The local farm shop has tall windows so that visitors can enjoy the natural light. To ornament the view, large bird feeders are situated within arm’s reach of the glass, and small RSPB posters adorn the walls to help customers differentiate between blue tits and great tits. It’s a common scene, made more interesting by the variety of different bird feeds on offer. Dunnocks and robins cluster around one, while gangs of chaffinches and goldfinches busily dismantle another. It makes for a diverting sideshow, and the excitement and enthusiasm of wild birds is better than most television programming.
Sitting by the window and watching the goldfinches this afternoon, I noticed a large, glossy black carrion crow waddling over the grass towards me. He eyeballed the goldfinches over his head, then began to pick up scraps which had fallen from the feeder. I curled my lip at him, but crows are so extravagantly ubiquitous that there simply isn’t time to rage at every one. It was hardly surprising that he should be capitalising on the wastefulness of the finches, but it transpired that he had bigger fish to fry.
With a sudden pounce, he leaped up to the feeder and nipped a juvenile goldfinch across the middle. The finch was appalled and squalled horribly, but there was no escape. With a peck or two, the crow had pulled the little bird’s head off and began to pluck it in a series of pointed jabs. Soon there was a carpet of fluffy down on the grass. I looked around, but none of the other customers had noticed. The plucking continued for two or three minute before the crow picked up the partially dismembered carcass and flew to land on the gutter across the yard. This was blocked and flooding over, and the crow briefly dipped his grisly prize in the water before swallowing it whole. The grand finale.
I’m no advocate for crows, but I was quite impressed. I’ve often seen crows hunting for eggs, baby birds and amphibians out on the hill, but this was the first time I’ve seen a crow catch and kill an independent bird. Perhaps the juvenile finch was too naive, but it was fascinating to see a true opportunist diversifying to fill a profitable little niche. The goldfinches had all returned to their feeder within thirty seconds. Seeming to know that I was the only human to have witnessed his crime, the crow tipped me a wink.