Storm Gareth ruffled a few feathers in the Aire Valley this week, and blew my cobwebs away when I visited St Aidan's on Wednesday. I didn't venture any further than a walk round Bowers – it was difficult staying upright in the wind – where just a few birds braved the choppy waters.
Storm Gareth ruffled a few great crested grebe feathers
This male tufted duck looks distinctly unimpressed by the weather
Away from St Aidan's, I'd been watching a pair of magpies nest building in Leeds city centre earlier in the week but I think that will all be on hold until the wind drops a bit. It didn't stop these two smooching on a local rooftop though.
Give us a snuggle
Magpies are so much more than the black and white thieves and bullies they are reputed to be. In the right light, their beautiful long blue-green tails are something special. They don't get their long tails until adulthood, so if you see a short-tailed magpie it is a juvenile.
They are sociable and intelligent, hanging out in gangs, known as parliaments, and always seem to be noisily discussing some business or other. Magpies are usually the first birds to arrive when I throw out handfuls of monkey nuts into the street. First one drops in, while another looks on from a wall or a roof, then the second joins in and they fly off with their prizes to crack open the shells out of my sight. Their corvid cousins, the carrion crows, soon notice the activity and come down to clear up the remaining nuts, often taking a beakful each. The pigeons don't get a look in. My local crows like a bit of variety, and are just as happy with somebody's leftover toast.
Wot, no marmalade?
Crows and magpies have thriven in our urban environment, like my inner-city Aire Valley street. While the country corvids live on a diet of insects, berries, seeds, nuts – and other birds' chicks – and small mammals, the city birds have easily adapted to scavenging the scraps we leave to supplement their menus. I watched a magpie skinning a mouse on a branch on the way to my local shop one day while the playing field over the road usually has a murder of crows poking around for worms or kebab scraps.
There's a good population of crows in my area. From my kitchen window I can watch them watching the world, like police keeping an eye on law and order. As evening draws in they gather in a tree to discuss the day's business, making a very gothic picture.
Murder in the trees
My neighbourhood's third corvid is the jackdaw. There are fewer of these and they seem to keep themselves to themselves more than the raucous crows and magpies, but can be seen around the church.
These jackdaws have found their niche
So look up when you pop to the shop, see what's happening on the rooftops. It's another world up there.
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