Sunday, November 20, 2011

Corvids in Flight

The crow family or corvids gets a bad press. Words often used to describe these beautiful, and 'intelligent' birds include evil, cunning, vicious, sinister and murderous which has not been helped by their general portrayal in newspapers, film and books. They have in my opinion been wrongly accused of the steep and recent decline in UK song birds with inappropriate calls for culling above and beyond their usual daily persecution. In my view the changes and losses in bird habitat and the domestic cat are probably the major influences in small bird decline. In 2006 it was estimated their were 10.3 million domestic cats in the UK which is a large population of efficient predators. Another study showed that cats bring home about 4 small birds a year. I think the resulting maths speaks for itself yet noone obviously calls for a cull of cats. Corvids will take eggs and chicks from nests but then again woodpeckers are more predatory than you may realise. The crow family and song birds and have lived in harmony for thousands of years and common sense would suggest that other factors are at play here in the recent sharp declines of the latter.

Over the last couple of years I have spent many happy hours in their company. They are fascinating birds and the closer views has given me a great appreciation of the subtle beauty of their true colours. From a photography point of view they provide good subjects and often look at their most spectacular when in flight. However, capturing flight images of these birds has proved both challenging yet personally rewarding.

For this post I will concentrate on three species and start off with the Jackdaw. These birds are superb aerial acrobats.
The moment of touch down.
The magpie is a particularly maligned species probably because we have greatest contact with these birds as they visit our parks and gardens. They are particularly tricky to photograph in flight as they tend to be quite erratic. A further challenge is achieving the correct camera exposure on a black and white bird in the good light required to freeze them in flight.
I find that photography of these birds flying is at its easiest just before the point of landing.
My favourite pose for this bird is the head on landing when all the feathers are at full spread to slow the bird on it final approach but in photography terms these images are the most difficult to achieve.
Of course what these images unfrotunately do not show is the the iridescent blues, green and purples that can be only be seen on a dorsal view of these bird.

I will finish this post with some Rook images. This is a particularly overlooked species by bird photographers but I cannot for a moment imagine why. These birds have been a long running subject that I have pursued during my lunch hour at work and I am sure will continue to be so. Some sandwiches, a camera and a flock of rooks is a great way to spend 60 minutes.
I love the purple and blue sheen of these birds when the light hits them at the right angle.
As with the Jackdaws, Rooks are incredibly agile in flight.
The wing shape of these birds, with the long feather 'fingers', is on a par with many raptors and creates some interesting flight poses.
Hopefully this post will have helped you view corvids in a more favourable light For those who wish to find more, can I suggest that you wander over to the excellent Corvid Journal which has a wealth of information on these birds. For those who already share my passion for corvids you may wish to go and check out and help support one of the organisations, such as Corvid Aid, who undertake such brilliant and dedicated work rehabilitating injured birds for release back in to the wild.
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