23 April 2017

The life of Crows

The crows of Mumbai are everywhere. They are so ubiquitous that one barely notices them. The last time someone bothered to count them they were nearly half million in a city of nearly 2 million people. For an amateur bird watcher, it is the easiest bird to observe. And once one gets over the dislike of this raucous bird, it is quite an interesting bird to watch. Its forever purposeful, energetic, scheming and noisy. When it is not trying to steal fish from the fishmongers' overhead baskets, it is trying to pry open a dust bin or making menacing flights to the Mynahs on its territory. Crows seem to be holding some sort of congregational meeting too, which seems like a khap panchayat or may be a kangaroo court. The crow watchers will tell you that they are supremely intelligent and have a memory of people who have wronged them. They will attack the person even years later after the incident. They are also adept at using small sticks as tools particularly to pry open boxes. Crows in Mumbai show some of the most daring behaviour near the fisherfolk. Often one sees crows perched atop moving taxis, having fish baskets on top, trying to steal fish and often they are successful. They will pick fish from the baskets irrespective of the proximity of the fisherwoman and often peck at them. Once you start observing the crows, you will notice that there are two types of crows in Mumbai.  One, the House Crow (Corvus splendens), which has a grey neck. The other, the Jungle Crow, slightly bigger with a larger beak and completely black (Corvus macrorhynchos). The birdwatching books will tell you that the Jungle Crow is difficult to spot in urban areas is a bit shy. Nothing could be farther from the truth, at least in Mumbai.  The Jungle Crow here is as omnipresent as its smaller cousin and if not more than at least as daring. Its call is also a bit harsher.Though, it is  slightly lesser in numbers than the House Crow. There have been concerns on the apparently rising number of crows in Mumbai and its possible deleterious effect on the number of smaller and timid birds. While the crow is cacphonous, daring, ubiquitous and has obviously successfully coexisted with humans in this urban environment it still has to bother about the Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceous). The Koels are found near the Crows' nests and while the male sings its melodious song to distract the crows pair, the female koel snuggles into the nest, displaces an egg of the Crow and lays its own there! This interesting behaviour is called Brood parasitism. So while in popular perception one may think of the Crow as large raucous loud villain and the Koel as sweet melodious performer the truth is that the Crow is actually a victim. And much like the ordinary Mumbaikar, it carries on unabashed!
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