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The Indian House Crow should not thrive!

May 25, 2009

When I read about crows “cawing and pecking” at a myna, several incidents regarding house crows (grey and black) came to my mind. Like the time my dad and me were attacked by crows when we were gardening (I think we went too close to a nest). And the time when I saw a crow flying with a small bird in its beak. Or the time when crows ate up some new plants. Or when a gang of crows ganged up on a poor defenseless owl for no reason. The area near my house has a whole host of birds and crows routinely harass the smaller (and bigger) birds.

I had once written about house crows being a factor in the reduction of the sparrow population in cities. On that post a commentator, Anish, wrote that he has seen crows eat up baby sparrows. The Observer, another commentator, said something similar. Ven Haris in another comment said that crows had driven away the songbirds in his garden.

The Indian House Crow in particular has been called the “world’s most destructive crow.” This species has been recognized as “invasive” and this means that it is a “threat to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet”. One of the reasons is that the crows multiply rapidly.

Here are some facts about the Indian House crow (Sources: [1][2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8] and [9])

Bad/dangerous
It attacks (in groups) and at times kills poultry, calves and small animals and at times sheep and domestic cats.
It preys on the chicks and eggs of native birds and destroy nests.
It harasses other birds and animals
Crows have been known to peck out the eyes of sheep and pigs.
They attack people to steal food and even jewellery.
They often dive-bomb people near their nests
They are a hazard for air planes near airports
They are known to feed on human corpses
They have had a devastating impact on indigenous bird populations by eating eggs
They mob other birds that might compete with it

Unhealthy as they forage in garbage dumps
Crows spread diseases by carrying and spreading bacteria like salmonella and E-coli.
They are carriers of cholera and typhoid
Crows may contaminate food and drinking water with their faeces.

Destructive
Crows damage crops, strip fruit trees in orchards
They damage buildings
They scatter rubbish, damage electrical wiring and block drain pipes.
They have caused power cuts by constructing nests out of wire in electric pylons.
They are known to kill/ drive off birds if they have to compete for the food.

Intelligent
In Japan they have been known to build dummy nests lure the Crow Patrol away from their real nests.
In South Africa they are known to recognize “baiters” and therefore dead crows are collected not by the “Baiter” but by somebody else.
The birds hitch rides on ships as well as the backs of pigs and other animals
They dart through open windows to snatch food
They manage to exploit all manner of food sources
Crows are able to recognize traps and rifles and other weapons
They work collectively and attack in gangs

Other characteristics
Seemingly unafraid of humans
Wholly dependent on human habitation
Bold, noisy, abundant
They multiply rapidly in any area with a dense human population
House crows feature in the list of the world’s 100 most invasive species
They are aggressive, vocal and competitive
They are solitary nesters but in areas of high population density they adapt
They use trees but buildings, and other artificial structures wil do for their nests. They use a rough stick nest lined with coir or other fibre.

Action taken by governments to control the Indian House Crow
The Indian House Crow is a declared pest in Western Australia, and any found here are culled.
In Seychelles, Singapore, Japan, and South Africa there are regular attempts to exterminate this bird.

In India it isn’t desirable or practical to destroy this bird but some efforts need to be made to control their population. As of now crows are of great help to tardy municipal corporations as they are scavengers, and help in removal of garbage.

But what’s more worrying is that crows are a threat to other species. If crows can attack humans, one can imagine the damage they do to other, smaller, species. So far our open garbage dumps provide enough food for the house crow. In countries such as Singapore or Japan the crows have to fight hard for their food and they can get very mean indeed.

The crow explosion has created a moral quandary for Japan, “a nation that prides itself on nonviolence and harmony with nature, because culling programs are the only truly effective method of population control.”

Culling a bird or an animal either to exterminate the species or reduce its population always presents a moral question. It’s just not the same as killing mosquitoes, cockroaches, bedbugs and rodents! In India we have faced this question with our ever growing population of stray dogs. Even now there are widely different opinions as to how to tackle the stray dog problem. And in any case what have these dogs and crows done wrong, really. Crows at least seem a lot like human beings? We humans have done a lot of damage to the earth, its ecosystem and to other species as well. Exterminated quite a few in fact. I guess we are lucky that there is no higher being who has decided that enough is enough and that it’s time to kill the humans off!

However, just as the human population needs control, so does the population of any species which has a tendency to proliferate. As for crows, we better do something soon, or they will rule the earth!

I am ending this post with a series of photographs I took some months earler. An owl was chilling out on a ledge (probably lost) when this crow spotted it. It looks like a raven, but it isn’t. That’s just the lighting.

Crow combo

The owl seems a little taken aback as to the nearness of the crow. It’s almost as if it is asking: what do you want?

The crow hops nearer and calls his friends. They start to arrive…

The poor owl is surrounded. After a while I could not even see the owl as all the crows hopped on to the ledge! It was scary and I tried to shoo them away but they didn’t listen.

Luckily the crows didn’t harm the owl. At least I don’t think so. An hour later the owl was gone.

(All photographs are by me and copyrighted. The last series of photographs were taken from the balcony of my old house. The crows had collected on a neighbor’s ledge.)

Related Reading: Large mammals were destroyed in most parts of the world but not India
Should we cull stray dogs?
More:  Stray dogs are a huge problem in Indian cities
Tigers in India down to a thousand??

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92 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2009 12:02 am

    Nita

    This is a surreal post :-)

    If I were to think of an analogue, I would write about the wood pigeon which blights life here. They thrive in large groups, build nests and defecate everywhere and just are a nuisance so much so that it is now not legal to feed them in Trafalgar Square…

    • October 26, 2009 8:28 pm

      Dear Nita
      I was interested to read your comments on the negative effects oof House Crows which I can mostly agree with. I would just like to confirm what Odzer wrote – that the crows in Japan are a different species from the House Crow (Corvus splendens) – they are Larg-billed Crows (Corvus macrorhynchos), what are called Jungle Crows in India but in Japan they have become much more urbanised, probably because there are no House Crows in the towns to compete with.
      Colin

      • October 26, 2009 9:45 pm

        Thanks Colin for dropping in. Your confirmation helped.

  2. May 26, 2009 12:08 am

    I hope the owl is okay. I think the question is that knowing each and every species has a role to play in the bigger picture of Nature and its balance, how can we decide and who are we to decide to just eliminate an important scavenger like the crow? I think the important point is to focus on how to control the population.

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      May 26, 2009 8:02 am

      Reema:

      I salute you for your balanced and sober reaction. Every creature has its own niche in the ecosystem and its own ways of thriving. A “pest” or a “weed” is essentially an organism that has strayed from its own niche into another, where it may become a nuisance or an invasive species.

      The Indian house crow is native to the whose of South Asia, and its range extends to south-western Thailand and coastal southern Iran. It is associated with human settlements in all of its range, from small villages to large cities.

      Due to a human population explosion in the areas it inhabits, this species has also proportionately multiplied. Being an omnivorous scavenger has enabled it to thrive in such circumstances.

      So we humans, with our aggressive colonisation of all available space, have only ourselves to blame for the proliferation of the crows. The shrill clamour (with an exclamation mark) that it “should not thrive!” belongs in the same category as demanding the elimination of slums to make way for posh highrises or malls and multiplexes; or banning streetside vendors so that the same space can be unproductively used for parking cars.

      How about culling the human population, starting with builders and “developers”? That will reduce the number people for crows to attack. It will protect the mynahs and the owls and the sparrows — at least from crows. It will also create more jobs for human scavengers.

      And slightly off-topic, I would urge those of you who are familiar with or interested in mediaeval “vernacular” (how middle-class!) poetry — both secular and spiritual — to look at the different ways in which the house crow has been glorified in it.

      • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
        May 26, 2009 8:12 am

        Nita:

        Requesting amendmets to the above:

        Para 1 — …has strayed from its own niche into another or is in conflict with invaders from other niches into its own, making it an ‘invasive species’.

        Para 2, line 1 — whole of South Asia.

        • June 1, 2009 6:14 am

          why just crows
          even sparrows are a cause of songbird disappearance. why just stop there ?
          what about us ? why keep common laws for all ?
          u must study fish sometime, its rather fascinating the way a pond or even a fish tank ecosystem works.
          we are a very destructive species especially the modern humans- but then again isn’t it survival of the fittest ?
          Fact is we are born from the nature still fear nature, thanks to movies or stereotypes…and worse we want to change or fix nature – imagine the fear against snakes and sharks has led to a rapid decline in their population.
          Snakes are most effective at crow and rat control but then again can u tolerate snakes?

          Prax, you are right, one should ideally not interfere with nature. But then what exactly is natural? If crows are proliferating because of the unnatural proliferation of humans, then the proliferation of crows is not natural! Also when crows go into lands where they were not originally part of the ecosystem it’s not natural. Same with man. The crux of it is that life today is not natural but as to the solution for it, I have no answers as for any solution the whole world will have to act in tandem and we know we don’t not even when it comes to global warming.- Nita

          • June 1, 2009 6:16 am

            ps what about roaches?

            they are considered to be pests so I guess people have no problem destroying them! – Nita

        • June 1, 2009 6:23 am

          comment in mod

          Prax, no comment of yours went into moderation. Nor was it there in the spam folder! – Nita

          • June 2, 2009 11:16 am

            sorry the comment trails are getting rather long and complex

      • May 26, 2009 5:27 pm

        Thank you Vivek!

      • Bombay wadapav eater permalink
        May 28, 2009 7:55 pm

        Hello Vivek K,

        Now I am digressing too. I hope you don’t mind Nita. Since you mentioned:
        How about culling the human population, starting with builders and “developers”?
        What is your opinion about Mukesh Mehta? There was a documentary on India last year on TV (I rarely see TV o.w.) where they showed Dharavi and the big plans of Mehta. You could reply on tcarny(at)gmail.com if you don’t mind so that we stick to the topic.

        Many thanks

        • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
          May 28, 2009 10:38 pm

          Bombay wadapav eater,

          No, I don’t mind. I think that would be a good idea. I do wonder, though, about how both Nita and you seem to have taken my sarcastic comment more or less literally. (Could someone here educate me about emoticons to convey sarcasm, irony etc.?).

          And yes, a significant part of my academic and professional career has been focussed on livelihoods and shelter in the urban informal sector, and how they influence urban morphology, networks and backward linkages with hinterlands; so I would welcome an opportunity to discuss it with anyone who is seriously interested in the subject. You may ask Nita for my e-mail ID. If you can frame more focussed questions, comments or arguments (whichever), I would be happy to engage in dialogue on the subject.

          BTW, I don’t much care for TV, period. Also,
          I am not familiar with what you describe as Mr. Mukesh Mehta’s grand plan. If I manage to find quality information (on the plan, not the man), I can take it up from there.

          • Bombay wadapav eater permalink
            May 29, 2009 5:56 pm

            i can send you the information but was interested in more details. i don’t care about tv too but some stuff on tv about india is interesting. you have my email id. if u send me a mail, i could send you what i know about this big dharavi project.

    • raju permalink
      April 19, 2011 2:38 pm

      But human settlements favor crows. Just becuaseother birds are not scavengers doesnt mean they dont have a right to live there.. House crows dont let other birds settle in the areas where they are in majority.. they are a threat to other bird species just because of us. Not letting them scavenge from our side (garbage) will take a long time in our poor country and it is not on top of govt agenda.

  3. May 26, 2009 12:31 am

    Very different post Nita… I noticed the reduction in the number of sparrows… but I have read that it has much to do with electro-magnetic signals… now I got to know another species in this world which poses a threat on par with the humans… :-( is it because it is observing humans much??

  4. May 26, 2009 5:45 am

    Loved this post! And the spin you’ve given it. Yes, I’ve always felt there’s something very sinister about crows (and moths, but that’s another story). The guys have showed up in nightmares and woken me up scared. Glad it’s official now ;)

    g

  5. May 26, 2009 8:16 am

    Interesting piece, Nita! I read somewhere that when Dr. Salim Ali wrote his seminal work on the birds of India (50?) years ago, crows were not so pervasive. But, with humans occupying every square inch of land now in larger concentrations, the crow is thriving. At the expense of other more ‘specialised’ bird species. We have only ourselves to blame. Without population control, sooner or later, every other species is going to suffer.

  6. May 26, 2009 8:33 am

    Hi Nita,

    Like all others above, I like the post too. I also read somewhere that sparrows and crows are signs of unclean cities, and these birds are essentially surviving on garbage.

    I am all for getting rid of crows, I hate them, I hate them a lot. But we must do so not by killing the crows but by keeping our cities cleaner. If they still somehow manage to exist, then we can go the Japanese way.

    When you are small, you hear the story of a wise crow throwing pebbles in a pot to raise the water level. The story is not only silly but also unnecessarily glorifies the crow. Another silly example of glorification of a pest/rodent is the Tom and Jerry cartoon. I’ve heard people say ‘oh dont kill the mice, they are so cute and innocent like Jerry!’ I must mention Lord Ganesh‘s ‘vehicle’ too. I don’t think he is riding the rat (or is it a mouse) as its वाहन. I think Ganpati is crushing the rat with his heavy body. Oh how did I endup getting here? :D :D

    Priyank.

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      May 26, 2009 9:39 am

      Priyank:

      You posted your comment 21 minutes after I did mine, so “Like all others above,” is not quite correct, is it? :-D

    • Bombay wadapav eater permalink
      May 27, 2009 2:52 am

      I think India can export some crows and stray dogs. Have you heard of Gruffalo and the smart little brown mouse? My son loves the story. :) But I know how we panicked at the sight of mice in our cellar: uninvited pests! After that my husband said I shouldn’t mind the neighbouring cat visiting my son’s sand-pit in the garden to use it as the toilet. At least its frequent visits will keep the mice at bay.

  7. May 26, 2009 9:20 am

    Shefaly, hmm, so those pigions too proliferated because of humans!

    Reema, thanks. That’s what I believe too.

    kanagu, that’s true, there are many reasons for the reduction of sparrows and other small birds. I had written a post on this.

    Gauri, I don’t like aggression of any sort, whether it is from man or bird or animal! :) I guess I am from another planet! :)

    Vivek K, reference to your reply to Reema. I have said that in my post. That humans have no right to cull any other species. And to compare my belief that the population of crows should be controlled to the proliferation of slums is amusing to say the least. Are you comparing the aggressive crows to poor people? Or are you implying that I have compared them to poor people? I have clearly compared them to the human race (which consists of all humans, not of a particular class) but you have said/implied they have something in common with poor people. I strongly disagree. I do not think that poor people are aggressive or behave “badly” or are a threat to the survival of other species. The human race is, not the poor. I think you are way off the mark here. And your desire to cull builders and developers is not something I agree with either. Nor do I believe in culling anyone, man or animal or bird.

    apu, I agree that humans and crows have grown together! I think cleaner cities would help control them.

    Priyank, it’s strange isn’t it that people have no qualms killing rodents but get so moral when it comes to eating non veg food and other stuff.

  8. May 26, 2009 9:49 am

    Nita I have rescued owls from crows twice. Both the times early in the morning. I have photographs of the first time… I will blog about it too. This is sad and shocking. I have now developed antennae to the particular noise crows make in a large group when they attack any bird.

    Once an emaciated pup, feel down, extremely weak and dehydrated and immediately a crow came and sat next to it. We managed to reach him to a shelter where he died anyway, but at least he was not pecked to death.

    I have also rescued pigeons and once a kitten from crows. But why has the number of crows increased like this? I had read somewhere that house sparrows are disappearing because of towers that we use for cell phones.

    The pictures are very clear and the owl does look very afraid. I hope they did not kill it.

    • May 26, 2009 9:55 am

      But I would like to add that I do not think of crows as dangerous. I am not sure they should be destroyed either. What we could control is the amount of garbage that is left in the open and encourages their proliferation Nita.
      I don’t dislike the crow despite all the above experiences.
      And culling is again interfering too much with nature. We have multiplied so much we are the biggest threat to nature I think :(

    • May 26, 2009 11:25 am

      Why? Stop interfering in nature.

  9. May 26, 2009 10:25 am

    I agree with Vivek K on the point that Concrete Jungle is one of the major causes for imbalance of many natural things. And of course this cause is outcome of exploding population. And here we hit a dead end.
    One thing I have noticed that number of crows in dense urban area is more than that in sparse areas. I wonder if my observation is right :|
    @owl incident: Nita, you can not easily shoo off the crows if they are intent on some target. Either you have to make sounds with crackers or a gun or something similar. Try shouting hoarse at them and they will just look at you curiously as if asking, “O Mavshi… r u feeling okay up there?” :D :D

    • May 26, 2009 5:30 pm

      yes. Your observation is correct. we come across crows in my city rarely!

  10. May 26, 2009 10:47 am

    Beautiful post, Nita. A pleasant surprise in a way.

    And my mind had just conjured up images of Maneka Gandhi and stray dogs and thought I’d comment about it, and then read on to find you’ve already touched upon it. Sort of like each paragraph read my mind. :-)

    Oh yes, wonderful journalistic photographs too! I wonder how you often seem to be carrying your camera with you at all times!

  11. May 26, 2009 11:24 am

    @ Nita : The Koel steals crow eggs and replaces their eggs with its own so many crows end up raising koels instead. That is how it is in nature. It does not follow human notions. I have seen in Japan how they try to cover garbage with nets so that the crows can not get to it. However the crow is a rather intelligent bird and they have figured a way around it. If humans will try to fight with crows trust me they will lose. Humans have forgotten how to survive but these birds have not!

  12. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    May 26, 2009 11:49 am

    Odzer,

    I fully endorse both your points.

    • May 27, 2009 1:12 am

      Thanks. On the question of spreading disease probably pigeons are worse. They are just flying rats :-)

      • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
        May 27, 2009 6:09 am

        odzer,

        //On the question of spreading disease probably pigeons are worse. They are just flying rats//

        Regarding faunal vectors, I no longer have the same confidence in my acquired learnings that I had until about a decade ago. So I prefer to let your comment pass, neither endorsing nor challenging it.

        My problem with pigeons is different. I find them the most annoying and stupid animal species found in association with human settlements. They are irritatingly noisy, much more than the crow or the koel. If they enter your house and you try to shoo them out, they will go only by the route they took to come in. You may leave half a dozen other possible exits open, but to no avail.

        I suspect this is part of their navigational instincts which, in other circumstances, make them useful carriers of messages, but damn it, what ever happened to adaptation?

  13. May 26, 2009 11:53 am

    very informative article…
    i have seen the disruptive side of crow often.. but never thought them as pests.

  14. borneveryday permalink
    May 26, 2009 1:05 pm

    Human beings are more dangerous than the crow. We share all the traits of the crow and much more, in a more sinister avtaar. How about culling humans too? That way the earth will be a peaceful place after all and also nature can take it own course without interuption from humans.

  15. rags permalink
    May 26, 2009 1:08 pm

    I like this post. A nice diversion from the usual stuff. Crows are smart aren’t they? They’d probably qualify for the smartest of all birds. We shouldn’t cull them unless there is a serious problem… They got the right to exist just like all of us… Crows are good scavengers too, I don’t think we can equate them with pests.

  16. May 26, 2009 2:06 pm

    Well its like the stray dogs and pigs that we find in Blore. Helps in cleaning up the garbage with occasional attacks on humans(me ! : ( ).

  17. May 26, 2009 4:26 pm

    lol :P in my latest post I have written “I am a crow ” :P and here I am reading how you mean humans are going to cull us… ;)

  18. May 26, 2009 5:04 pm

    When I was very young, I was standing in my balcony and eating a marie biscuit. One crow came from no where and snatched the biscuit right from my hand!

    I sometimes wonder if crows are the right match for humans. I think they are not afraid of humans and so many crows start shouting even if you are in a certain distance from the eggs. They have even dropped sticks and bones on my head when I used to study in my terrace, which is close to their nest. But after some time they go off. I find these tactics admirable and the only way to survive alongside humans!

    It is an irony that human beings shoo off the crows on normal days and on special days actually offer it some food to eat by calling them Caw Caw Caw! Shameless!

    Destination Infinity

  19. May 26, 2009 5:12 pm

    @ Nita : Oh and one more thing the crows in Tokyo always do give you a fair amount of warning before an earthquake arrives. They are nice that way. So everything has some use! “Oh look the crows are noisy today, Oh may be we are going to have the big one finally!” :-)

    By the way they sound different than our crows but they are somewhat more similar to the Himalayan crows which are completely black. Oh and one of those owl things killed my parrot. I haven’t turned against them yet. He he he.

    • Bombay wadapav eater permalink
      May 27, 2009 2:54 am

      I thought the completely balck crows were called ravens.

  20. Sandeep permalink
    May 26, 2009 5:47 pm

    I noticed the reduction in the number of sparrows… but I have read that it has much to do with electro-magnetic signals… now I got to know another species in this world which poses a threat on par with the humans… :-( is it because it is observing humans much??

  21. May 26, 2009 6:00 pm

    I agree with most of the points you have mentioned.But,let us leave some job for the almighty and allow Him to think for the universe.

  22. May 26, 2009 10:27 pm

    IHM, I am not at all surprised that you have tried to rescue birds! We are kindred souls! :) And like you I like to root for the underdog, or rather underbird!

    Suda, yeah I am sure the crows would have been quite amused…! I was yelling my head off and even got some pots and pans to shoo them away but they knew I was not going to climb out on to the ledge. I would have but the ledge below my balcony was full of plants and so it wasn’t possible.

    Mahendra, thanks. actually this happened when I was home but yeah I do carry my camera around a lot.

    Odzer, I have a much lower opinion of the human race! The humans always win! :(
    But that earthquake warning thing is interesting!!

    Ankur, true we in India do not think of them as pests as they don’t bother humans much because they have a lot of garbage to eat. In clean cities they grab food from homes and attack kids!

    borneveryday, you said it!!

    rags, I guess they aren’t pests for us in India. At least not yet.

    xylene, you are lucky the garbage is there! :)

    vishesh, well, that was a dream wasn’t it! I hope so!

    DI, It’s scary because of their beaks! But nothing scares them as people like us usually don’t go round shooting them!

    Sandeep, I guess crows are simply trying to survive. Being scavangers around human habitation, they need to be aggressive I guess.

    B K Chowla, I wonder at times what is the Plan.

    • May 27, 2009 10:21 am

      Nita, I am sure you would have climbed on the ledge if you were sure it would not give up on you anytime!! :P :D :D
      And crows must laughing their tails off at supper on your futile efforts to engage them in a conversation ;) :D :D

  23. May 26, 2009 11:04 pm

    We humans should immediately stop any outdoor screenings of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds‘ – clearly, the word has got around in the birdsphere. :D

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      May 27, 2009 11:36 am

      Amit,

      Why only outdoors? Unless you are exclusively into multiplexes, the older cinema halls seem to have openings for birds to enter and leave. And I’m sure they’d flock to see this particular movie, not mistakenly believing it is about them. And ticket-free too. :-)

      • May 28, 2009 10:31 pm

        Vivek, I didn’t say or imply “only” outdoors.

        • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
          May 28, 2009 11:50 pm

          Sorry Amit, what I meant was “why just outdoor screenings? They have opportunities to watch even indoor screenings (in the situations that I mentioned).

          PS: You missed the smiley, which I took the trouble of inserting :-)

          • May 29, 2009 7:39 am

            Vivek, I wasn’t offended, though it probably came across that way. :)
            And no apologies are necessary.

  24. May 26, 2009 11:10 pm

    Well I should add that whenever I try to get close to the crows they get away :) (to get close up photos)

    On a more serious note to all the commentators on this post a serious question(since this is turning into a man vs nature debate) :-

    Aren’t our concrete jungles our nests? Isn’t it that we are also part of the animal kingdom and earth?
    The only saving which Captain planet should be doing is humans from our actions and he shouldn’t try to cheat us into believing the earth needs to be saved , the earth I am sure can take care of itself .

    Or maybe trying to poke our nose into everything is part of nature too?

  25. Bombay wadapav eater permalink
    May 27, 2009 2:46 am

    Nita, Priyank (Final Transit)

    Interesting. I was thinking of stray dogs all the time. So what is your opinion about them?

    Odzer

    So do the crows warn if there is Tsunami coming up? Or forest fires? Then we could export some to California and Florida with so many forest fires. Interesting about the earthquake warning. I will ask Natsuko if she can distinguish between the earthquake-cawing-warning and the normal cawing. ;)

    Nita, Priyank, Vivek K,

    Ecosystem does take care but then you know what Darwin said about survival-of-the-fittest. So there we are humans and crows, both populous but don’t forget the stray dogs.

    I remember that for “sarvepitraamavas”, we had a tradition of serving the crows on a plantain leaf. Same when someone in the family passed away and until the crow ate, none of us were allowed to eat. I guess we do that every year during Ganpati festival too – that I must confirm with my mum. We did that with the cow too but the crow was supposed to be carrying the soul of teh dead or sth. I bet Vivek K has better knowledge and can correct me. When I was in Bombay, I found the stray dogs quite a menace. They would bark in the midlle of the night and it was so hard to study for my exams. I guess the crows did not need to complain in our area since they had enough to feed on with Malabar hill with the tower of silence just 20 mins by foot. i don’t know tho’ if they exceeded so much that the vultures disappeared. I don’t remember seeing the vultures after turning 12. Still wish that Bombay exports all the stray dogs to China. At least they can have a hearty meal. The crows were generally quiet. They used to have important meetings in the garden and I am serious but they would caw harmoniously. Sometimes a crow or a two would sit on teh window and caw very loudly and my superstitious mother would say that it is a sign that sth bad is going to happen.
    Here in Germany, the pigeons are a menace and unlike the French, pigeon isn’t served on the menu tho’ my husband educated me that the pigeons served are reared.
    I guess we shouldn’t interfere after the swine flu, hope that there is stray-dog- and crow-flu!

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      May 27, 2009 5:45 am

      Bombay wadapav eater:

      Animal and plant behaviour as an eco-indicator is a well-known phenomenon. This includes not only unexpected events such as earthquakes but also routine happenings such as excess or deficit rainfall, heat or cold, drought, unseasonal weather phenomena etc.

      Most traditional communities that live off the land, whether as cultivators or extractors, pastoralists or animal husbandsmen, possess this kind of indigenous knowledge (IK), which is passed down the generations by word of mouth. In a one-year pilot project that I led in the mid-1990s, involving rural upper-primary and secondary schoolchildren in different parts of India to document the IK of their communities, we found not only several interesting examples of eco-indicators but also that their interpretations, in places as wide apart as Nagaland and the Bhimashankar plateau, were in some instances surprisingly similar, while in others they were radically different.

      Unfortunately, as severe environmental changes induced by human intervention in the name of “development” occur, much of such IK becomes irrelevant and is rapidly forgotten. Except in China, there are few well-known instances of popular eco-indicators having been documented or scientifically analysed using modern methods. In recent decades, despite their dismal record in environmental protection, the Chinese have done some remarkable work in this area, even though it may be too little too late.

      Re. your mention of serving crows on a plantain leaf on sarvepitraamavas — I assume that is the Konkani version of what, in Marathi, is called sarvapitrI amAvAsyA — that is, I think, just one of the several traditional rituals associated with pacifying the souls of the dead. This includes the piNDadAn that you mention without naming it. I am not aware of any similar rite associated with crows during Ganeshchaturthi. Will have to find out. Regarding crow cawing at the window or in the vicinity of the home, I have come across two diametrically opposed superstitions — one, which you have mentioned, is that it is an ill omen or apashakun; the other believes it to be a good omen (a reference to this is found in Dnyaneshwara’s well-known abhanga ‘paila to ge kAU kokatAhe’, which you may have heard.

      There certainly does seem a close association, in the Hindu tradition, between the crow and the souls of the dead. But if you look for it among the vAhanas of our deities, the crow is associated with Shani, not with Yama.

      About stray dogs (also pet dogs — rather their owners) I have even stronger feelings than yours, which I would prefer not to discuss on this particular post.

      Your use of the expression ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ needs serious qualification: it was coined by Herbert Spencer to describe Darwin’s theory of naturtal selection of living species. By the early 20th century it was being used loosely in other contexts, to justify many things lying outside the purview of Nature — especially callous, high-handed human actions driven by greed and avarice, which many would justify with a sanctimonious ‘so be it’. If you must use the term in such a context, please leave Darwin out of it. Crows and humans cannot be clubbed together.

      • Bombay wadapav eater permalink
        May 28, 2009 8:45 pm

        I am sure that still a lot of IK is practised in Africa. When we travelled in the Serengeti and other national parks in Tanzania, I observed how our tour guides (mostly Masais) keep an eye on scavenger birds. My conclusion is that in this manner they can track a carcass and hope to see the hunter (a lioness, leopard) or other wild animals who would be interested in a free meal. Obviously they want to show tourists as many animals as possible (and have no funk at least not in 98 when I was there) to maximise their tip. This is just my notion. I am not sure if I am right.
        “…possess this kind of indigenous knowledge (IK), which is passed down the generations by word of mouth”
        reminds me of my trip to Mali: there was a song that the hunter tribes sang which our guide translated to us: An old man is like an old tree and the birds sitting on the tree are like his pieces of knowledge/ pearls of wisdom. When the tree dies and falls, all the birds fly away. Similarly when the man dies, all his wisdom is lost unless his descendents have bothered to follow carefully…
        Why don’t you write a book on IK? I am serious, I guess it would be interesting for many – all the lost wisdom.
        Intersting that crow is Shani’s vahan. I only know the vahans of the main deities if I am allowed to classify Shani and Yama as subordinate (tho’ shani dasha is not uncommon).
        There was an exhibition on Darwin (his 200th birthday) in the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. It was so extensive that I could have stayed there for a week instead of 3 hours. I did come across the English philosoph Spencer and famous for coining this phrase and his books but I never really could read much and half my concentration was on my son who was running about . It was easier therefore to just enjoy the pictures. I hope I won’t make the blunder of repeating this phrase in Darwin’s context….what to do…somehow the crap–so-called-school-knowledge is more active than recently acquired knowledge.

      • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
        May 28, 2009 11:23 pm

        @All:

        I am afraid both BWE and I, through careless sentence construction, have given the shocking impression that crows are served (as food) on sarvapitrI amAvAsyA! What we actually mean, of course, is that crows are served food, or food is served to the crows.

        • Bombay wadapav eater permalink
          May 29, 2009 5:40 pm

          Well I don’t have time for reading all comments so i don’t know whose assumption that was. Indeed Vivek K and I meant that food is served or offered to crows on sarvapitraamas. Thanks VK for clarifying this.

          • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
            May 29, 2009 10:01 pm

            BWE:

            No one articulated such an assumption. I just issued a pre-emptive clarification because I noticed it after the deed was done.

  26. Padmini permalink
    May 27, 2009 7:42 am

    On a lighter note, I was reminded of the ‘Kowah kowah aaja aaja’ theme song from Ranvir,Vinay Aur Kaun, which I frequently watch:) Loved the pictures of the poor owl and the dominating crow. I’ve always thought that there’s something strange about the crow.

  27. May 27, 2009 8:53 am

    Here are crows with higher IQ than mine:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGPGknpq3e0

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8059688.stm

    maald, I had to disable your video as it is identical to the one that Naveen sent. You sent it earlier but being a new commentator your comment went into moderation and therefore Naveen’s video was responded to. Hope it’s okay. Had to to do as it makes the page difficult to load.! – Nita

  28. May 27, 2009 10:51 am

    Reema has already said what i wanted to!

  29. Naveen permalink
    May 27, 2009 11:17 am

    It is generally believed that all animals (except probably Man) are driven solely by rigid instincts. Can’t crows reason? Look at the video and decide.

    • May 27, 2009 12:27 pm

      @Naveen
      Cool Clip!

      • May 27, 2009 12:32 pm

        Do check “Amazing bird fishes like humans” is related videos too, if interested. It’s good.

        • Naveen permalink
          May 27, 2009 7:57 pm

          I did. Very interesting. Thanks.

    • vasudev permalink
      June 1, 2009 10:26 pm

      actually that looks like the spirit of bush (the senior)

  30. Aditi permalink
    May 27, 2009 4:56 pm

    woah your post reminded me of that horror movie ‘Birds’ by Alfred Hitchcock… hehehe
    crows attacking live animals for food/etc. is surprising, thankfully i have never witnessed it. :P

  31. May 27, 2009 6:08 pm

    Neeta, hats off! Very different post & very very informative. Trust me I never knew so many things about crows & birds. Great one!

  32. May 27, 2009 6:43 pm

    good one Nita.

    Different from your usual topics…

    i never thought they are so destructive…! N i do miss sparrows…

    Archana

  33. Dev permalink
    May 27, 2009 9:46 pm

    Very different post Nita. While growing up, we were always told that the crow is a very clever bird.

  34. May 27, 2009 9:52 pm

    Amit and Aditi, now I would like to see that movie although I am not a horror flick fan!

    Vishesh, sure the concrete buildings are our nests! But I don’t think the earth will take care of itself…we need to take care.

    Bombay wadapav eater, as to the question of stray dogs I always feel torn and I wrote about it too:

    http://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/should-we-kill-stray-dogs/

    and here:

    http://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2007/04/06/fierce-dogs-in-cities/

    I have not updated those posts but now the Bombay High court has forbidden the culling of dogs. I agree that sterilisation is a humane way to reduce their population. Unfortunately in a poor country like India massive sterilisation and vaccination programmes are often not carried out the way they should be. However it is interesting to know that even Mahatma Gandhi was okay with culling stray dogs. I have mentioned that in my post. I am actually in two minds on this issue.
    And yes the totally black ones are ravens but I believe it is the grey and black ones who are the worst ones.

    Padmini, Strange is a mild word! :)

    Sakhi, Suda, :)

    Naveen, Maald, thanks for that great clip! Thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Kanupriya, thanks. :)

    archanaccp, thanks. I just love those tiny sparrows!!

    Dev, yeah I remember that story about the crow and the pitcher. I guess that is why the crow has proliferated so much.

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      May 27, 2009 11:06 pm

      Nita,

      //even Mahatma Gandhi was okay with culling stray dogs.//

      As far as I am aware, he was okay with the culling of rabid dogs, which posed a serious threat to public health. The issue arose when a stray dog at the Calico Mills in Ahmedabad turned rabid. The millowner, Ambalal Sarabhai (father of Vikram Sarabhai), was in a quandary. As a staunch Jain, he could not harm any form of life. As an enlightened and pragmatic employer and businessman, he could not jeopardise the lives of the hundreds of workers at, and dozens of visitors to, the mill compound.

      It is said he consulted Gandhi who, after profound ratiocination, gave him an ad hoc green signal. Thus absolved of a moral dilemma, Ambalal had the dog put down. For this action he was excommunicated from the Jain fold. To this day, his descendants are considered beyond the pale.

      I haven’t had occasion to examine the official records on this, but it seems Gandhi’s endorsement was context-specific, not a sweeping approval. The same Gandhi, it may be recalled, was against the administration of allopathic medication, particularly antibiotics, because his conscience (and he was not a Jain) would not allow his personal problem to be made the reason for terminating the lives of millions of microorganisms to which his body was host.

      • May 28, 2009 7:55 am

        Vivek, from what I have read, Mahatma Gandhi was against stray dogs, not just rabid dogs and I wrote about it here with the appropriate link. I think Gandhi thought that way because he was a practical man and also he felt that strays themselves suffered a lot. I think he has a point although I am not saying I believe in it totally.

        http://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2007/04/06/fierce-dogs-in-cities/

  35. May 28, 2009 4:29 am

    I think its all related to the population explosion and how we have manipulated nature to suit our needs. To maintain balance, the other species will also adjust themselves. That is what has happened with crows.
    The Video added by Naveen is very interesting.

  36. May 28, 2009 9:46 am

    Wow…i didn’t know that the Indian Crows cause so much damage.

    Very unique post, Nita!

  37. vasudev permalink
    May 29, 2009 10:20 pm

    Nita… I just came back to Mumbai today after a long leave and thought let me login.

    Just before I left for Kerala some 25 odd days ago I was just going for my evening walk when I witnessed a most horrific and morbid scene which left me feel terribly helpless.

    what I witnessed:

    a small baby sparrow was crossing the road, its agitated parents crying out loudly…the full scene was that the baby sparrow was in hot pursuit by a large crow. before i could comprehend what was the director’s (god’s) role the crow had pounced upon the foundler, clutched the small portion of feeling, struggling, life-seeking, tormented, denied, aspiring piece of flesh in its heathen claws and flown away to the nearest tree and started pulling it out piece by piece (all in front of my eyes) while the helpless parents could only lament.

    Today the crow is my biggest ‘targetted’ enemy and despite what my mom believes (that crows are our departed ancestors) i am happy to confess that i poisoned quite a large number of crows who pecked me at my native village home in kerala just because i happened to help out their fallen baby to sit up. i have no regrets! the crows! must go! god should find out some better icons to represent my for departed ancestors!

    Vasudev, good to have you back on the blog! :) Yeah, the crows are extremely aggressive, specially around their young and what’s more, they are fearless! I do wonder why they are supposed to represent ancestors though. It’s a mystery. – Nita

    • vasudev permalink
      June 1, 2009 10:21 pm

      ah! there you are nita! wondered on which investigative emprise you had freshly embarked upon!

      thanks for the welcome[:D] (dunno whether the apostrophied D would look like a smiley smile when i press post)

  38. vasudev permalink
    May 29, 2009 10:22 pm

    last line: ignore the ‘for’ since the line was edited by me.

  39. psripada101 permalink
    May 30, 2009 12:11 pm

    While your distaste for crows is understandable, a crow plays an important role in the funeral ceremonies in Andhra Pradesh.Balls of rice or rice cakes are offered to the crows.If the crow eats the rice cake, it is taken as a good omen . This a an ancient Hindu belief.So don’t be too harsh on the poor crows.

    psripada, I am certainly against annihilation of any living thing, it is not for religious reasons. – Nita

  40. Sudhir Jatar permalink
    May 30, 2009 1:15 pm

    I wonder what the background is to the belief (fulfilment of the desires / wishes of the deceased) about a crow touching the urn carrying ashes on the 10th day? For that we, Hindus, need the crow!
    Then how many of you have noticed (i) white crows in Africa and (ii) no birds of whatever kind in Vietnam?

    Sudhir, I am sure that it is just a belief with some myth attacked to it. well, that is what I think. About vietnam, well it’s not just vietnam but also places like China and some other islands in that region. There are no birds, most of them annihilated by man or because of pollution, or because their food source is depleted or because the birds themselves are eaten. People who live in those places can hardly believe that in other countries there are birds all over the place! Apparently one can’t even see seagulls in those places. – Nita

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      June 4, 2009 5:24 pm

      Nita,

      //…it is just a belief with some myth attached to it//

      Well, for many people such beliefs and myths are articles of faith, so let’s not run them down with qualifiers like ‘just’. As long as they don’t seek to impose their faith on those of us who believe differently, it should be accepted in a spirit of live and let live.

      //…no birds, most of them annihilated by man or because of pollution, or because their food source is depleted or because the birds themselves are eaten…//

      That list of possible causes misses one of the most important ones — habitat destruction. And the phenomenon you mention about Vietnam and China is true in some parts of India. I have noticed it in Nagaland and (in the post-monsoon period in a drought-free year) in parts of Marathwada and Vidarbha; and also in some pockets of North Gujarat which, just 50 years ago, recorded an abundance of wildlife.

  41. May 31, 2009 3:41 pm

    By the way,
    That owl looks pretty cute. I hope he lived. :)

    I believe it did! – Nita

  42. Madhurima permalink
    June 3, 2009 8:48 pm

    The Indian Vulture which is a voracious scavenger (Parsis.. Tower of Silence . etc) is almost extinct due to Diclofenac (an animal analgesic) poisoning. This has allowed crow proliferation to fulfill that ecological niche. Conservation efforts have been too little, too late.

    Thanks for the enlightening article. However, don’t you feel that scavenging animals and birds are an essential part of the environment? Aren’t u glad that SOMEONE eats those human corpses? While I have no qualms about culling any animal/bird to manage the ecosystem as best we can, I do wonder about our misplaced sense of morality. Crows are uglier than dogs, sparrows are cuter than crows!

  43. June 4, 2009 4:51 pm

    I used to hate crows when I was in Kolkata as they had attacked me very badly when I was about 10 yrs. for accidentally going near their nest on our terrace and in another instance they had driven out my favorite pigeons and yes I had witnessed a murder of a sparrow one morning as the first thing in the morning after waking up and looking out of the window……
    but strangely I miss them once I moved to Bangalore as the part of city where I live is devoid of crows and there’s plenty of garbage for them to survive but in last 3 yrs I spotted ravens only twice no signs of crows anywhere ….
    the missing crows disturbs my mom when she comes for visit to Bangalore …
    after reading your post I need to investigate this missing crows in my location maybe find out the reason which may help in reducing the crow population elsewhere….

  44. Sudhir Jatar permalink
    June 4, 2009 7:55 pm

    Thank you, Vivek. Yes, Habitat destruction, I missed this very important cause. I guess habitat destruction would eat up the human race too!

  45. SatSundri permalink
    June 12, 2009 11:44 am

    Great post. I was looking for info on crows and owl behaviour. Early this morning – first a few crows were harassing an owl…then a whole neighborhood of different birds showed up to join in. Too hard to not do a little rescue to try to scatter the flock…..interesting to see so many people have observed this.

    Thank you for an interesting post.

  46. H. Bourne permalink
    September 21, 2010 2:26 pm

    You may be interested in “Seafaring Behaviour in House Crows Corvus Splendens- a precursor to ship assisted dispersal” by Anthony Cheke. In it he makes obvious that Mankind has not always viewed the Indian Hoose Crow as a pest. This is further shown by the the use of other members of the crow family, notably the raven. They particularly figure in western versions of Great Flood myths, particularly the Biblical story of Noah & his Ark.
    Such myths are worldwide. More of them occur in west Africa, Ireland & Sc andinavia as navigational aids in a pre-instrument age. This is especially so but involving different birds on the astonishing voyages made by the ancestors of present-day Polynesians to such remote places as Easter Island, Hawaii plus New Zealand. In these days of people jetting off to distant parts and reaching them in hours, it should be realised these places are in the Pacific Ocean and are the remotest points of land on the planet.

  47. gulrukh permalink
    June 16, 2011 3:53 pm

    You all do realise that the bird attacking the baby owl is not a crow but a raven. In fact I think the crows have arrived on the scene to caw off the raven in aide of the baby owl.

    • June 17, 2011 3:27 pm

      Hi, visiting your interesting blog again after a few months absence I would like to extend H Bourne’s comment about Anthony Cheke’s paper “Seafaring Behaviour in House Crows……”. As you can see if you go to my website http://www.housecrow.com, House Crows have have established large breeding populations in some 20 or more countries outside there native range, mostly by travelling on ships – although this has been aided by some deliberate releases to Aden (which now has a massive population), Zanzibar, Klang in Malaysia in the late 1800s. Although your blog generally expresses antipathy towards these crows my experience is that in India and Sri Lanka there is a sort of love-hate relationship with them and much more tolerance than there is in places outside there native range. They have had a devastating effect on native birds and crop raiding etc, in most of these introduced population areas so that there are large scale eradication programmes taking place at present in South Africa and Tanzania, and many attempts in Aden, Kenya, Klang, Hong Kong, Djibouti, Mauritius, Jeddah, etc.
      I am very interested in the traditional beliefs and tales relating to House Crows, I guess that there must have been much written over the centuries.

  48. Paradise permalink
    September 14, 2011 7:11 pm

    Crows are a huge problem in Chennai for all the reasons highlighted by Nita. In addition crows are fed by misguided animal / bird enthusiasts!!!! adding to their population increase.
    Off particular worry would be the spread of disease particularly the avian influenza strains. As with numerous problems no proactive solutions will be taken up.
    China solved their problem of flies, bird pests thru innovative solutions, but we always discount China’s achievements, don’t we???

  49. November 1, 2012 6:01 am

    Interesting read ! Now I know why farmers put up “scarecrows” in their fields !
    K.N.Malathi

  50. April 6, 2013 9:25 pm

    I recently observed a crow pulling the tail feathers out of a fish eagle that was at least 3 times its size. It was an epic dogfight that led to the eagle backing down. This was in goa just before Christmas. I have observed some interesting behavior from the crows including use of tools and sorting edible material from polluted plastic waste. They are clever creatures if not loud and aggressive. They have flourished in great numbers in recent years. I would suggest that they are less effected by accumulation of plastics than other birds because of their superior scavenging skills and mental capacity. Their behavior is much like the Landgulls of Brighton.

    • April 21, 2013 2:00 pm

      Dear Alex
      I was very interested to hear that you have seen tool use, was this in the House Crow or another species. Could you give more details if it was a House Crow?
      Regards
      Colin

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