I love crows. They are attractive, clever, amusing, witty, ingenious, protective, caring adventurous, and full of engaging play, flexible, with a thirst for knowledge, always testing out new things for advantages and efficiency. They have close knit families that are exactly like Indian families where the father in law’s second cousin is considered as close a relative as the brother’s wife’s uncle’s mother. They love their children passionately – not just their own but all the young in the group. I am not an envious person but if it has been one person who has made me suffer longing, it is a man in Delhi who feed crows every day. They sit on his shoulders and lap and circle round him and, long after they know the food has finished, they stay to chat.
My house is full of crows. They imitate other birds and animals and we keep running out when we hear a strange bird cry to see the new species only to find it is a crow making fun of us.
My son’s room overlooks the main family area of the crows. He interacts with them in strange ways. One day when he came out of his room, several crows circled overhead and one of them dropped its feces on him. He thought it was a mistake – wrong place, wrong time. But for the next few days, every time he came out, the same thing would happen. He realised it had become a game with the crows and he was the dartboard. The fifth time it happened, he threw a stone loosely in the direction of the gamesters. It never happened again.
Now he feeds them almonds and keeps a water bowl nearby. The crows pick up the almonds and then take it to the water bowl, dip it in and wait till it has softened before eating it one crow at a time while the others wait till he is done.
Male crows court their desired female. The male will fluff his feathers, strut, and fly by to win over the female. They usually mate for life. Crows lay 4-5 eggs, but they raise 3 at the most. And only have one brood per year. Both crow parents take turns sitting on the eggs. All family members help in the care of the brood. As nesting season arrives, the juveniles from prior years, along with their parents, will help gather nesting material. The crow mother-to-be will arrange the nesting materials into a comfy nest. Crows have a complex system of helpers. They remember family members for years without seeing each other. Young crows go wandering and then join back into the family group again, sometimes months later. Not only will crows defend and protect their own family, but they will come to the aid of unrelated crows in need or distress some apply their intelligence for the good of the flock. They contact other ravens to tell them the location of a carcass. While foraging for food, one crow may stand guard as a lookout, while others feed.
While working in my office a few days ago, we all heard a clamour of crows. It was so loud that everyone, my staff, the police, petitioners – came out to see what was the matter. A baby crow was stuck in the small bamboo fence that circles the vegetable garden. I took it out of the fence and left it on the ground. After two minutes, the mother flew down and helped the baby fly up again to the nest. A few days later, I found the dogs rushing to a fluttering bird near a tree. I rescued a young crow with a crippled foot. Within minutes, the tribe was screaming for my head, ready to attack. I held the crow high up to the tribe elders to take if they wanted. They flew by and realised the crow was deformed and could not fly. Immediately they quietened down and I sent the baby to our shelter.
Everybody who has taken the trouble to study crows sees magic every day. The lady I stay within Mumbai feeds crows with glucose biscuits everyday through her flat window. She has no regular timings and passes by the window all the time. But, if she takes a biscuit out of its tin on the far side of the room and then passes by the window, six crows land up on the ledge and take it from her hands.
If intelligence can be measured by innovativeness or problem-solving, behaviour, memory, quick learning, imagination, the anticipation of possible future events tool making, then studies done by Cambridge University and published in the journal Science show that the crow is as advanced than the ape and very close to man. Take a few examples:
Crows demonstrate a tool making and tool using, capability comparable to Paleolithic man. Dr Gavin Hunt, a biologist, spent three years with them. He found that they use two different forms of hooked too to pull grubs from deep within tree trunks. The crows don’t find a tool - they make their own tools. Using their beaks as scissors, they fashion hooks from twigs, and make barbed, serrated rakes or combs from stiff leaves. And they don’t throw the tools away after one use–they carry them from one foraging place to another. Some learned how to bend a piece of straight wire into a hook to probe for food.
Crows have extremely good memory, especially when it comes to something to be feared, or where they placed their food for later consumption. The Clarke’s nutcracker, a type of North American crow, collects up to 30,000 pine seeds over three weeks in November, and then carefully buries them for safe keeping across over an area of 200 square miles. Over the next eight months, it succeeds in retrieving over 90 percent of them, even when they are covered in feet of snow. Crows use memories to plan ahead. Those with past experience of pilfering food caches collected by other birds use this knowledge to protect their own caches. Experiments show that if a habitual thief was observed while burying its own cache, it would later go back and move it when no other bird was looking. Meanwhile, "innocent" birds did not exhibit the same cunning. This also shows that the crow knows what another is thinking – an intellectual ability that only humans presume they have.
In Japan, crows wait patiently for cars to halt at a red light. As soon as the light changes the birds hop in front of the cars and place walnuts, which they picked from the adjoining trees, on the road. After the lights turn green again, the birds fly away and vehicles drive over the nuts, cracking them open. When the light turns to red again the crows pick up their meal. If the cars miss the nuts, the birds sometimes hop back and put them somewhere else on the road. The crows in Japan have been cracking nuts this way since about 1990. They have since been seen doing it in California. Researchers believe they probably noticed cars driving over nuts fallen from a walnut tree overhanging a road. The crows already knew about dropping clams from a height on the seashore to break them open, but found this did not work for walnuts because of their soft green outer shell.
Crows have a sense of humour and play. Watch them playing catch with twigs, sliding down rocks on their backs, provoking much larger animals and sometimes humans by antics such as tail-pulling and dive-bombs. A researcher gives an incident about a man who often shot at them with little success (crows have an elaborate team protection system). So, one day he came up with the plan to scare them by placing large mirrors on the ground, so that the crows would see their reflection, and thus be scared by their image. The curious birds checked out the mirror. Then one by one, made a pass over them dropping excretions covering the entire surfaces. They proceeded to go to the near-by roost and crowed like mad, seemingly in mockery.
Norse mythology depicted the wisest of the gods as having two ravens, one sitting on each shoulder. These ravens' names were Hugin, meaning Thought, and Munin, meaning memory. They would fly each day through out the world and tell Odin of everything that men do. In Native American mythology that Crow was considered a separate human being, an adviser and the keeper of the Law.
Only very ignorant people dislike crows and want to hurt them. This bird is meant to be befriended, learnt from and enjoyed. People have been told they are vermin or dirty because they eat everything. You need to start talking about them, their social lives, that they are more like people. You need to point out that crows are not evil, just trying to raise their families. That they are very shy of people but will make friends if you give them half a chance.
How can you make friend with crows? Feed them in a particular place at the same time, don't look at them, and don’t throw things. Once they associate you with kindness they will follow you around and bring you wisdom and luck.