While I was in Mumbai, and also in other parts of India, there was something fascinating about the crows that I can’t quite describe. Crows in the U.S. are quite appealing to me in their own right. They are very intelligent birds. They learn quickly, and they listen to you as you talk, though they may simply fly away after. They are canny birds.
Indian crows are different. Those I saw in Mumbai most frequently had an odd dirty gray ruff around their throats, a lighter colored feather that fluffed out and didn’t have the same obsidian shine as the other feathers. When the rains came, and feathers clumped, I could see these ruffs were once white and had only been smogged and grimed and dirtied on the outside edges. After a bit of research, evidently such white sections of plumage are common to several species of the Corvus genus of crow.
It was also the images of crows that stuck most particularly in my mind in ways that other birds did not. It was the crows who were brave enough to hop right up to me on the balcony of our office when I went to take pictures of the cityscape, hoping for a handout. The smaller birds had flown at my approach and the pigeons merely shifted uncomfortably, but the crows gazed deep into my eyes as I spoke to them and did not flinch. They merely cocked their heads expectantly, a conscientious audience.
It was the crows that were the most vigorous scavengers, raiding the gutters and the refuse piles, stealing the sandwiches of the unwary, pecking out the guts of rat remains. I don’t remember seeing more than one or two seagulls in the city by the sea, but there were literally thousands of crows. They posed for my photographs, sitting jauntily on the heads of statues or balancing easily on thin strips of wire. Did they know they were framing my early morning photos of the Taj? Undoubtedly. A crow is nothing if not vain. And yet, despite the attitude, they remain some of my favorite birds and I can’t help thinking of them as beautiful, whether common or not.