Crows

Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)

Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica). Photo: Jens Cederskjold – Flickr

Another very familiar Irish resident, it is hard to believe that this exotic-looking, yet often over-looked beauty is actually a member of the crow family. Known to some for its nest-marauding antics, the Magpie is in fact a very capable and varied vocalist.

The most familiar call is its powerful “chak-chak-chak” alarm calls, given amongst squabbling birds or even to mob a resting owl or other predator. This call is given in harsh bursts and sounds like a Great Tit on steroids – more powerful and with a less metallic tone. Whilst it is by no means a pitfall, it is comparable in a sense.

Listen to a scolding Great Tit, for comparison:

Listen below to hear a group of alarming Magpies, having seen an undetermined predator. This group scolding effort, to make a predator feel uncomfortable or exposed, is known as mobbing and isn’t strictly associated with vocalisations. Magpies are also known to peck at sleeping predators, in a bid to move them on. Likewise, Swallows and other small passerines can regularly be seen swooping at unwelcome raptors.

As well as the typical alarm calls, Magpies can emit a wide range of clicks, disyllabic “cha-chack” notes as well as whining high-pitched calls, often mixed with harsher alarm-type notes. See below for an example of a string of mixed vocalisations, which starts with a high-pitched rising whine, followed by a disyllabic “cha-chack“, and then another variation of a whine note:

The rarest vocalisation from this species is its song, described as a quiet warbling, often interspersed with various instances of mimicry and babbling – you need to be very close, and be in the right place at the right time to hear this. This is something we are waiting to capture – watch this space!


Western Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

Western Jackdaw (Corvus monedula). Photo: Caroline Legg – Flickr

Another familiar resident corvid, Jackdaws are ubiquitous and can even be seen lumbering on the bird-feeder. The icy blue eyes of this species separate it from all our other crows. Its vocalisations are also a very useful feature.

The most typical call is a pleasant, rather high-sounding “kyah“. This is often given by birds in flight but can equally be heard by perching birds.

Excited birds can give a combination of hurried “kyah” calls which can be combined with sharp “kik” calls:

As well as the previously-described kyahs and kiks, occasionally, some harsher, raspier vocalisations can be heard, such is the case in the following flyover bird, which gives a series of down-slurred, modulated “kuhrr, kuhrr, kuhrr, kuhrr, kuhrr” calls.


Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

Rook (Corvus frugilegus). Photo: Seán Ronayne

Larger than the Jackdaw, Rooks are found in large tree-top colonies known as rookeries, where they make a magnificent ruckus in late winter and early spring. Adults of the species are characterised by their wrinkled and grey bare-skin, at the base of the bill. Listen closely to this species and their vocalisations may surprise you, in the best of ways.

By far the most typical call of this species is the rather hoarse, croaky-sounding and very stereotypically crow-like “caaawrr“, uttered either singly or in repetition:

Birds can often throw in a disyllabic equivalent, which suddenly flicks upwards from a dry, hoarse “caawrr” to a sudden high-pitched squeak. To hear this disyllabic flick, listen below, specifically between 9-10 seconds in:

The best Rook vocalisation of all is the criminally underrated song of the species, which in our opinion is just fantastic, with its strange clicks, gargles and flicks (listen from approx’ 18s):


Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix)

Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix). Photo: Seán Ronayne

With its distinctive grey and white plumage, the Hooded Crow is impossible to mistake for any other Irish corvid. Often seen somewhat aggressively calling from tree-tops or other sweeping vantage points, this vocal corvid is often seen before heard. Unlike some of the other members of the Irish corvid family, Hooded Crows like Eurasian Jays are less comfortable around humans, and tend to keep a certain distance.

The most typical vocalisation is a drawn out, accentuated series (varying in number) of raspy “kraaaah, kraaaah, kraaaah” calls which also function as song. These are typically delivered with a forceful hunching forward of the neck, almost like a angry football-supporter shouting at his team to do better! They can also be delivered in an equally common, less manic, more rapid “krah-krah-krah” manner. Whilst these vocalisations have some similarities with those of the Rook, the Hooded Crow equivalent are typically slightly higher-pitched with more of a rolling-r sound.


Northern Raven (Corvus corax)

Northern Raven (Corvus corax). Photo: Carl Bergstrom – Flickr

Northern Raven is not only the largest corvid in Ireland, but also the world, with a size similar to Common Buzzard. Its deep, resonating vocals are a fitting sound for this giant corvid and can be heard from quite a distance.

Just like Hooded Crow, Ravens also call with a resonating rolling-r, only it sounds much more powerful, guttural and obviously coming from a larger bird:

As well as these typical flight calls, Ravens have a rich repertoire, which we will touch on more in the future, as we add to our collection.