Nothing to crow about

Have you seen a murder of crows? If you are about to say ‘no’, think again. This rather misleading term denotes a collection of crows, a sight quite common in our country. You may love them or hate them, but you cannot ignore them. Perhaps no other living thing is as familiar as this winged being. It gains an entry into our consciousness early in life, one might say, at the very dawn of memory. Lullabies and stories about these clever birds abound in every language and are handed down generation after generation.

There are numerous legends, superstitions and beliefs around them. They are thought bring change as well as act as harbingers of death. They are regarded too as prescient or revengeful spirits that visit us in disguise.

Lovers of crows will argue spiritedly and insist that these creatures, far from being ugly, are the black who are also beautiful. Consider the Jungle Crow. With its glossy feathers and sleek body, it has an allure all its own. Its strong, shiny and hooked beak adds a regal touch. The house-crow has its own prettiness. It wears a cream scarf that sits well on its grey and black coat. The eggs these birds lay are beautiful — pale blue and green and speckled in brown.

The crow has been reviled for its raucous voice, but would breaking dawn be the same without their ambient calls in the morning? What would the dying day be without their plaintive cries in the lengthening shadows? A well-known fable tells us how a fox flattered a crow’s singing abilities and got away with its meal. I, for one, find though that it can sing a varying and soothing tune during hot and sleepy afternoons.

They are very clever birds too, with many a trick up their blackened feathers and they work admirably together to carry them out. They are devoted parents and will attack aggressively to protect their young. I have seen enraged crows pluck caps off to get at the scalp of perceived offenders. Ornithologist, Salim Ali, has pointed out that “his intelligence and boldness carry him triumphantly through a life of sin and wrong-doing.

His thieving propensities though are in a great measure redeemed by his efficient services as a scavenger”. And indeed where there is dirt and refuse, there are crows too. But it is we humans who create the mess and also overlook the fact that it is the crows who help in clearing it.

Cleaner cities, it has been observed, have less of crows and it is quite likely that once we learn to keep our surroundings clean, their number will show a drastic decline. A good way for humans to go, but the crow-lover will find that this is something he is not willing to crow about!

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