Belfast Telegraph

Stone the crows ... birds behind theft of ornate pebbles from Ballee Cemetery grave plots

By Harriet Crawford

Families were left baffled by what they thought was a grave mystery.

Over recent weeks decorative stones were taken from a number of graves at Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

A woman who visited the cemetery believed vandals were targeting her mother's grave and she had even contacted councillors urging them to increase security at the graveyard.

But after careful detective work, including video surveillance, the unlikley culprits - crows - were caught in the act.

"We all thought someone was stealing the stones because we couldn't think of any other reason why they were disappearing," she told the Ballymena Guardian.

"When more went missing over the next few days we were up to high doe.

"My mum's grave has only been there a year-and-a-half, so it is still hard and raw."

The woman thought "something very strange was happening" when she went out to the grave every morning to find more and more stones missing.

Another visitor to the grave set up camera equipment and caught the crows at their work.

"I couldn't believe it but then somone who was at a relative's grave actually videoed them.

"It was unreal, you could see plain as day, five or six black crows grabbing the pebbles," she said.

"It sounds quite comical now but at the time we didn't know why they were going missing, it was a complete mystery.

"Only three graves in the cemetery have these stones on them and they were going missing from all of them.

"I was so upset I rang a few councillors and even wrote a letter asking for some sort of security at the graveyard.

"The councillors came out to the graveyard to see for themselves."

Although the stones had been put down 10 months ago, the birds only started taking them in the last few weeks.

It initially appeared that the crows were swallowing the small white stones, but in fact, they were storing them in their beaks.

"I would love to know where the crows are taking the stones.

"There must be a pile of them somewhere."

The crows are making off with pebbles that cost £40 a bag.

"I can't keep replacing them all the time if the crows are just going to take them," the woman said.

If the crows don't stop, she will ditch the pebbles altogether.

Crows are more famous for stealing golf balls.

Theories abound about their passion for the balls, but an obvious reason for their thieving is that the birds think they are eggs.

Another theory is that male crows steal the balls during nest-building season, and females are attracted to nests that have a bit of colour in them.

There are eight species of crow that breed in the UK, including the rook.

Belfast Telegraph

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