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Carrion Crow
Corvus corone
Hooded Crow (UR)
Corvus cornix
  Linnaeus, 1758
Collared Crow
Corvus torquatus
  Owner:   C. Michael Hogan    

Adult C. c. cornix, Nes,Jeløya,Østfold, Norway. Photographer: Morten Nilsen
Hooded Crow
Corvus cornix

C. Michael Hogan PhD
August 24, 2009

The Hooded Crow is a widely distributed bird in the northern hemisphere; it is an opportunistic feeder and has been known to take down rather large mammals such as small lambs. In retaliation humans kill large numbers of C. cornix; for example in County Cork, Ireland gun club members shot 23,000 Hooded Crows in a two year period in the early 1980s. There is substantial ancient folklore and literature centreing on C. cornix, some of which is based upon the crow's image as a predator and threatening visage; in fact, the Hooded Crow enjoys a richly varied diet including certain vegetation, seafood but also small animals (dead and alive). This bird readily acclimates to proximity of humans and can often be seen visiting sidewalk cafes for the social ambience and snacking opportunities.



TAXONOMY AND DISTRIBUTION
Adult C. c. sharpii, Istinye, Istanbul, Turkey. Photographer: Stuart Fisher

This species was not clearly recognised as a distinct species apart from the Carrion Crow until 2002, although Linnaeus and the British ornithologist MacGillivray earlier announced a clear species distinction. (MacGillivray. 1837) There are four well defined subspecies:
* C. c. capellanus (common name: Mesopotamian Crow) This distinctive form is found in southern Iraq and southwestern Iran. The subspecies exhibits pale grey plumage, appearing almost white at a distance. Some ornithologists consider this taxon sufficiently distinct to be considered a separate species
* C. c. cornix, the nominate, occurs in the British Isles (principally Scotland and Ireland) and Europe, extending south as far as Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia.
* C. c. pallescens is found in coastal areas of Turkey, the Levant and the Nile Valley of Egypt, and manifests paler plumage.
* C. c. sharpii is a paler grey form found from western Siberia in the Yenisei River Valley through to the Caucasus and northern Iran.

The nominate subspecies breeds on Isle of Man, Ireland, Scottish Hebridean islands, Scotland mainland and disjunctively across northern Denmark and Scandinavia; for example, the subspecies is often seen along coastal areas of Islay where rocky and sandy coves alternate. Historically it is an autumnal visitor to the coast of eastern England, particularly Lincolnshire.(Beddard. 1906) where it feeds on shellfish in the mudflats.

C. cornix may interbreed with C. corone where ranges overlap; for example in Scotland this overlap area lies in a band generally bounded by the Grampian Mountains and the River Forth; organisms resulting from this interbreeding manifest an intermediate plumage between the two species. A hybrid taxon is formed, which can breed fertilely among hybrid members; this new taxon appears to be spreading northwest in Europe.



MORPHOLOGY
The species closely resembles the Carrion Crow, with differences in plumage and bill. In the case of both adult male and female C. cornix, the head, wings, tail and foreneck are black glossed with green and blue. The balance of the plumage is an ashy grey. The straight tail is somewhat rounded, whilst the short throat feathers are compact and lanceolate.The adult measures approximately 47 centimetres in length with a wingspan of almost one metre. The bill is long and straight, but slightly less robust than C. corone. The upper mandible of C. cornix manifests an arcuato-declinate dorsal outline.The tarsi anterior are covered with nine scutellae.



BREEDING CYCLE
Nesting occurs in the southern part of the range such as the Persian Gulf as early as February, while is delayed until June in the Shetland Islands and northern Siberia. The most critical stage of the breeding cycle for chick survival is the first half of the nesting period. As the case with many other water birds, an abundance of water are favourable for the breeding success of this species. {Zduniak. 2009}

Nests are typically constructed from sticks high in trees or on cliffsides, but seaweed is often incorporated as a nest fibre near coastal locations. The chicks are altricial until their fledging at about five weeks of age.



BEHAVIOUR
C. Cornix is more sociable than C. corone or C. corax, but cannot be considered gregarious, since it is seldom found in groups larger than five, unless an unusual mass feeding opportunity occurs. The Hooded Crow is an intelligent bird; for example, its spatial relations and memory analysis capability have been documented in maze studies. (M G Pleskacheva et al. 2003) The Hooded Crow's croaky harsh call sounds like: "kraa-kraa-kraa". The species is somewhat gregarious, often seen congregating in groups of up to five, particularly when a feeding opportunity avails.

C. cornix is an omnivore, subsisting on a gamut of berries, insects, molluscs, fishes, other birds' eggs and carrion. Specific taking of bird eggs include the strategy of entering a Puffin tunnel to steal eggs or filching of cormorant and gull eggs from coastal cliffs. Hooded crows are intelligent birds; in Finland they have been seen reeling in fishing lines left in holes in the ice to obtain fish (Wilmore. 1977). Other aspects of their general biology are similar to that of the carrion crow.

The Great Spotted Cuckoo is a brood parasite to Hooded Crow nests, although European Magpie nests are preferred; moreover, the Hooded Crow nests are clearly the preferred host sites in locations such as Egypt and Israel, where the European Magpie is not present.



IN LITERATURE AND MYTHOLOGY
The Hooded Crow (referred to as skald crow in Irish folklore) was portrayed in the ‘'Ulster Cycles'‘ to have perched on the shoulder of the dying hero, Cú Chulainn, son of Lugh. (Armstrong. 1970) Alternatively Irish mythology records the Hooded Crow appearing as a manifestation of the hag spirit Cailleach.

In the culture of the Faroe Island people, a maiden on Candlemas morning was to throw a stone, a bone and a piece of turf at a Hooded Crow; whether the crow flew to sea, to a local roof or remained unmoved, predicted whether she would marry a foreigner, a local lad or not at all.

An early allusion to the Hooded Crow lies in an 1871 publication (Gray. 1871) stating: "The Guil, the Gordon and the Hooded Craw, were the three worst things Murray ever saw." (The guil, or gule, is an invasive weed and Gordon refers to Lewis Gordon, a feared plunderer of Morayshire residing at Rothes Castle.)

Perhaps the most curious account of historic homage to the Hooded Crow is a ceremony of Beltein observed on the first day of May. Here herdsmen would gather and offer a caudle of specially prepared ingredients to several feared animals, including the Hooded Crow; this gesture was to invoke protection from ravaging of young lambs from the crow.

The Hooded Crow is termed Royston Crow in Hertfordshire, named for the eponymous town; the town newspaper is also named the "Royston Crow". C. cornix is one of the birds depicted in the Royal Palace at Oslo. Other locales have adopted this bird by implanting their geographic monicker to C. cornix; for example, the Danes dub him Danish Crow, while the Irish term him the Irish Crow.



REFERENCES

* Piotr Zduniak. 2009. Water conditions influence nestling survival in a Hooded Crow Corvus cornix wetland population, Journal of Ornithology, Springerlink
* M G Pleskacheva, P.A, Kuptsov, A.A. Smirnova, M.S. Bagotskaia and H-P Lipp. 2003. Conditioning of gray crows (Corvus cornix L.) in a giant eight-arm radial maze, Zhurnal vysshei nervnoi deiatelnosti imeni I P Pavlova 2003;53(6):808-11.
* Francesca Greenoak. 1979. All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
* Sylvia Bruce Wilmore. 1977. Crows, jays, ravens and their relatives, David and Charles (Publishers) Ltd, London.
* Frank Evers Beddard. 1906. British birds
* William MacGillivrayorm. 1837. A history of British birds, indigenous and migratory
* Edward Allworthy Armstrong. 1970. The folklore of birds, Dover Press, second edition 284 pages ISBN 0-486-22145-8.
* Ernest Ingersoll.1923. Birds in legend, fable and folklore.Longmans, Green and Company Publishers, New York
* Robert Gray. 1871. ‘'Gray's Birds of the West of Scotland'‘, Glasgow 520 pages
* William Carew Hazlitt. 1905. Faiths and folklore: a dictionary of national beliefs, Volume 1, 672 pages

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