Thursday, January 29, 2009

The humble Crow

If you ask anyone how many birds they can identify crow would most probably top the list, the reason I thought of starting this blog with humble crow. Crows are the commonest bird found around the world except in New Zealand. There are 40odd varieties of them under genus Corvus from Jackdaw to Raven even the Tree pie belongs to this family. In India we find house crows- that wear an ash grey collar (the one you see in the snap above, something you have seen umpteen numbers of times, so much so we fail to notice) and Jungle crows (large billed crows) that are large and glossy black with thick bills. Hawks are daytime predators of crows while at night it is owl. The reason why crows will fiercely mob them, particularly owl if ever found at daytime.

Most people find crows noisy and irritating (the English term “crow over” means brag very loudly). On the contrary crows are quite enterprising birds and known for its intelligence, sometimes even showing contempt for human species “yah so you think you can hit me. I will wait here till you aim and throw. Then skip a step. There you miss again”. The first bird I hear in the morning are crows (occasional lapwing too while I am traveling) and last bird I hear as the sunsets is bunch of cantankerous crows creating a ruckus as they try settling on the tree for the night. Incidentally a group of crows are referred to as a “murder”-not a scientific term has origin in literature. Unfair I feel got to do with its scavenging nature. We all have read Aesop’s tale of crow and the pitcher. There are many recorded incidences of crow’s intelligence and adaptability. Like for instance the Caledonian crows drop seeds onto road and wait for cars to crush it open!!. Probably one of the very few crows that has been honored with a stamp. They are also known to create tools from twigs and sticks (check few in youtube and other videos). American writer Henry Beecher once said “If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows”. Absolutely!!.

Though even the intelligent crow has a fall from grace as Koel (Cuckoos) fool them regularly by laying her eggs in its nest. These lines from Ranjit Lal’s Birds from my window

“We are the smartest and best and all that”
Said the crow who was having a chat.

“Good” smiled the black Koel,
“Then you will be able
To feed and raise all my brats!”

Most societies have myths and superstitions associated with crows, it need be said here that the myths speaks more about the societies than about our hapless crow. Read some: If you see a crow flapping its wings, beware: A big accident is about to happen. Nor do you want to see a crow facing your door, because that signals danger. And if a crow is sitting on top of a house with a red thread in its beak, call the fire department posthaste, because the flames aren't far behind. These I am told are from East Asia, I feel sorry for them.

In folklores crows are mostly associated with death albeit in positive sense like spirits of ancestors and so on (except probably in North America where it seems crows have nothing positive to offer. American Indians though believe crows as wise counselors), while darker side is reserved to Ravens. It probably has to do with their carrion eating habit. Crows have special place in Tibetan Buddhism. In kerala they believe that a crow is harbinger for guests and they shoo them at the very first instance “we aint want any guest!!. We already have enough problems!!”. Of course during auspicious days they wait for crows (jungle crows or bali kaka) to feed on rice balls. This they think is an indication that ancestors are happy. There is a primary school rhyme in Malayalam I recall kake kake kood evide…(crow crow where is your nest…).

There are references of crows (in particular Ravens) in literature Edgar Allan Poe’s much celebrated poem “The Raven” is an example. There is mention in Pachatantra, Shakespeare (lady Macbeth says “the raven himself hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance..”) and many more (even Ted Hughes one collection of poems is titled Crows). To represent something dark in movies like Hitchcock’s Birds or Omen and so on. Then there is incredible painting of Von Gogh “Wheatfield with crows”. Many remarkable Japanese painters have studied crows like late 19th century artists Kawanabe Kyosai, Watanabe Seitei so on 9i have posted their paintings). Japanese admired crows for their filial devotion.

Answering a question about crows a crow lover Kevin McGowan writes in his website “Crows are not evil, and they are not purposely trying to torment you. They are just being crows, trying to live their lives and feed their families. Actual property destruction is one thing that might require action, but just being annoying is something else again. Try to appreciate the crows for the fascinating creatures they are. If you get over that hurdle, the annoying habits become much less annoying”. I second that.

There is a haiku on crow by none other than Basho

Kara eda ni
Karasumo tomari keri
Aki no kure

The rough translation from Japanese will go like this

On a withered branch,
A crow has stop
Autumn's eve

If readers have time to spare…well you should have…. read Basho. He is incredible. If haven’t read him you are missing something big. I love Haikus so would love to quote another haiku by another master Buson

They end their flight
one by one--
crows at dusk

Haikus have such meditative quality that if you spend more time on the above you could even count the crows landing on the tree!!. And it is minimal and simple just like the RK Laxman sketch of crow. Probably nobody has sketched and observed crows as much as he has done, each crow having a personality and expressions. It is amazing to watch his crows.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dedicated to Dr.Salim Ali

This statement by Salim Ali i found in one of the Bird Sanctuary. Salim Ali was a great guy. This blog is dedicated to him. If Birdwatching is a religion then Salim Ali is God!!.

I will write about only those birds in this blog that i have taken picture of. All the snaps in this blog i intend to catch from my camera. Not photos from net.