It is perhaps part of human nature that we should always categorise things. For instance, there is a tendency to categorise wild animals and birds as either good or bad.
An example may be the way in which we regard the birds we enjoy watching at our birdtables, such as bluetits, great tits, goldfinches, chaffinches and the like, as birds to be held in good odour. On the other hand there is often a universal dislike expressed at the likes of magpies and crows, the latter particularly shunned perhaps because they are black and therefore bad!
That alone is enough to cast them in the villain's role for many people for whom, as a throw-back to more superstitious times, black birds are inevitably seen as representative of evil and are all thus inevitably classed as bad!
And yet curiously, for reasons I certainly cannot explain the blackest of them all, the male merle - he of the golden beak, does not fall into the 'bad' category. Perhaps he is forgiven for the fine, fluting music that he proffers, his voice sweet enough to persuade even the most anti-black bird person to give him the benefit of the doubt. Crows, whether they are carrion crows, ravens, jackdaws or rooks, all of them viewed as black, not to mention the dreaded hoodie, which is both grey and black, together with black and white magpies are all thus tarred with the same brush. Cormorants also which although perceived as black are, in reality, very dark but iridescent green, can readily be named amongst the most hated.
Thus, when I saw a field extremely well covered with rooks and jackdaws the other day, I could not help but think, the farmer might not have enjoyed such a sight on his land and might instead, have reached for his gun.
Yet in truth those rooks and 'daws would have been doing the said farmer a favour. Indeed, their presence, and they were all very busy pecking away and feasting on a whole range of pests such as wireworms and leatherjackets, might have instead, been welcomed. These unseen, subterranean invertebrates do considerable damage to crops, so the presence of this mass of birds devouring them, black or not, was as much evidence of nature's most efficient pest controllers.
However, I do acknowledge that crows and in particular hooded crows and in hill country, ravens, can go beyond the pail and commit some pretty dastardly deeds such as attacking the eyes and tongues of newly born lambs.
Nature works in, what may seem to many of us, to be mysterious ways. Indeed, the whole thread of existence represents a dependence culture in which each tier of the natural world relies upon others, generally below their own station, in order to exist. Thus, eagles hunt and kill mountain hares. They do sometimes also take red grouse whereas kestrels hunt and kill small rodents and sparrowhawks exist upon smaller song-birds.
Many of the song-birds we admire feed upon insects and so on. This is the food chain. To maintain life, other life must be sacrificed. As I've said many times before, nature is indeed, red in tooth and claw!
Where this sequence sometimes appears to go wrong, is when the activity of birds or animals is deemed to interfere with either man's livelihoods or pleasures.
Hence, a new classification emerges whereby hen harriers for instance, are persecuted because they also like to feed on red grouse, amongst other things. In other words they are classed by some as bad, a bird against which war is waged! Indeed such has been the level of persecution that this is now the rarest raptor in the British landscape.
The hen harrier's problem, apart from its appetite for grouse, is that it is a groundnesting bird and as such is consequently very vulnerable. Harriers seek out remote areas such as heather moorland on which to nest, which makes it easy for those who are familiar with these wild landscapes, to wage war on them, to destroy their nests and young. The recent discovery of traps set specifically to catch harriers at or near their nests, suggests an intensification of that war!
Of course technology, such as electronic tagging, makes the whereabouts of tagged birds more traceable. Therefore, in recent weeks we have read a succession of stories about raptors, among them harriers and eagles, being deliberately killed, allegedly as a means to certain grouse moors being assured of better bags.
Conservationists have naturally been up in arms about such incidents and some now suggest that grouse