I love all birds, but rather peculiarly, I really, really love the corvids. Having recently come across predator behaviour in some of the humans around me, you would think I’d hate the same in nature but actually the reverse is true. Animals and birds can’t be anything other than what they are – humans always have some form of choice, even if limited. And most predator humans have plenty of choice.
As mentioned previously, I can wind up a full head of steam in nanoseconds at an ignoramus going “ewww, those nasty crows, they peck babies eyes out, you know”. I don’t find them nasty – they are what they are – very efficient birds who live on meat. They don’t mean to be cruel, they simply eat to survive.
A few years ago, a fellow allotment holder came over to me, looking rather sweaty and grey. “Jesus”, he said, “crows are meant to be harbingers of death, aren’t they? I was just bending over, pulling out weeds from my peas and had started to stand up, when one swooped right over my head, left to right. I nearly disgraced myself.” I reassured him that it was all suspicious nonsense and we had a giggle. Two weeks later, his partner passed away very unexpectedly. You can imagine my discomfort.
That rather nasty coincidence aside, they’ve never frightened me or made me feel death-stalked, but I still ask after magpies’ other halves whenever I see them, which probably goes to prove that I am more suspicious than I would like to admit.
Although I have seen them at the Tower of London, I had never experienced one up close until a few years ago. I was in the bathroom and had the window partly open (smoking in the bathroom is a terrible habit of mine as I prefer to have a smokefree rest of house and it is warm in there) when I heard the chattering of some magpies. Looking out, I saw the neighbour’s cat on the roof, staring transfixed at the fence. Like some dethroned king, walking up and down the fence was what I thought was a very large carrion crow. He was so big, the fence (not the sturdiest I admit) was shaking.
I looked again and thought – no way, that looks like a raven. The only ravens I am aware of down South are the ones in the Tower and they don’t fly off, so it was highly unlikely it was. I googled a few images and yes, it certainly looked like the ravens depicted. Very excited, I told my Dad in our weekly phone call. “I doubt it”, said Dad, “unless you have escapees from the Tower. As everything else tends to land up in your garden, I guess it could be a possibility, but a scarce one. And if you have escapees from the Tower, we’re all in trouble”.
I didn’t think much more of it, but enjoyed the raven’s daily perambulations. He appeared most often between 7am and 9am and his favourite occupations were dive bombing the neighbour’s cat (and mine when they were outside) and annoying the two resident magpies. The maggies objected mightily to him, but there was not a lot they could do – he was much bigger, faster and brighter.
One morning I looked out and he was engaged in his usual fun, when one of the magpies landed on the conservatory roof, a short bit in front of me. Majestically, he sailed towards it and I thought he was going to fly straight in the window. At the very, very last minute, with me holding me breath and absolutely still, he turned, banked and flew off. Which was a good thing really, because I don’t think I would have survived a face full of raven at top speed and he certainly would not have been happy in my bathroom. One day in late spring, he took off, not to be seen again that year.
Brushing my teeth early the following Spring, I heard the same annoyed chattering of the magpies. Looking out, there was the raven, preening himself on the fence and doing his usual stomping up and down it. I was delighted to see him and over the next few weeks, got some video footage which I sent to my Dad. “Bugger me,” he said, “I think that is a raven”.
I wish I had made more of a fuss – I didn’t have a camera at that stage, or a mobile with a camera, so I never took a photo of him. Late that Spring, he flew off and I have never seen him since. I like to think he found some of his own kind, maybe further up North. Or he found the Tower and is currently dive-bombing particularly silly tourists. Whatever his fate was, I hope it in no way involved people or cars and I hope he is happy. He certainly gave me hours of enjoyment.
 An old legend states that if the ravens ever leave, the Monarchy and the United Kingdom will fall. The ravens at the Tower have their wings clipped to ensure this does not happen.