When ornithologist and wildlife expert, Ricky Whelan, set about researching and studying the behaviour of crows in a rookery at the Downs in Portlaoise in 2014 little did he know the nature of the public interest he was going to have on his hands?
The subsequent body of work and lecture entitled, ‘The Secret Life of Crows’ is being attended by surprising numbers around the country, even leading to queues and extra dates being added to cater for the demand.
“It all started in the winter of 2014 when Niall Kavanagh, who had a personal family interest in the Downs rookery asked me to explore it further. With his support and backing from Catherine Casey at the Laois Heritage office in the Council, this culminated with the installation of a legend and story board in the Peoples Park in Portlaoise during National Science Week in November 2016.
“The talk we gave to coincide with the event in Portlaoise Library also proved popular. Most people were astonished to learn that over 4,000 crows over-winter at the Downs rookery habitat,” explains Ricky.
“It just took off rather unexpectedly from there. The lecture and slide show, ‘The Secret Life of Crows’ which got its first outing in Portlaoise library has been in unbelievable demand ever since. I have been run off my feet trying to keep up with it.”
Ricky delivered the lecture to science students in Athlone IT at the start of this year and as news spread he received a request from the BirdWatch Ireland Tolka Branch in Dublin to give the lecture as part of their autumn schedule in the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Over 3,000 people confirm an interest in attending the talk on social media.
“I was expecting a couple of dozen people to show up but there was a queue around the block an hour before the talk was even due to commence, the auditorium in the Botanic Gardens was packed to capacity and loads of people were turned away, so we had to reschedule more dates to meet the demand,” says Ricky who is pleasantly surprised with the new found favour for crows.
“Although crows are deeply embedded in our culture, mythology and everyday parlance – as the crow flies – they are not everyone’s cup of tea.
“Down the country they are often regarded as vermin and they are so plentiful they are often misunderstood. The Irish name for crows, préacháin, is sometimes even used as a pejorative term so it is a pleasant surprise to learn that there is a great deal of latent love in the room for the crow family. They are extremely intelligent and fascinating in their behaviour and hierarchy,” enthuses Ricky.
Ricky studied zoology at NUI Galway after completing his leaving certificate in Ballyfin College. He went on to volunteer in the conservation sector in Ireland before specialising in ornithology and taking up a position with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK where he was based at their reserves in Suffolk and Cambridge for four years before returning home.
He is now a Project Officer with BirdWatch Ireland basing himself between Banagher and Wicklow. He is also a founder and chairman of the Laois-Offaly Branch of the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) and is Chairman of the award winning Abbeyleix Bog restoration project.
‘The Secret Life of Crows’ talk continues to draw the crowds and will take place again in the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin on Wednesday, October 11th (sold out); The Townhouse Hotel, Naas on October 12th; Roundwood House, Laois on Sunday, November 5th at 6pm; and at the Wexford Field Naturalists meeting on Thursday, January 4, 2018.
These events are free, but booking is essential.
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