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27 February 2010 - That's a Raven.....I think? PDF Print E-mail

Despite the wintry weather, spring is rapidly approaching. The frogs have spawned and some birds have started singing and checking out nest sites.

One of the earliest birds to nest is the raven, some of whom will be laying eggs about now. Ravens are the largest member of the crow family and are an increasingly common sight locally. There are approximately 300 pairs in Gwent, an increase of 40% from the early 1980's, and can be seen throughout the county, whereas previously they were confined to Northwest upland areas.

Ravens are one of those birds that most people will have seen but not recognised. The crow family are fairly similar at first appearance (apart from magpies and jays of course), and I know from first hand experience that these large black birds are often, and easily, confused. When I was younger someone told me that any flock of crow-like birds were rooks. It's not true, jackdaws form flocks, as do crows and ravens occasionally, but I believed it for years. It's a common misconception – Lewes football club, nicknamed 'The Rooks' after the flock of large black birds at nearby Lewes Castle, should actually be known as 'The Jackdaws'.

A quick guide to telling crows apart is; Ravens are about the same size as a buzzard and normally seen in pairs or small groups, their most defining feature is a loud deep 'cronk' call. Crows are smaller than ravens, though still large, and are also normally seen in pairs. They build a single nest and make a harsh, angry call. Rooks are a similar size, but normally seen in flocks. They are best identified by their bare, bony looking face and by nesting communally in tall trees. Jackdaws are much smaller and more confiding than other crows, they are often seen in towns and are the birds that favour your chimney to nest in. They form flocks, appear to be wearing a grey hood and make quite a high pitched 'chack' call.

Learning how to identify birds is something that can be done via books, but is much easier (and enjoyable) if someone shows you and points out characteristics and differences. It's an extremely rewarding skill to learn and one that can be picked up fairly quickly. If you would like to improve your bird ID skills, come along to a Gwent Ornithological Society guided walk.

Visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk for details or give me a call and I'll forward you a programme.

Coming Up

Don't forget tonight's illustrated talk at Goytre Village Hall (Saturday 27th), when Graham Wren presents 'Nestboxes – The Comings and Goings'. Graham has over forty years experience of peering into nestboxes and is going to lift the lid on the secret lives of birds such as blue tits, nuthatches and tawny owls....Why not Sky Plus 'Casualty' and come along? Goytre Village Hall is situated just off the A4042 Newport to Abergavenny road (SO 323 046) and the talk starts at 7.30pm. Entry, including tea and biscuits is £1.50.

There is another talk (same time and venue) on Saturday March 13th, when WPC Tracey Bowen-Quirke will be on hand to talk about wildlife crime. One of the subjects Tracey will be discussing is the photography of protected birds – Many people are unaware that it is illegal to photograph certain birds, particularly whilst nesting, as it can jeopardise the chances of that bird breeding successfully. If you fancy questioning a police officer - or just listening to what promises to be a very informative talk, please feel free to come along.

On Sunday March 7th a guided birdwatching walk led by John Thitchener is being held in the Forest of Dean. The Forest is a fantastic place to watch birds and offers the opportunity to see goshawk and hawfinch, two of Britain's most elusive species. Both are very secretive and shy, however John knows of a few spots that they regularly appear....So, with a bit of luck you will be rewarded with some magical sightings.

If you would like to tag along, meet John at Waitrose car park, Monmouth at 8am. Please make sure you dress suitably and bring binoculars if you have them (a few sandwiches and a drink would also be a good idea).

New faces are always welcome at GOS events – For more details visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk or give me a call on the number below.

Keep in Touch

Thanks to all readers who have taken the time to get in touch. I enjoy hearing from you and can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on 01633 866470.

Mark Stevens