They are the black birds of the Corvidae family. These birds are the blackest of black and they don’t have yellow eye rings and orange bills – they are not Blackbirds.
The only styling they allow might be a touch of grey. There are none of your fancy trimmings, unlike the clown and harlequin costumes worn by their cousins the Magpie and the Jay. Corvus are chic black and this year they have started to fascinate me.
I live in an ancient Wealden village with a tile hung church its yard flanked by the obligatory yews. It’s a lively place, made more interesting by the wheeling, circling flight of a flock (or clattering) of Jackdaws ticking and clicking their way overhead. They whirl Hitchcockesque as they go about their business. Below my house on the grassy bank they gather together hunting for insects and close up I can see their silvery grey head. They still create a stir when the flock rises up in the sunshine and momentarily create a shadow. So far they have not tried to steal any of my silver. I recognise the jackdaws.
It has taken me a little longer to remember the difference between the rest of the family.
Rooks are smart masters of disguise, they wear a grey mask and ragged black trousers. Living in Rookeries, you will remember them for childhood. The black birds high up in the trees constantly ferrying sticks to create their rickety nests. Collective nouns for rooks include building and parliament – to me these are wrong. Rooks are above the childs play and juvenile antics of Parliament and how can a group of birds possibly be called a building? Much better are the collective nouns of a clamour or a storytelling.
Carion crows are often seen in couples. They caw as they circle overhead. In my village I can usually see the crows in my peripheral vision when the jackdaws are in flight. One crow sits high on a neighbours roof creating a commotion, its mate in a tree nearby. They take off in unison flying close together, twisting and turning as they appear to play. In synchronised flight they could be the Twister Duo. With more in the flock they remind me of The Blades. A group of crows is a Murder of crows, in my village, they seem intent on mischief not murder.
The ravens are the biggest of these black birds. I have seen them along the coast of the Isle of Wight, and also in the Brecon Beacons rising up on the thermal. Their call is a croak They are giant creatures with a lovely gloss to their feathers. Great acrobats, they tumble, swoop, loop and turn on the thermals off the cliff edged. There has to be some ancient folklore that means we describe a collection of ravens as an unkindness.
All Corvus are marvelous in flight, create a Corvus cacophony as they go about their daily business. Each time I see a black bird in flight, I have to stop and check which beauty I can see and hear.