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Crows and their cousins - ravens, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, jays, and others - are among the cleverest birds in the world. Some even use tools - including a lit cigarette! A Rook, like this one, allegedly set fire to the thatched roof of Anne Hathaway’s historic cottage in England. And all because it had an itch...
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Tale of a Rascal Crow
Written by Frances Wood
This is BirdNote! [Single crow cawing]
Today, I have a crow story. One day at Anne Hathaway’s historic thatched-roof house in England, the roof caught fire and burned. The police suspected arson. The owners repaired the roof and also hired a guard to watch the house. A week later, that same guard finished a smoke and tossed his cigarette butt to the ground. To his astonishment, a crow* picked it up in its beak and flew to the top of the cottage. There, the bird stuck the smoldering cigarette under its wing and held it for a few moments next to its body feathers, before dropping the cigarette on the roof. Soon the thatch began to burn. [Sound of thatch on fire.] The guard called for help and then extinguished the fire.
After the story hit the newspapers, a bird watcher offered this explanation: Crows* that suffer with feather parasites have learned that they can hold smoldering embers in their wing-pits to smoke out these pests. The owners of the Hathaway cottage had found the arsonist—a crow* with an itch! [Repeat crow cawing]
What do you think? Too improbable? No? Have you seen a bird do something that surprised you? Let us know at birdnote.org. I’m Mary McCann.
Calls of crows provided by: The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
Sound recordist: G.A.Keller
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org January 2015 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# 030405AMCRKPLU AMCR-02-MM-2009-03-29
* Editor's note: the bird was most likely a Rook or perhaps a Carrion Crow.
And we're story to say that this story seems to have been a creative tale. A myth, widely perpetuated, thanks to the internet. Seems possible, though, doesn't it? Those corvids can be real rascals. There was a fire at the cottage in 1969, and perhaps a couple of stories were merged at that time...