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THE CROW MOB

A friend of mine, we’ll call him James – names have been changed to protect the innocent – lives in Borehamwood. He has lived there for a long time, in one of the older parts of town, this side of the tracks, so to speak. Some years ago he found that he was under attack. A horde of alien interlopers (better not say immigrants!) had moved in. Or so he thought.

It turned out that a neighbour (known to all around as Bird-Brain Man) had a liking for birds. Well, don’t chaps, mostly? But this character took his liking to unnecessary lengths. He actually went and acquired a Green Parakeet! What was worse, he bought two, a male and a female. He bought nesting boxes for them, but they preferred his neighbour James’s fir tree. And he set them loose to enjoy the wild, thinking they were homing birds, like pigeons. Soon nature took its course and before long there were four. And then 16! And then 64! Because that’s the way it works, nothing so simple as doubling up each time, they quadrupled at every generation. They say a problem shared is a problem halved, but wise people know it’s a problem doubled. But to have a problem quadrupled just isn’t fair.

Now parakeets are very pretty –in the Caribbean, and seen at a distance. I’ve heard them squawking across the jungle, years ago, on an exotic holiday. And I’ve had one in my garden, it was about ten years ago, and it was probably from this Borehamwood infestation. As I said, they are very pretty, though their squawk is a bit eerie and unsettling. But they eat!

They eat fruit, if it ever grows, because they eat the fruit blossom too. Poor old James found that his garden was stripped of fruit and blossom. He and his other neighbours became desperate. Eventually they called in the Environmental Health Officers, who in turn referred the problem on to English Nature (now Natural England), who were strongly inclined to wash their hands of the affair, on the grounds that the birds weren’t natural to England.

It turned out that parakeets weren’t protected and indeed could be classed as vermin. But Bird-Brain Man would make no efforts to control these pests. He thought they were beautiful and had as much right to be in Borehamwood as anyone else. If any of them were inadvertently killed, shot or fell prey to local predators (buzzards and red kites were welcome at that time), why, Bird-Brain Man just bred a whole lot more!
However Nature has a curious way of dealing with things when they get out of balance. This was probably what happened to the Egyptians in the Bible. They had ten plagues. In fact this may be what is happening today with the Coronavirus. We’ve got a plague. Somewhere in East Africa they’ve got locusts. We’re just waiting for a rain of frogs, or blood or something.

Anyhow, word in Borehamwood back then got round among the bird population that there were rich pickings to be had. The parakeets had started something, but they weren’t the ones to finish it. One morning James noticed a crow in his garden, eyeing up the land, staking out the joint so to speak. The next day there were two crows, and after that four and after that… do I need to go on? They moved into the manor and started shoving the parakeets about, threatening them and generally acting like a serious alternative mob. James and his neighbours were quite cheerful.

Within a few weeks, these crows had seen all the parakeets off. Fruit trees began to blossom, and gardens to revive. Happiness all round. Perhaps….

Now James used to put out leftover cat-food for the local foxes to eat. Borehamwood is a great place for urban foxes, there is so much leftover food from all the takeaways. When the crows saw all the leftover cat-food, they realised they were onto a good thing, and came back, and back, and back. One morning James was sitting in his conservatory, when he heard a tapping noise, Probably not death-watch beetle, they don’t normally eat glass. It was a crow! Tapping at the window. “Oi mate, where’s my food, my tit-bits – my protection money?” This went on day after day. The crows were demanding to be paid for their efforts in seeing off the parakeets. It was like Naples or Sicily.

But rather less deadly. In fact the crows were welcome, and the payment they demanded was, by and large, liberally given. James now has his crop of fruit, and he hasn’t seen a parakeet in his garden for years.

Now it was around ten years ago, when I was out on a walk, I saw a buzzard dealing with a couple of parakeets in the field between Ridge and Shenley. It was about the same time one came into my garden. I haven’t seen any since, so I’m inclined to believe that the story I’ve just told, which James told me in the pub at the end of a long evening, was very probably true.

William Marsterson March 2020