crow1Lots of crows live around Mudchute. They are truly amazing birds with brains that are big in proportion to the size of their body, about the same proportions as we see in dolphins.

They have 250 or so different calls which implies that they have a language system at work. In fact, we also know that they have different local dialects depending on where they live in the world.  When they meet others with different accents they will copy their sounds, much like we do when we hear a new set of voices.

We know that they exchange information within their groups. For example, we know that they can remember faces for up to 5 years. If someone has been cruel or unkind to them they will gang up on that person to defend themselves.  They also get together and mob predators which threaten their safety.

On the other hand, they form attachments with people who are kindly towards them and they have even known to bring gifts to people who they have made friends with.

They are playful and invent games to play together like jousting or tug-of-war and doing acrobatics as they fly in the sky.

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Crows are well known for using and making tools to do jobs that they need, often combining lots of different bits and pieces to get their tasks done.  They plan how to do special tasks ahead of doing them. For example they will pop pebbles into beakers of water with a floating treat in it that is beyond their reach, this raises the level of the water until their beaks can peck out the goodies. There is also great footage of them sitting on traffic lights over busy roads. They drop walnuts into the road so that the cars drive over them and squish the tough shells, exposing the delicious flesh of the nut. When the lights turn red, they swoop down and peck up all of the edible yummy bits of food. Isn’t that amazing?

They also have invented a medication of sorts. They gather ants and rub them into their feathers and skin so that they release an acid which repels hurtful bugs and microorganisms.

They save the food that they gather, if they have more than enough to eat. And just like we do, they will eat the things that are most perishable first.

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They mate for life and have clutches of between three to nine eggs and take about 20-40 days to hatch. However the juvenile birds don’t leave the family home for many years and they play a role in babysitting for the new baby birds and bringing food to their mother as she incubates new eggs.

When a crow dies, the others gather around it and hold what looks to us just like a funeral. We are not sure why they do this, but it could be that these clever, intelligent, sociable beings need to mourn when one of their number dies, just like humans do.


budgies

Budgies are native to Australia where they gather in huge flocks, travelling thousands of miles each year searching for seeds and water, fruit and little insects on scrub or grassland. They are very sociable creatures who are clever at adapting objects for tools or toys, they are curious, intelligent and playful. All of their behaviour and thinking is designed to living in a large group. Their eating, drinking, preening, napping, socialising, keeping guard and signalling for danger is all done as a flock thinking of itself as being safe in great numbers. If they are separated from all other of their kind and kept alone they often fail to thrive, wither and die from loneliness.

Their beaks are designed with the top bit covering the lower bit and folded in quite close to their heads which makes them very efficient and nibbling away at seed heads to get their food.

In the wild their feathers are green yellow and black. However, in captivity they can be bred to have yellow, blue white or purple feathers and many combinations of all of these. They have tetrochromatic vision which means they can see wavelengths that humans can’t see. And their plumage fluoresces under Ultra Violet light.

vThey have four toes the outer two point forward and the middle two point backwards. This means that they can grip onto a twig from the front and the back giving then a very secure hold.

vBudgies is the short name we give to Budgerigars which is a westernised version of the name for a species of small bird that has existed for over 5 million years. They were first heard of in the west in a book called ‘Birds of Australia’ written by John Gould in 1840. He said that they are “the most animated, cheerful birds you could possibly imagine.” The name Budgerigar was an incorrect pronounciation of the name given to the birds by the Aboriginal People of Australia which meant. “good to eat.”v

When this book was published, someone decided to bring Queen Victoria a pair Budgies. Of course when she had some everyone wanted them because they wanted to be like her. A trend began for having budgies as pets which still goes on now. After dogs and cats, they are the most popular pets, because they are small and cheap to look after they get to know their people and they can mimic human speech.v


magpie

Magpies are social life birds and like to stick with their mates and in larger flocks. They can roost in groups of up to 200 birds, making nests, with roofs, in trees if there is enough room. If not, they sometimes build nests on the ground. All of the community of birds settles down for the night and they are all up well before dawn.

The name for a group of Magpies is ‘A Mischief’. This probably comes from the old stories about them being snaky thieves of shiny objects. In fact we have found out recently that they are actually a little startled by things that twinkle and gleam and will investigate them but not take them away to their nests. What a shame, that is such a good old story.

There are lots of superstitions about magpies. Lots of different areas of the UK have traditions for greeting a bird when you see one on your walk. Sometimes you are supposed to tip your hat to them, or say, “Good morning to you Mr Magpie and best wishes to all the little magpies” or “Good Morning Mr Magpie and how is your Lady Wife?’ However as both male and female magpies look the same it is a bit weird that we always assume that the one we meet is a male.

A lot of people know a variation of the old rhyme

‘One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told’

The rhyme goes on but there are lots of different versions of it.

It was originally a way of looking for signs about what the future was going to bring you. A lot of the superstitions about Magpies come from one of those strange stories from myths surrounding early Christian stories. It was said that the magpie alone would not sing when Jesus died, so it got a bit of a curse attached to it from this unkind story. People said that that’s why it doesn’t have a pretty voice, but sounds a bit grating and bleak to our ears, it’s also why misfortune is said to be signalled by it. In reality they are clever, sociable and rather beautiful looking birds, which look bigger than they actually are because of their long tails. Their feathers have a glorious purple green iridescent gleam to them.