventually infiltrated the house via the cat-flap to eat the (solid) cat food. Something had to be done; my wife was eyeing the suitcase on top of the wardrobe. Most useful bodily functions have long since withered and died (please Malty, no comments), but my eye is still good. Why not, I don’t need a permit. The meat is not bad – bit like chicken, but tougher.
    But the best bit is that my feathered friends are back.

  11. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 13:58

    Has there ever been a childrens’ book or film or whatever featuring “our friend, the crow” as hero?

  12. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 19:04

    My Goodness, Nige, that is an amazing link. Who funds this stuff? Personally, I’m not sure I could except these findings until they are confirmed by follow-up research on The Frog and the Ox.

  13. bugbrit@live.com'
    Banished To A Pompous Land
    November 9, 2010 at 19:52

    I recall a pair of crows gave us much trouble at work when I lived in Gloucester. These wretched avian vandals would sit on top of the bike shed and then hop down to sit on the nearest vehicle in the carpark. Then then amused themselves by removing the rubber from the windscreen wipers.

    This was irritating and expensive enough. But the next stage, the removal of rubber seals around sunroofs really was creative I thought.

    Fortunately this lasted only about a week in early spring. I think they then discovered sex and went off and nested.

  14. info@shopcurious.com'
    November 9, 2010 at 22:42

    Thanks for the suggestion, worm – stuffed quetzels are rather more stylish than crows, would they work too? Talking of worms, thanks Nige for proof of the crow family’s dexterity with stones. Banished to a Pompous Land – you may have a point – the crows didn’t seem to be around during the mating season. Not sure air-lifting an old banger onto the roof is a practical solution though. Perhaps I should move…

  15. Gaw
    November 11, 2010 at 15:21

    Children’s stories featuring a crow? I recall with great affection ‘Arabel and Mortimer’ from Jackanory. Illustrated by Quentin Blake and narrated by Bernard Cribbens, they were bound to be memorable.

    Arabel was a little girl and Mortimer was her resourceful and enigmatic pet crow. The books are available on Amazon and I shall be buying some for the next generation – thanks for jogging the memory!

    • bugbrit@live.com'
      Banished To A Pompous Land
      November 12, 2010 at 15:53

      And that jogs my memory re. Quentin Blake and fondly remembered stories from Jackanory. The Adventures of Lester was written, illustrated and read by Blake himself. I found a copy of them in a jumble sale when my daughter was 5 or 6. Now she’s 30 I think I need to get that out of print gem back for Banished Jr.

      Much amusment was derived from the name ‘Flap Eared Lorna’. Lorna being my mother name.

  16. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    November 11, 2010 at 15:50

    Ah yes, Arabel and Mortimer – I’d forgotten too – a fine crow… Good to have you back, Gaw.

  17. bugbrit@live.com'
    Banished To A Pompous Land
    November 11, 2010 at 21:25

    Mortimer was actually a raven. Hence his cry of ‘Nevermore!’

  18. Gaw
    November 12, 2010 at 07:40

    Ah. Of course, you’re surely right BTAPL. However, perhaps some doubt remains given Ian’s uncle’s dictum from above:

    this reminds me, my country uncle would tell us, if you see a bunch of crows, they’re probably rooks, and if you see a rook, it’s probably a crow.

  19. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    November 12, 2010 at 10:30

    They’re all crows – and that includes jays and magpies!

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