How to tell one black bird from another?
The eponymous black bird ( merle noir) is the easiest to identify. It is often the first bird to sing in the morning and the last to sing in the evening. The males are glossy black with bright yellow beaks. Females are brown and can be confused with thrushes; but the male is unmistakable and can be attracted into the garden in winter with apples strewn on the ground.
Jackdaws (choucas) are bigger and make noises like star war lasers. They are not very common locally and are mostly likely spotted in family groups on top of churches or on the chimney pots of older houses where they like to nest. Hence the longer French name: choucas des tours.
Rooks (freux) are similar in size and colour , but have a bare patch on the base of their beak, which is easy to spot close up . They like probing in turned earth for invertebrates and can often be seen in large groups on some farm land. They don’t seem to favour maize fields, so you are less likely to encounter rooks locally
Crows ( Corneille) are ubiquitous. Their raucous noise and jaunty walk bring them to our attention in both the countryside and the suburbs, but they will only come down to earth in larger gardens, as they need space to swagger and strut. Crows are black all over and very smart. Research has shown that that have the problem solving ability of a four year old human. They use tools, they play and they learn faster than a four year old. They can be found in pairs or in large groups. My favourite group live on a bend in the local road we have dubbed crow corner, where they guard a stand of walnut trees and lay the nuts on the roads for cars to crack open and hide unopened nuts in the grass for the long winter ahead.
Crows are sometimes confused with Ravens (grand corbeau) as both are all back, but ravens are the largest black bird of all in this area and you are only likely to see them in the forests or edges. Their bills are heavy and their tails are wedge shaped. They don’t come to gardens unless you are in the habit of putting carcasses on your bird table. They have the loudest, deepest cack, cack caw and at this time of year are a joy to watch wheeling and rolling high overhead, as they show off to potential mates . They lay their eggs early in February to feed their hatchlings on the unfortunate creatures that did not make it through the winter.