Crows in Japan

The main motivations for our recent Japanese holiday were cultural and historical but naturally I kept a look out for birds and beasts, as I do here. We spent time in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama and Koyasan, listed from largest to smallest, and from each of them except Osaka we ventured into the edges of the surrounding forested hills.

We didn’t see many birds, however, either in variety or in absolute numbers. Crows outnumbered all the rest, even in urban areas. Beyond them, I can only recall sparrows, a couple of hawks soaring over the rivers in Kyoto, and a couple of waterbirds on a pond at the historic village on the outskirts of Takayama. The weather must bear some of the blame, since we had more wet days than dry and sensible birds stayed out of the rain as much as they could (although we tourists just carried on regardless, as we did in the Italian heatwave last year).

Crow beside the path to the forest shrine in Nara

The (wet) crow above is perching on the pedestal of one of the hundreds of stone lanterns lining the path to a major Shinto shrine on the outskirts of Nara, a beautifully mysterious/haunted/sacred walk through misty forest.

stone lanterns
The path to the shrine

Crows and their close relatives are difficult to tell apart, all of them being much the same size and colour. Japan has four, according to wikipedia: the Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos; Carrion Crow, Corvus corone; Rook, Corvus frugilegus; and Common Raven, Corvus corax. I think mine is a Jungle Crow, and there’s a blog post about the species here which I just have to mention for the extraordinary ‘tool use’ of urban crows it documents. It’s worth reading for more general info, too; the photos are good but exaggerate the blueness on the crows’ feathers.

Australia has five species, three of which live in North Queensland: the Torresian Crow and Australian Raven, both of which have large ranges including the coast, and the Little Crow, which doesn’t live on the coastal strip but occupies all the drier part of the continent.

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