Corvus corone cornix
The Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix) is a bird species well known by almost all Finns. Belonging to the order Passeriformes, familia of crows (Corvidae) genus Corvus, it has about 250.000 nesting couples in Finland. The amount of individuals is naturally higher, due to the bird reaching maturity and thus breeding age as late as its third summer.
The appearance of the Hooded Crow is easily distinguishable due to its large size and unique appearance. The bird is almost half a meter long with a wing span of almost a full meter, and can’t really be confused with any other crow met here. Corvus corone corone, a random visitor, is of the same size and shape and behaves like our standard crow, but has a completely black coloration. The Hooded Crow has a grey body with black wings, tail, head and chest. At the border of these two species’ distribution, there are interbred variations that look more or less like either of them. In Western Europe, a line going from Denmark to Italy separates the distribution of the two species, with the eastern side belonging to the Hooded Crow all the way to the end of the distribution, a line drawn from Afghanistan to the Arctic Ocean. Eastward of that line lives a group of subspecies of Corvus corone, completely black birds with small differences. Finnish scientists haven’t as of yet classified that particular group of subspecies into species of their own.
The Hooded Crow inhabits the entirety of Finland. The bird likes to live near human habitation, preferably in forest areas near fields and close to rivers and lakes. These are also the kind of areas they establish their territory on, which is about 10 hectares in size. The couples live on the same territory for all their lives. The nest is usually built at the top of a spruce, very high and hidden from prying eyes. The eggs are laid at the beginning of April, with a rate of one egg per day. The brooding begins right away, which results in the eggs hatching at different times. The young birds are nest-fed for about a month and a few weeks, and after that they still remain under the guidance of their mother in the nesting area for months to come. The Hooded Crow is mostly a local bird, but there is migration and moving around as well in the northern part of the habitat, such as Finland and Russia, when the birds move towards Sweden and the North Sea.
The Hooded Crow is very intelligent and precise, as crows usually are. For example, when feeding on a field, only one crow is foraging for food, while another keeps watch on top of a pole or some other good location and makes sure the feeding isn’t disturbed.
For Finnish people, the Hooded Crow has always been a friend, malefactor, egg thief, and many other things. The most common type of stories and observations regarding the Hooded Crow has to do with the bird stealing fish from fish traps. A painting (also published in stamp form) highlights the coexistence. The painting was painted by the great Finnish painter, Akseli Gallen-Kallela on his home farm in Tyrvää in 1884. Nowadays Tyrvää is called Vammala (of Sastamala), which is also where the writer lives. The painting is named, with simple elegance, “A boy and a crow”.
Finns have always been fascinated with the crow, and there has been a multitude of poems written about the bird as well. One of the finest is the poem “Syksy” (“Autumn“ in English), written by Lauri Pohjanpää in 1924, where the crows are heard musing (translated to English semi-literally):
Two old, old crows
silently swaying on the fence.
The rushes’ chest is dirty brown
Sky’s grey and weeping. Autumn’s down.
“The stark has left”, one speaks out
to his brother, like by himself.
A long silence. “So he did”
Replies the other, eventually.
The elders fall silent again
As the rain dances on the lake.
One grooms the back of his wing
The other sometimes squints his eyes.
Crouching their heads down
It’s raining. Quiet. Getting dark.
Across the field’s dark plow
the kiln’s scent can be felt.
Two wet, old crows
dozing on the fence, deep in thought.
“I probably should…” wakes one up,
slowly preparing to take flight.
“Was good meeting you.
Come and chat with me again”
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