January 23, 2017
The ubiquitous crows, black as coal, ignored and shunned by mankind, which wakes up the world by their incessant cawing, have made media headlines across continents. They have been part of poetry and folklore for centuries; but let us first monitor their media invasion, starting nearer home at the border of Karnataka and Kerala where one of them blessed the snow-white dhoti of Karnataka Chief Minister with its poop. While The Hindu carried a photo of the offending crow perched on a tree branch above the VIP seats, we will extract report by Vinobha KT from The Times of India dated January 20 under the headline: Crow poops on Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s spotless white dhoti.
"Chief Minister Siddaramaiah continues to be haunted by crows. A crow that was fluttering over Siddaramaiah and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during an inaugural ceremony created a stir when it perched on a tree and proceeded to poop on Siddaramaiah. The two chief ministers were sharing the dais at the dedication of Gilivindu, the memorial for Rashtrakavi Manjeshwar Govinda Pai. They were seated on the dais which was held on an open air stage.
"When Kerala CM Vijayan was delivering his inaugural address, a crow started fluttering over the stage and finally sat on a branch of a tree right above Siddaramaiah. Within no time, the bird's droppings fell on the CM's dhoti. The incident created a flutter and the CM sought help from people next to him.
"Former Mangaluru (Urban) Development Authority chairman K Tejomaya rushed to help the CM clean the poop from his dhoti.
"It may be recalled that Siddaramaiah changed his Toyota Fortuner car a few months ago after a crow sat on it near his official residence in Bengaluru."
Beyond TOI report, it may also be noted that the Chief Minister is believed to be an atheist and a bill on superstition is awaiting passage in Karnataka. Was the Manjeshwar crow protesting against the insult to the Bangaluru crow which pooped on the Toyota?
The second report, dated the same day by Kimberly Lim, published in The New Paper of Singapore was headlined: Woman injured after crow attack in Pasir - Pasir Ris Street - 12 residents report spate of attacks by large crows.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force told The New Paper it was alerted to the incident at Block 106, Pasir Ris Street 12, at 7.10 pm.A woman in her late 40s was taken to CGH in an ambulance with lacerations on her forehead... The woman who heard the scream said: "My daughter told me she saw three or four children feeding crows." The crows flew around and attacked a woman. There was a lot of blood on the woman's head.
The woman was not the only one attacked that day. Civil servant Ian Ng, 41, and his parents were also attacked by crows in the vicinity while on their way to a night market. He said: "I saw a baby crow lying on the ground and four or five big crows perched on shelters and lamp posts. The crows swooped down when people walked into the area. A crow went for my head. I got a shock.” Fortunately, they did not suffer serious injuries. Mr Ng was attacked once while his 77-year-old father was attacked twice.
Let us now hop to another continent and catch up with the report filed Tom Spears in Ottawa Citizen on January 18 under the title” It's not just your imagination, crows are taking over Ottawa.
It’s not your imagination telling you that a murder of crows in central Ottawa had thousands of the birds all together. Ottawa gets that in winter. There’s nothing subtle about crows. They’re big and loud and yakking all the time, waking up Citizen editors in Centretown long before sunrise, which is partly why you’re reading this. And crows are social, so they flock together, especially in winter. Big group, big noise.
Veteran birder Bruce Di Labio pulled his car off the road to answer some crow questions.
Every winter, he said, “crows have these communal roosting sites. In our city there has been a roost area around the General hospital area for a number of years now,” he said. “It might move slightly within the neighbourhood but it’s near the hospital. “Over the years that roost has been up to 10,000 birds. It’s highly variable. It depends on how severe our winter is. There was a time when the American crow (that’s the formal name) was scarce in the winter, but everything has changed for various reasons — access to food and so on. So the numbers have increased.”
Crows dine well where people live. In the mornings they get an early start for cornfields in the Greenbelt, and the Trail Road landfill site. If they get desperate they may eat staghorn sumac berries. They return to the roost near sunset. “This goes on every year … In some American cities they have had the same roost for more than a century,” he said.
“And if you think 10,000 is a lot of crows in one place, you haven’t been to Chatham. The south-western Ontario city was plagued by a winter crow population that probably ran into the low millions in the 1990s, though it has dropped a long way from there. Some people say it’s now tens of thousands, others say it’s above 100,000.”
Crows belong to a group called corvids, along with ravens and jays, and the corvids are all smart. When Chatham hired a hunter to shoot at them, crows figured out how high they needed to fly to stay safely above the pellets. Seeing a big flock reminds Di Labio of the Hitchcock thriller The Birds, except that he likes crows. “They’re very social creatures.”
But why would they stick together? “They say there’s safety in numbers,” Di Labio said. The crow doesn’t have a lot of enemies, but a great horned owl can pick one off in the dark. In the daytime, they won’t stay in a crowd of thousands. Typically a person may see a couple of dozen together, or possibly more than 100, especially in a cornfield or at the dump. By March, the roost site will break up as crows head off to individual nests. Di Labio knows a lot of people dislike crows and he thinks it’s because of their colour. People don’t like starlings, cormorants, blackbirds or ravens either, he said.Crows “always get a bum rap but they are very entertaining to watch.”
Crows are part of the poetry and folklore in India and the world. But for reasons of space these should await another time. We can only give a foretaste of them through the following.
“The Crows are very handsome and gentlemanly Indians in their personal appearance: and have been always reputed, since the first acquaintance made with them, very civil and friendly.- George Catlin, American painter (1796-1872)
Even the blackest of them all, the crow,
Renders good service as your man-at-arms,
Crushing the beetle in his coat of mail,
And crying havoc on the slug and snail.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807-1882)
To conclude, long live the crow – poop forgiven – for being mankind’s unpaid alarm clock and scavenger.