These fine crows had found a great place to bathe in Vienna’s Stadpark. I felt a bit like one of Susannah’s elders spying on them, but there’s something unusual about these birds: I have no idea what they are.
And neither, in a sense, do they.
Lower Austria’s breeding “black” crow is the handsome gray Hooded Crow, much like this one facing off with a European Red Squirrel in the Schönbrunn gardens last week.
Come winter, though, all identification bets are off. Carrion Crow genes course through the blood of many, perhaps of most, of the thousands of non-Rook, non-Jackdaw Corvus roosting and feeding in the city, producing some handsome combinations of plumages.
Dark birds like this one might pass for a Carrion Crow on casual inspection, but the gray thighs and nape gave it away as a hybrid or intergrade; its exact heritage is likely very complex, full of the crosses and backcrosses typical of these birds in Mitteleuropa.
Many superficially Hooded Crows also showed clear signs of mixed ancestry, with extra black appearing most frequently on the mantle and lesser coverts.
With so many of these Hoodarrion Crows around, the suspicion is unavoidable that even visually “pure” birds aren’t. But–and this is the important point–who cares? We’re stuck enjoying what’s out there, and if it’s crows with fascinatingly muddy bloodlines, so much the better.