May 31st   Leave a comment

There is a pair of shelduck in Roome Bay at the moment. They are conspicuous, almost goose size, pied ducks with bright red bills. The male is larger than the female and has a knob on the base of its bill like a mute swan. They could probably breed successfully in Roome Bay if it wasn’t disturbed, but it is so busy during the summer that it is unlikely that the shelducks will even try. The shelducks are swimming among the eiders. Some eider ducklings appeared among the adults at the end of last week but they were soon picked off by the gulls. More should be coming over from the Isle of May this week and some of these will survive because the greater numbers swamp the predators.

Shelduck drake

It is a tough life and an early death for most bird chicks unfortunately. But this is the way of it and the reason that birds produce lots of chicks. The fledgling starlings have been particularly hard hit this week. I am convinced that there are a few pairs of crows in Crail that specialise on the starling chicks, actively hunting them for the week or two after fledging when they are very vulnerable and easy to catch. On Tuesday I watched a crow swoop down onto a fledgling starling at Roome Bay. The starling flew off chased by the crow, but it could only fly poorly. The crow caught up with it and grabbed its tail. The starling then stalled and to my surprise the crow then grabbed it with its foot like a raptor.

Crows use their bills to grab prey, they don’t use their feet. But I have always wondered why they don’t use them like a bird of prey. Crows have lethally long sharp claws that easily match a sparrowhawks – handling a crow is tricky because of them. They also manipulate prey with their feet like parrots. So the step for crows to use their feet to grab prey when they are chasing them in flight seems a small one to take. Yet in years of watching crows hunt birds they have always chased down their prey and grabbed them with their bill, often after forcing them to the ground. But not today.

The crow then carried the starling like a hawk until it dropped it because a herring gull swooped down on it trying to steal the starling. The crow chased the starling down to the ground and then grabbed it in its bill, making off quickly before the herring gull could return and finish its attempted robbery. The crow had clearly forgotten its fantastic evolutionary leap to being a raptor. Probably a good thing. The starlings have a tough enough time anyway.

Carrion crow – so nearly a full fledged bird of prey

There was another lesser whitethroat singing from the gardens on Nethergate this week, or perhaps the same bird as last week. If that is the case then it may hang around to breed. Migrants have been still trickling through though with some good ones nearby (thrush nightingale and bluethroat on the Isle of May). The rain showers of Thursday will have brought them down so this weekend is a good time to go out looking.

Posted May 31, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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