Sunday 1 July 2018

A Pied Crow in Somerset 30th June 2018

A Pied Crow, usually a resident of the African continent has been touring England this month.It was first encountered at Spurn in Yorkshire and then flew across the River Humber to Gibralter Point in Lincolnshire on 13th June, before moving to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk the next day and remaining there until transferring to  another Norfolk coastal resort, Cromer, on 19th June. Remarkably it then crossed to the southwest of England on 26th June and has been residing at Clevedon in Somerset since then.

Clevedon is a pleasant little Victorian town on the Severn Estuary and the crow has been favouring a pedestrian precinct called Queen's Square, very near to the town centre, where it perches on the surrounding roofs, warily waiting to come down, in quiet moments, to join the resident feral pigeons and jackdaws and seize scraps of food. 

Queen's Square
Clevedon is only ninety minutes drive from my home so I decided I would like to go and see the Pied Crow and arrived at Clevedon at about 2pm. Parking the car in a nearby side street, I made my way to Queen's Square but despite the crow having being reported from here up until lunchtime it was currently nowhere to be seen.

This was not really a problem or any cause for anxiety. I figured the crow was bound to come back, as on previous days it had been seen in the square at intervals throughout the day. I found a bench in the square and sat enjoying the sunshine, chatting to curious locals and drinking a coffee from one of the nearby cafes. It was far from unpleasant sitting out of the hot sun in the shade of a huge Plane Tree and awaiting the return of the crow which  could go missing for long periods, according to the locals who stopped to talk to me

I had quite a long wait, including a wander around nearby streets looking at likely chimney pots, but there was no sign of the crow until, an hour and  half later, it flew in and perched on the tower of the local Baptist church, situated at one corner of the square but it was obviously put off coming down to the ground by the constant disturbance, as a procession of people crossed the busy square or visited the surrounding shops and cafes.

The friendly owner of  Jenny's, one of the cafes on the square, feeds the crow regularly in the morning and evening and I would hazard a guess that the crow, far from being stupid, has worked out that it is on to a good thing with this regular source of food. Certainly the cafe is benefiting as many visiting birders have used it to refresh themselves with coffee and a snack.

I watched the crow as it uneasily hopped around on top of the church roof, willing it to fly down but. it was nervous about coming down to the ground and flew off, disappearing behind the nearby houses and shops. I wandered the surrounding streets once more, looking for it but could find no sign of it. About an hour later it returned to the square and repeated its nervy performance but again decided there were still too many people in the square for it to feel secure. It perched briefly on nearby chimney pots and roofs and even in the huge Plane Tree but eventually flew off and was gone from view once again.

Yet another long wait ensued from when I last saw it but now it was approaching 5pm and the shops were closing and the square was much quieter. The crow returned. This time it remained for a long time, and after interminably checking for any possible threat, looked like it would come down to ground level but still I had to wait until it finally gained enough confidence and dropped down to feed on some bread that the owner of Jenny's had scattered for it on an open area of the square.

We stood quietly and chatted as the crow, cautiously, walked across the square and took some of the bread, flying with it to a higher perch on an adjacent building where it obviously felt more secure.

In the end it remained in the square for at least half an hour before flying upwards, high into a clear blue sky and performed several soaring circuits above the town before heading south and out of sight. 

Pied Crows are only slightly larger than our familiar Carrion Crow but appear larger due to their bigger bill and longer tail. The all black bill  when seen close is formidable, the upper mandible wickedly downcurved on its upper surface. The black parts of its plumage are glossed and the white feathering is very distinctive especially on its white belly, stained in this bird's case with brown, which some have claimed, rather fancifully in my opinion, is the result of contact with Saharan desert sand! The white plumage extends from the belly and lower breast, up and around the sides of the neck to form a small sized triangular patch of white on its mantle.

Whether this Pied Crow is a truly wild bird or not, no one knows. It is certainly wary of humans. How it got here is a source of much speculation with one theory being it arrived on the east coast of England on an ocean going vessel and 'jumped ship' before beginning its tour of England.Whatever its provenance it was a nice bird for me to see again, having last seen them in Zimbabwe in southern Africa, quite a few years ago.

Pied Crows are the most widespread crow to be found in sub saharan Africa, being found from Senegal, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea in the north of the continent southwards to the very southern tip at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Vagrants have occurred recently in Morocco.Wherever it is encountered it is usually to be found near human habitation and in behaviour and habits is very similar to our native Carrion Crow.

Please click on any image to view a larger version


The Pied Crow moved to Pembrokeshire in Wales on 3rd July

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