When I saw this bird first, I thought its a barbet, as it is small in size, until I googled to find details about it. It was found on a tree in the garden, perched not much away from ground level. I was amazed to find a pygmy wood pecker. I painted this picture using watercolor.
It has white striations on its back, a small red patch on its crown, greyish beak, and brown head.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation, where you were just being yourself and then you are surrounded by a horde of intimidations of various sorts? What would you have done in such testing times? Though you may be competent enough to beat them and tackle them singly ,if given a chance, when they crop up in huge volumes, what would be your response?
Many of the best advice I have heard is to fight them all. But that’s not very easy to extinguish a mob of problems, especially when you are singled out.
I once witnessed a similar situation among birds. It was dawn, there were bird calls that invited my attention. I saw a fallen branch of Acacia tree, on which different varieties of birds were perched. I identified black hooded Oriole, sunbirds, Red Whiskered Bulbul, Common Myna, and House Crow. All of them staring annoyingly at something that I thought was inanimate object, it then came across me that there was a cryptic Owlet in the midst of the noisy mob.
Why were those birds restless and intimidating an owlet. Well, I conjectured, the owlet is a carnivore, may be preying on their eggs and hatchlings. Then what about the House Crow? They too are known for their stealing nature. Are those stories that ‘Crows and Owls’ are enemies, true? or may be it’s because Owls prey on Crow’s eggs too. But what if we were to ask the owl? It would say “I’m just being myself”. That’s how I am programmed to live.
But to remain frozen in the present locus is dangerous. As the situation was getting worse with the Crow calling out it’s friends for majority, the Owlet takes a decision, TO FLEE. It flew to a nearby tree hole and hid within.
We in our life may have come across similar situations, were fighting the grueling abuse is energetically costly at that moment, but fleeing temporarily the hostile circumstances is the ideal choice. The insecure mob in that way will lose their targeted focus.
Fight, flight, freeze: What this response means- Medically reviewed by Timothy J Legg. PhD, CRNP-Written by Kirsten Nunez on Feb 21, 2020.
Spotted owlet(Athene brama) is nocturnal, but is sometimes seen in the day.(Ali, Salim(1996).The book of Indian Birds). When disturbed from their daytime site, they bob their head and stare at intruders.
This is another variety of crow from family Corvidae,that I have seen- Jungle Crow. They are all black and is distinguished from the house crow by the absence of any grey color on the neck. According to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp, the Himalayan ones are called Large Billed Crow(Corvus macrorhynchos) having wedge shaped tail and harsher calls compared with the Jungle crows of the Plains. Both of them have domed head, large bill and arched culmen. The tail of Indian Jungle crow is rounded and the legs and feet stout. 1
Food Habits:- Jungle crows are known to have a wide range of food preferences. They feed on insects, bird eggs and chicks, while they scavenge dead animals. They eat various fruits and seeds of trees as well, and thus their role as a seed disperser has been pointed out (Ueda & Fukui, 1992). 9 Results portrayed that effective communication was present between both species upon finding food deemed as ‘interactions’, however Jungle crows portrayed more aggressive and competitive behavior towards House crows when food or perching area was scarce, thus portraying competitive behavior.2
Habitat:- They have a wide habitat range: around human habitation, well wooded country, forest edges…..3 During the day pairs may be involved in defending their territory but at night they may roost in large groups.4
Jungle Crow relentlessly harry birds of prey, mobbing and aggravating both incubating birds on the nest and any low flying large raptors which is persistently chased. ………It will steal food from vulture nest sites, even from under the protesting gaze of the parent vulture which has regurgitated food for its chicks. 5
MOBBING AMONGST HUMANS
Konrad Lorenz, in his book On Aggression (1966), attributed mobbing among birds and animals to instincts rooted in the Darwinian struggle to survive. In his view, humans are subject to similar innate impulses but capable of bringing them under rational control12.Mobbing, as a sociological term, means bullying of an individual by a group, in any context, such as a family, peer group, school, workplace, neighborhood, community, or online. When it occurs as physical and emotional abuse in the workplace, such as “ganging up” by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation, it is also referred to as malicious, nonsexual, non-racial/racial, general harassment.13 Has anyone been through this?
“The crow, amongst the Buddhist in Tibet, is believed to be the incarnation of the Mahakala or The Great Black one– the protector of the monasteries in Tibet.”6
……”.Crows pervade beliefs of Indian folk. Its guttural call, especially when sitting on a banana plant, heralds the arrival of a guest for meal. Its acceptance of preferred food accompanying ceremonies of funerals or on death anniversaries signifies the contentment of the departed soul.”7
………………….in some places, Hindus have the practice of offering food first to crows in the belief that their dead ancestors or parents’ souls reside in the birds…………………. ……………..As for other beliefs about crows in Hinduism, a particular call of a Jungle Crow outside one’s home could signify the impending death of a family member or relative, and another that a guest is about to arrive. And, if any of this does happen (by chance of course!), then the elders would say, “I told you so”!8
Crows, and especially ravens, often feature in legends or mythology as portents or harbingers of doom or death, because of their dark plumage, unnerving calls, and tendency to eat carrion………………In mythology and folklore as a whole, crows tend to be symbolic more of the spiritual aspect of death, or the transition of the spirit into the afterlife,………………………… https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/c/Crow.htm
In Japanese mythology, this flying creature is a raven or a jungle crow called Yatagarasu (八咫烏, “eight-span crow”)and the appearance of the great bird is construed as evidence of the will of Heaven or divine intervention in human affairs. 14
In Korean mythology, it is known as Samjogo During the period of the Goguryo kingdom, the Samjok-o was considered a symbol of the sun. The ancient Goguryo people thought that a three-legged crow lived in the sun while a turtle lived in the moon. http://folkency.nfm.go.kr/en/topic/detail/5550
The superstition that black crows announce future misfortune is probably due o misinterpretations(which come back to Middle Age) of the presence of crows near dead bodies. There is a rational explanation for that. Crows have a keen sense of smell and are hence attracted by the smell of death. That explanation was not known at that period of time and this is why the presence of crows near houses where someone had just died was interpreted as a subnormal phenomenon. Ref:- Delacroix, Eva and Valerie, Guillard(2008). Understanding ,defining and measuring the trait of superstition.
Caching means storing away for future use.Food caching behaviour has been noted in sp. culminatus.10,11 Jungle Crows have also been observed stealing non-food items like golf balls (Poché 1981),and even spectacle frames (Aitken 1900).
Hiroyoshi Higuchi, Ph.D.,Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo, says “In crow study, I studied stone-placing on rail road tracks, dispersing garbage on street, attacking people, stealing soap bars from kindergarten, and making field fire by putting alight candles among fallen leaves in forest floors” http://hhiguchi.justhpbs.jp/#English
Here’s an observation that proves how clever the Jungle crow is …..
There are some books that mentions the characteristics of a Jungle Crow and instills interest in us to read them.
In the book ‘Blacky The Crow‘, Thornton W.Burgess has written”………………and he will eat anything in the way of food that he can swallow. Often he travels long distances looking for food, but at night he always comes back to the same place in the Green Forest, to sleep in company with others of his family.” ……………..” You know Blacky has a weakness for eggs…….. We’ll tease them until they lose their tempers and forget all about keeping guard over those eggs. Then I’ll slip in and get one and perhaps both of them. My, how good those eggs will taste!”
In a poem ‘Crow’s Fall‘, Ted Hughs, crow decides to attack the sun because it was too white. This means that the Crow was ready to take on anything no matter how big they are.
Whistler, Hugh;Kinnear,N.B(1932). The Vernay Scientific Survey of the Eastern Ghats(Ornithological section). Journal
Corvids can move considerable distances in response to temporal and spatial variation in food availability.4 .They are mainly omnivorous. The increase in available anthropogenic food sources is contributing to population increase in some corvid species.5Some corvids are predators of other birds.During the wintering months corvids typically form foraging flocks.24 Some crows eat agricultural pests- cutworms, wireforms, grasshoppers, harmful weeds.6.Caching, or hiding, food items for later consumption is widespread among birds and mammals7 , and in the corvid family in particular8 . They feed largely on refuse around human habitations, small reptiles and mammals9 . Some birds, including tits Paridae and crows Corvidae, are known to store food such as seeds and acorns for later consumption10 Crows also store man-made foods such as bread, meat and fried eggs 11 .
THE TRUTH BEHIND FABLES– Corvids have often featured in tales. Aesop’s fable ‘the crow and the pitcher’ more fact than fiction. In Aesop’s fable ‘The crow and the pitcher’ a thirsty crow uses stones to raise the level of water in a pitcher to quench its thirst. The scientists recently published their results in PLOS One.
They display remarkable intelligence for animals of their size and are among the most intelligent birds thus far studied.12 Their total brain- to – body mass ratio is equal to that of non human great Apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than that of humans .13 Young ravens, Corvus corax, have a predisposition to move objects around with their beaks, press them visibly towards large objects and then also to insert them into crevices and ultimately to cover them.14 Because of their extraordinary cognitive abilities, they are often associated with heavenly bodies and divinities, i.e. the Raven (Corvus corax) being the bird of Apollo and Odin. In many cultures, corvids and their shiny plumage are symbols for the sun and happiness 15 . One carrion crow was documented to crack nuts by placing them on a cross walk, letting the passing cars crack the shell, waiting for the light to turn red, and then safely retrieving the contents16.
Self Recognition Ability in Crows: ” A circular colored mark was inconspicuously placed on the throat under the bill where crows could see it only from its mirror-reflected image; a similar black mark placed at identical location which was difficult to be seen served as the control condition. Crows exhibited greater preference in response to the mark when in front of the mirror, compared to they were in front of the non-reflective black cardboard. The majority (4/6) crows responded to the mirror-reflected self-image, as evidenced by attempts to remove the coloured mark by using beak or claws; no such response was found in control condition. These results suggest self-recognition by Indian house crows.” (Buniyaadi, A., Taufique, S.K.T. & Kumar, V.)17
Crows can recognize People’s faces– It was demonstrated by the scientists experimentally that a cognitively advanced, social bird, the American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, quickly and accurately learns to recognize the face of a dangerous person and continues to do so for at least 2.7 years.18 Wildlife experts John Marzluff and Tony Angell expose crow intelligence in their 2012 book, Gifts of the Crows, writing “Corvids assume characteristics that were once ascribed only to humans, including self-recognition, insight, revenge, tool use, mental time travel, deceit, murder, language, play, calculated risk taking, social learning, and traditions. We are different, but by a degree.” Marzluff also led research which found crows can even recognize human faces.19
An Indian man has been attacked every day for the past three years by crows ‘bent on vengeance’ after one of their chicks died in his hands.Shiva Kewat, from Madhya Pradesh, India, said he tried to save the baby bird after it got stuck in iron netting but the chick didn’t make it.The daily wager, who has been repeatedly scratched and pecked, now has to take a stick with him every time he leaves the house in case the birds decide to launch an attack, reports the Times of India.
SOCIAL LIFE -Like most birds, corvids are monogamous, and the core unit is therefore the mated pair. This pair bond is typically for life, and the pair remains together throughout the year. For example, rooks and ravens find a partner during the autumn months, taking part in impressive aerobatic displays and food sharing which may be to assess the quality of a potential mate. Once juvenile rooks and ravens pair, they engage in extensive mutual preening and bill twining (bill holding) and support one another in fights. 21
Roosting– A typical bird behaviour where a group of individuals congregate in an area for a few hours effected by environmental signals and return to the same site with the reappearance of these signals. Larger trees with greater canopy, nearby human habitation which provide them shelter and safety along with anthropogenic feeding opportunities and moderate vegetation patches near the roosting places were the characteristics preferred for roosting purpose by house crows.20 Roosting together allows sharing of information, such as the location of food sources (Marzluff et al. 1996). This is how it looks when crows roost on a tree.
The Indian crow (Corvus splendens) is black, with a ring of grey feathers around the neck. The beak is arched. The adult bird is about 17 inches long, and the male and female are similar. The Indian crow may be distinguished from the local crow species by the ring of grey feathers around the neck, a more arched beak, and its slightly smaller size. It also has a different call.
Also known as the House crow, Colombo crow and Ceylon crow, the Indian crow Corvus splendens is distributed from southern Iran through India, the Himalayas, Sikkim, Bhutan, East and West Pakistan, Baluchistan, Nepal, Assam, Burma and Ceylon to southern China, and also the Laccadive and Maldive Islands. It has been introduced and established in Malaya and a number of places in eastern and north-eastern Africa, such as Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, Mombasa, Port Sudan and also at Muscat and Aden.23
C. splendens nests mainly in large trees close to human habitation. It pairs for life and is a more or less solitary nester, so several nests may be located in one large tree (Madge and Burn, 1994; Allen and Davies, 2005). The breeding season varies somewhat over the range but usually peaks in March/April to July/August, although in some areas most activity occurs in Oct/Dec. Four to five pale blue-green, brown-speckled eggs are laid in a typical corvid nest of twigs lined with fine material, though wire may be used where twigs are lacking (Ryall, 1990). The Asian koel Eudynamys scolopacea (or E. scolopaceus) is a frequent brood parasite in the native range and Malaysia (Ali and Ripley, 1972; Wells, 2007). Where introduced, C. splendens usually causes local declines of native avifauna as its population builds up, through intensive nest predation of small bird species (especially colonial nesters) and harassment of larger species, and probably through direct competition with other scavengers (Ryall, 1992a). https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/15463
PILFERER– Being omnivorous, it pilfers anything edible, entering houses, hotel rooms and other buildings, in search of food……..In India, it raids crops such as wheat and maize, causes severe damage to fruit in orchards, is a robber of eggs, persecutor of young wild birds and occasionally takes young poultry. 25
Naturalist Candace Savage in her book “Bird Brains” has regarded this expression as obsolete in the light of new research on the family of Corvids
And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.
There’s one more variety of crow seen widely in India- Indian Jungle Crow(Corvus culminatus) about which I will share in my next post. Happy Blogging!
Perrins, Christopher(2003) The New Encyclopedia of Birds, Oxford University Press: Oxford)
Robertson, Don(30 Jan 2000): Bird families of the World:Corvida)
Droege, G., Töpfer, T. The Corvids Literature Database—500 years of ornithological research from a crow’s perspective. Database (2016) Vol. 2016: article ID bav122; doi:10.1093/database/bav122
Marzluff and Neatherlin 2006
Marzluff, John M; Neatherlin, Eric(2006).
Shades of Night: The Aviary Archived, 15 April, 2006,way back Machine
Vander Wall 1990
de Kort & Clayton 2006,“Corvid Response to human settlements and camp grounds: Causes, consequences and challenges for conservation.”Biological Conservation.
Mikula,P; Morelli,F; Lucan, R.K; Jones, D.N; Tryjanowski,P.(2016). “Bats as prey of diurnal birds: a global perspective” Mammal Review. 46(3)
Marzluff, John & Walls, Jeff & Cornell, Heather & Withey, John & Craig, David. (2009). Lasting Recognition of Threatening People by Wild American Crows. Animal Behaviour. 699-707. 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.12.022.
Marzluff John and Tony Angell. 2012. Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans Hardcover. New York. Atria Books.
Shabnam Saiyad, VC Soni and Bhupat Radadia- Roosting site selection by Indian House Crow(Corvus splendens). International Journal of Fauna and Biological Studies, 2017
Current Biology Vol 17 No 16 R652 The social life of corvids Nicola S. Clayton1 and Nathan J. Eme
Nesting site selection of the house crow(Corvus splendens)- Soh MCK,NS Sodhi,RKH Seoh, BW Brook(2002)
What a corvid-aware bunch you are! In joint first place with 16 correct out of 16 were Sarah and Andrea Stephenson, you both deserve gold stars! In second place, only a single point behind, were Fran and Bobby Freelove with 15 out of 16. And in a very respectable third it’s Charlie Bowman, with 12 out of 16. I couldn’t be more choughed with the results :-).
The crow family is not universally popular, and yet for me it contains some of the most interesting and enigmatic birds of all. There is no doubting their intelligence and ingenuity, even if their omnivorous habits and look-at-me antics attract the disgust of those who want to protect their smaller, more vulnerable garden birds. But can we tell them apart? And, trickiest of all, can we identify them by call alone? Hah! Here’s a challenge for you all.
Firstly, what crows are these? Some of these are my personal photographs and, just to make it a bit trickier, they aren’t always the best of shots. I know you’re up to the task.
6. (Photo One)
7. (Photo Two)
8. (Photo Three)
Ok, so as if that wasn’t tricky enough, have a bash at identifying these crows by call alone. Good luck! NB All…
‘There was once a virus named Corona,made many of us ill and proved fatal for many others. The cure for the difficult virus as well as vaccine wasn’t ready back then. No sooner had the world come to know about the virus than they had already fallen prey to the Pandemic.
Since the epidemiology of the pathogen indicated the mode of transmission being surface contact or through droplets,extensive measures were advised to prevent further spread of the virus.
One strategy that had worked to contain this virus was physical distancing norms and testing.RT-PCR,convalescent plasma transfusion,temperature screening had become part of our vocabulary back then.Lockdowns were enforced periodically with secondary waves of infections arising now and then. Finally a day came when no new cases crept up,the curves got flattened initially and later dipped. The pandemic got contained.’
Perhaps,it may be plausible for me to write a similar story in the not too distant future.
I wasn’t whiling away time past few months ,my head was buried in panic induced reports in the media,trying to figure out all about covid -19,reading about its history,biology,statistics and precautionary measures.
We are in the throes of the pandemic.People fear me as much as I fear them deserted streets and uncertainity prevails at all levels.Physical distancing and isolation requires us to be rational and trying not to panic. But when distancing becomes the new discourse,there are costs to be met. It’s not easy.Some being stranded,some with missed work ,no work or overwork,adverse socio economic impacts may all lead to anxiety gnawing at us. Change in existing routines and lifestyles and uncertainity may exacerbate the already existing stress.
While people started turning to embrace more technology to help compensate for the downsides of physical distancing, children and adults have something else too to add to their lockdown list of things apart from online school classes or working from home ;though it may seem trivial,and that’s NATURE.
Nature Abhors A Vacuum
Though our streets are deserted, shops closed, bus and railway stations and travel destinations empty nature is teaming with wildlife unless they are hunted down.
With reduced hustle and bustle of people and traffic we can hear sounds of birds better and conspicuous. I sighted these green feathered beauties outside the window. I identified them as ‘rose ringed parakeets'(psittacula krameri)
“You don’t just mean the world to me,you are my world “