Black beauties of the Bega Valley
It’s midday and I’ve just counted 12 crows in the dried out paddock nearest to my washing line. I’m out here hanging another load and I can see and hear the crows right next to me. They are unperturbed by my proximity and keep going about their business without a single ruffle of their shiny black feathers.I’ve been admiring the crows a lot over the past few months. We’ve lived in Lochiel in the Bega Valley for over 15 years and we’ve never had that many crows here, especially not the juveniles. We get the occasional older lone specimen, advising us of its presence by its long and mournful caw. But lately, our few acres seem to have become the meeting place for the large numbers of teenage crows in our local area.These black beauties have been amusing us with their antics. They seem to take great delight in banding together as a flock and flying over us, very low. Our pear tree that produces gnarled old pears that never make it to the ripe stage has become a perfect party spot for them. Recently the pear tree was full of beautiful sleek black bodies, the boughs were rocking and the music was loud!Today, the delightful dozen are on the ground, picking over the dirt, systematically and thoroughly. As they work together, pecking at the dead grass, turning over the dusty earth, throwing up bits of dried cow pats, they’re continually communicating with one another. They have their own language of chirps, chirrups and other strange sounds which they use while they labour, like a group of kids prattling on while they do their outside chores.And there’s body language at work here, too. The swivel of a head, the angle of a wing, the hop and run – all used by the birds on the ground to communicate to the others information about the current state of play, which includes me, it seems.They’ve been keeping an eye on me, a very wary eye, or should I say eyes. These highly intelligent birds are not slouches when it comes to looking after each other and keeping a lookout for danger. When I was trying to find out more about these interesting creatures, I stumbled upon a study from the US where researchers had captured a number of crows around a college campus, tagged them and then let them go. The researchers deliberately wore creepy masks as they tagged the birds, as they were trying to find out whether crows recognised human faces. Turns out that these birds could! The researchers found that whenever they walked around the campus with the masks on, the crows would dive-bomb them and caw at them and generally make their lives a misery.After I read this I started to wonder whether it was wise for me to have gotten so physically close to the crows on my property. Perhaps, my face will now be recognised by the Lochiel crows – if so, I could be in trouble, though I’ve been nothing more than a keen observer of their daily activities.I’ve been calling these birds crows but it’s quite likely that they could be Australian ravens. The bird books tell me how to identify them. If I could just get that little bit closer to check them out, really inspect their feathers and features, get really up close and personal but, in light of what I’ve learnt of their ability to identify humans and attack them, I think I’ll dust off the old binoculars and look for clues from afar instead!