Are corvids cold blooded killers or merely opportunistic scavengers? This is the question we are trying to answer in this blog post. Mainstream media and advertising businesses often have a tendency to present an idyllic and idealised version of farming practices, showcasing for example animals living in picturesque environments. This imagery is employed to evoke positive emotions and create a connection with consumers. It is nothing else than a marketing strategy aimed at promoting the products derived from the use of non-human animals, such as meat or wool, by associating them with positive and wholesome images. Humans have a natural inclination to connect with and appreciate the beauty of animals. The sight of a playful and adorable lamb triggers positive emotions, such as joy and warmth, which does evoke empathy and a sense of compassion.
Bearing this in mind, then it is not surprising that the sight of corvids scavenging on such an innocent being will without a doubt be repulsive for most people, who will immediately sympathise with the victim, and not with the scavenger. Unfortunately, media representations of such wildlife interactions with domesticated non-human animals are commonly very much one-sided, despite the well known fact that it is always essential to consider all nuances and complexities of such interactions.
Media portrayals often focus on dramatic or attention-grabbing stories, which can lead to an exaggerated or sensationalised narrative. While isolated instances of corvid predation on lambs occur, it is essential to keep in mind that wildlife predation is just one among many factors influencing lamb mortality. It is crucial to take scientific research in account, as we will do, when discussing these matters.
We will show the links between mainstream media, their owners and agricultural businesses, and we will demonstrate historical, cultural and psychological background information to explain why a picture of corvids as being coldblooded killers is being painted. We will look into the human psyche, but also at the reality of agricultural businesses.
It is usually not difficult to differentiate between adult rooks (Corvus frugilegus) and carrion crows (Corvus corone). Both species may look similar at the first glance, because both have black feathers that can also look glossy. However, the long pale and pointy beak, with bare skin around its base, is the most striking and characteristic feature of rooks. It is also worth knowing that rooks nest collectively in tall trees, often close to farms or villages, which are known as rookeries. In contrast, carrion crows are fairly solitary and are usually found alone or in pairs, although they may form occasional non-breeding flocks. Unlike rooks, carrion crows do nest solitary, maintaining a large breeding territory centred around the nest.
Additional help and information about how to identify adult corvids including rooks and carrion crows can be found on the British Trust for Ornithology website (BTO).
It has been said that the eyes are windows to the soul. Research has shown that the apertures of our eyes offer a glimpse into the mind. No doubt that this applies to human and non-human animals. The pupil response to cognitive and emotional events occurs on an even smaller scale than the light reflex, but with the right tools this response is measurable.
When we give a human or non-human being moral consideration, then this simply means that we take into account how they will be affected by our actions, omissions, attitudes and decisions. Sentient individuals, regardless of their species, have morally relevant interests in being alive and in not being harmed, and this does not vary according to the fact whether a species is rare or common.
This short videoclip shows a fascinating encounter between a rather naughty and very persistent hooded crow and a juvenile mute swan. Neither the victim nor a nearby adult bird, presumably a parent of the young swan, seem to be too much annoyed by the antics of the crow, who repeatedly pulls the tail or tries to get hold of some wing feathers.
Isla joined us recently at nestling age after being rescued by well-meaning but inexperienced people. We do not know a lot about Isla’s story other than that she has been found as a presumed orphan. We understand that the carer struggled increasingly to raise Isla. After about two weeks they gave up and brought Isla eventually to a local bird rescue, who recognised immediately that Isla was in great trouble. Subsequently, we have been asked to take over Isla’s longterm care and rehabilitation, which we did.
Coexistence of Multiple Health Conditions
After a thorough assessment we found that Isla showed signs of a septicaemia with undulating temperatures. She also demonstrated extensive soft tissue swellings involving hock, ankle and foot joints. Interestingly, Isla’s wing joints were completely preserved. Both very swollen hock joints showed already several small pressure sores. Additionally, obscured by the marked joint swelling, we also noticed an unusual deformity of Isla’s right-sided hock joint and foot, which rather looked like a traumatic injury than a congenital deformity or simple involvement by the coexisting inflammatory joint disease. It was difficult to ascertain the exact pathology due to the severity of joint and soft tissue swelling. However, careful physical examination showed a lack of sensation and power in the injured foot, which made it likely that a trauma has caused at least part of the hock joint swelling, having also lead to a nerve injury. Also, it seemed very likely that Isla has suffered a spinal contusion, as she showed a slight weakness in both legs, whilst both hip joints remained unaffected by joint infection and lack of power. Not unexpected in Isla’s case, as her immune system was clearly overwhelmed, we found her suffering of an external and internal parasite infestation.