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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Crows in traditions and mythologies

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A crow is a black bird with a strong black beak, two strong claws, and a pair of powerful eyes. It is regarded as a very special bird in India which is found all over the world with minor morphological variations. In India it is found all over the country for different reasons.

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Crows are large passerine birds that form the genus Corvus of the family Carvidae. Members of this genus can be seen in all temperate continents except South America and several offshore and oceanic islands including Hawaii.

Crows are seen round the year. They appear to have evolved in Asia from Corvid stock which has evolved in Austrelia. Linnaeus has described crows in his work Systemma Naturae published in the 18th century. The name is derived from the Latin Corvus meaning “raven”. The type species is Common Raven (Corus corax). Other names are the Carrion Crow (C. corons), the Hooked Crow (C.cornix), the Rook (C.frugilegus) and Jackdaw (C. monedula).

Fossil records show that crows were regularly hunted by human sp. Up to the Iron Age. It has been reported that a high number of species of crows have gone extinct after human colonization with special reference to Island groups such as New Zealand, Hawaii and Greenland.

Crows make wide varieties of vocalization. It is a topic of debate and study whether the crow’s system of communication constitutes a language. However, it is reported that crows respond to calls of other species. Their vocalization is complex and hence, understood very poorly. The pattern and number of numerical vocalization in crows have been reported to change in response to events in the surrounding. They can hear sound of lower frequencies than those humans can hear. They can produce soft gurgling sounds as a sort of beckoning calls or a call of affection. They can imitate sounds of other animals too. During rainy season some Indian crows have been observed to hunt frogs (Mishra, M.P. 1985) by imitating sound of a frog while sitting on demarcation lines of fields near some holes in which frogs rest in peace.

Crows have been observed to show remarkable levels of intelligence when in groups. Humans have long viewed the crow as an intelligent bird. The Aesop’s fable of the crow and the pitcher proves the intelligence of a crow. But here fox is shown more intelligent than the crow.

Researchers suggest that crows have the ability to recognize our individual human being from another by facial features.

Culture and Mythology
The dark plumage, unnerving calls and their tendency to eat carrion, crows often feature in European legends as portents or harbingers of doom or death. They are commonly thought to encircle above scenes of death such as battles. In mythology and folklore they tend to be symbolic of the spiritual aspect of death.

In one of his physical forms the Dharmapal or protector of Dharma Mahakala is represented by a crow in Buddhism. It is said that when the first robbers attacked the family home, the parents fled and could not get to the infant Lama in time. The next morning when they returned expecting the worst, they found their home untouched, and a pair of crows was caring for the Dalai Lama.”It is believed that crows heralded the birth of the first, seventh, eighth, twelfth and fourteenth Lamas”.

In classical mythology Ovid’s metamorphoses reveal that – when the crow told the God Appolo that his lover Coromis was cheating on him with a mortal, he became very angry and turned the feather of crows from white to black.
Hindus believe that people who died will take food and offering through a variety of crows called “Bali kaka”. Every year Hindus whose parents or relatives died will offer food to crows as well as to cows on the Shraddha day. “ A battle between crows and owls is said to have inspired the final bloody night of the Mahabharat war”.

In Chinese mythology, the world originally had ten sons as ten crows. These ten crows rose in the sky one at a time. When all the ten decided to rise at once, the effect was devastating to crops. So the Gods sent their greatest archer Houyi, who shot down nine of them and spared only one.

The Nile Virus
It has been reported that American crow is very susceptible to west Nile  Virus recenty introduced to North America. American crows have been reported to die within one week of infection by these viruses. They are so affected by the disease that that their deaths are now regarded as indicator of the worst Nile virus activity in an area.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Services has listed two crow species as endangered. These species are the Atala and the Mariana. Since 1999 about 45 percent of the crow population has reportedly been reduced in America.

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