The Enigma of Crows

Anne Rouen's puppy, Tiffy.

Tiffy. Saved by Crows? Who’d have thought it.
Image courtesy of dan /

I hate crows, loathe them with a Passion, having all my life had to deal with the consequences of their handiwork or perhaps I should say beakwork. It inflames me when they sit around in trees at their annual crow conclave, swapping yarns and boasting of their devilish exploits. I used to think there were two sorts of crows: wicked ones with creepy white eyes and more benign, smaller red-eyed ones, rather sweet, really. But no, the red-eyed ones are the young. They haven’t yet learned all the fiendish tools of their trade.

Could there be a more devious or evil bird than a crow? I don’t think so.

In fact, you could tell me any story you like about the diabolical cunning of crows and I would believe it. There is only one delicacy a crow cannot resist a living, breathing sheep’s eye and it will do anything to get one.

I have seen four of them in line along the back of a sheep, claws hooked into the wool, all flapping madly while leaning to the same side to bring it down; and an enterprising pair on the head of another, pecking at its eyes as it ran blindly, blood running down its face fortunately into the door of my stopped car.

But that’s crows for you: Team work.

Crows: It is here that I have to remind myself that they are just birds. Not evil, not supernatural: just birds! But I digress: That speck in the paddock was not my dog who had gone missing yet again, but, you guessed it, a large, black bird.

Contemplating the crow pecking in the table drain and its mate perched on the fence beside it, I was surprised and relieved to see my dog come round the bend in the road, towards me. Generally, seeing me sets her going faster — the other way. “You’re coming too? Great, let’s go!”

My relief turned to horror as I saw why. Planing in on top of her at about two feet, and closing rapidly, was a huge, wedge-tailed eagle, wingspan as wide as the vehicle track, completely dwarfing this little bobbing mouse.

I was flabbergasted. They never come down out of the hills. I started running towards it, arms waving, yelling like one demented. But the great eagle ignored me. Intent on its prey, it lowered, stretching its talons for the death-grip.

My poor little dog. She looked so tiny there, overshadowed by that enormous wingspan, bobbing along like a fuzzy little metronome; the crow still pecking, oblivious, on the ground beside her. I was too far away to save her from a horrible death; and that damned Rhett Butler of a crow just didn’t seem to notice.

In a matter of seconds it was all over. The eagle dropped onto her, its wings shrouding her from my sight.

But even in the instant that I despaired for her life, at the exact millisecond the eagle struck;  with all the precision of a jet fighter unit, the crows went into action. The one on the ground leapt for the eagle’s right eye, its mate on the fence honed in on the
left; and another I had not seen dropped out of the sky to attack from the rear. Perfect timing.

But that’s crows for you: Finesse.

The eagle flinched, drew back, began to wheel away; and miraculously, out from under the battle zone, still bobbing with the same unchanging rhythm she’d maintained all along, came my dog. I scooped up her trembling form and, still in shock, watched the crows bombing the fearsome intruder, harrying it back to its proper dominions.

But that’s crows for you. As my Nana would have said: ‘More Front than the Queen Mary.’

Perhaps you may have guessed that I have spent a lot of time thinking about crows, but never would I have believed that I would one day be grateful to them.

But that’s life for you. Just full of little ironies …

Vaccination: A Historical View

To vaccinate or not? This has been in the forefront of the news this week, with campaigns urging parents to vaccinate; and proclamations issued about child care centres and unvaccinated children.

To those of my parents’ generation, it would be unthinkable to have this debate. They all knew people who had tragically lost four, five, even all nine of their children, often within days of each other. They knew exactly what to do when each new vaccine came along.

In my own family history, an ancestor lost her husband, son and daughter from diphtheria. They all died within the space of two days. This happened in 1896.

As a farmer, I follow general animal husbandry practice to routinely vaccinate my livestock so as not to lose them from dreadful diseases such as tetanus, Black disease, blackleg and pulpy kidney. A simple vaccine, two injections given four to six weeks apart, prevents the early death of otherwise healthy young animals.

We do our best not to lose our animals from preventable disease.

How much worse if it is our children?

The anti-vaccination lobby can present frightening scenarios to parents. Unfortunately, they only reveal a very small part of the picture. They seem to have forgotten what it was that drove scientists like Pasteur and Jenner to produce vaccines: Human suffering and death!

For various reasons, lately, some parents have not been vaccinating their children. The only reason they have gotten away with it if they have! is because most people, since vaccines have become available, do vaccinate their children.

If you are considering not vaccinating because of a very natural fear for the safety of your child, I would say this:

  • You are making this decision on behalf of another human being.

  • It could literally mean his/her life or death.

  • You must be aware of the consequences: i.e. Are you prepared to play Russian Roulette with the life of your child?

Please, read the research. Don’t be put off by conspiracy theory claims. There are legitimate studies available through medical journals such as The Lancet. Weigh up the risks of vaccination and compare them to the risks of a fatal disease like diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus or smallpox.

Remember, the only reason they are now rare is because of rigorous vaccination programs. And, sadly, whooping cough is making a big comeback. If it can do it, so can others.

Let’s do a spot-check on Diphtheria, one of the worst killers of children:

  • An acute infectious bacterial disease usually affecting children under ten.

  • Primary lesion is in upper respiratory tract where the bacteria produce a toxin.

  • General symptoms are sore throat, fever, fatigue.

  • If it affects the larynx, the child may die of suffocation without a tracheotomy.

  • Worst case scenario: toxins cause heart failure and paralysis leading to death.

Before the 1940s this frightful disease was on top of every parent’s anxiety list. But, hey, the good news is: they found a vaccine.

Can anybody seriously tell me they would contemplate this risk for their child? If they didn’t have to?

Here are some stats from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: In 1940-44 the average annual death rate from Diphtheria in England and Wales was 1,830, dramatically reducing with immunisation, until in 1969 the figure was zero. This adds up to many thousands of families not having to grieve the loss of a child; many thousands of children who grew up to be adults and not statistics. Maybe you were one of them …

Finally, if you are still undecided, I suggest you visit any old cemetery (1880 – 1920 should do the trick) and check out the ages and heart-wrenching inscriptions on the headstones. And/or go to the death and funeral notices in the digitised old newspapers in Trove. 1896 perhaps?

You will then be able to make an informed decision.