Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

A time to nest

March 1st, 2003

MARCH FIRST is always St. David's Day, an important day for Wales. But the first Sunday in March is always Crow Sunday, an important day for crows in Scotland. The day, traditionally, when crows (and rooks too, I imagine) start to build their nests.

The crow family, generally, has a pretty bad press which may not be altogether justified. Crows, or carrion crows as they are more properly called, do indeed feed on carrion and in this respect carry out a useful function. Some of their other habits might appear cruel but in reality are the birds' natural instincts.

Their habit for instance of pecking the eyes out of newborn lambs and other weak and defenceless animals. As a youngster I was told that crows and rooks don't have strong talons like hawks to hold their prey, so they blind it to prevent its escape, and give them time to despatch it. It's the old story of survival of the fittest in Nature.

Crows in particular can be devastating to bird's eggs in springtime. Ornithologists and gamekeepers tell stories of marking ground-nesting bird sites with stakes to assist future locating, and several days later have found that the crows had reasoned what the stakes were for; and cleaned out all the eggs. So they are highly intelligent.

My Mother used to make my Father rooky pie around about May time. It wasn't rooks she cooked, but the breasts of fledgling crows. The Doyenne tried her hand once at this delicacy. In the first flush of marriage it was. But has since firmly declined.

I've been told that during the Second World War crows were sent to the top London restaurants and passed off as grouse. I can scarcely believe it, but perhaps a reader can confirm it is true.

Jackdaws are seen as the little rascals of the crow family. They are said to be attracted to anything that is shiny. I've heard stories of spoons and jewellery and other bright objects being found in their nests. I've never seen this myself or met anyone who has.

My raven story is about a raven in Edinburgh Zoo. Aged about five I was held up to its cage and told specifically not to poke my fingers through the wire netting. So of course I did. I got a severe nip for my troubles and was carted off, amidst parental admonitions, bawling like a stirk and full of self-pity.

Occasionally you will still hear someone say – “I was rooked”, meaning “I was cheated”. “Crows feet” around the eyes are something no girl wants. “Old crow” – one of the unkindest terms of derision. So the birds' ill-starred reputation has been absorbed into our language.

“Three craws sat upon the wa'” – a song sung by the late Duncan Macrae at Hogmanay.

So, keep a sharp lookout tomorrow. If you see crows and rooks flying about with twigs in their beaks you'll know that Crow Sunday isn't an old wives tale.

Written on Saturday, March 1st, 2003 at 9:06 am for Weekly.