Visiting King’s College in Cambridge the other day, Bob and I were horrified to see that several of the lawns had been badly damaged (see photo). It looked as if hooligans had been let loose there, or as if a rugby scrum had taken place there during the night. What on earth had happened? We asked the porters if they knew.
‘It’s the crows’, they said gloomily.
The crows? Surely small birds couldn’t wreak that kind of havoc? We expressed disbelief. ‘It’s definitely the crows’, said the porters. ‘They’ve taken to ripping up the turf with their beaks.’ Why? ‘Nobody knows. They never did it before this year.’
I’ve been enjoying the beauty of these lawns for a long time now, and never have I seen any serious damage caused by wildlife. So we couldn’t quite believe the porters’ explanation. Yet as we walked towards the river, we saw three crows attacking the lawn. Each bird was pecking at a bit of turf until it had got ‘a corner’ loose, then grasping that corner in its beak and pulling mightily until a section of turf ripped away. It was the strangest thing to see them at their work in the dusk, like the Weird Sisters in ‘Macbeth’.
Bob wondered whether, because of all the recent rain, the water table had risen, bringing the earthworms closer to the surface and driving the crows mad with desire. Yet as we watched them we couldn’t see them catching or eating anything. They seemed intent on laying bare the earth beneath the lawn for a reason we couldn’t fathom. ‘It’s like something out of a Hitchcock film’, said Bob as we turned away.