Communicating with birds – and shedding light on the fascinating traits of crows and ravens.
A small article in the newspaper caught my eye this morning over breakfast, describing 30 year-old Gautam Sapkota climbing up a stage in Kathmandu and cawing into a microphone like a crow. Literally minutes later, hundreds of the birds appeared, circling above him and perching on nearby trees and roof tops. As the crowd watched spellbound, charidada (aka bird brother) then made some other sounds upon which the crows fell silent and flew off.
Gopal Sharma of Reuters reported on 4.11.13 that Sapkota has been exhibiting his ability for over 8 years – and given more than 3,200 shows in 66 of Nepal’s 75 districts. Apparently he can imitate the sounds of 251 kinds of birds and hopes for recognition of his talents from Guinness World Records. When asked how he communes with the birds he simply said, “I told them to come, sit, be quiet and fly away.” He lined out that “as a messenger it [the crow] gives the sign of anything good that is likely to happen, or anything bad that may strike a family.”
Conservationists say 149 of Nepal’s 871 bird species face the threat of extinction. Although not considered to be threatened, crows are disappearing fast.
This latest appearance coincided with the Hindu festival of crows, which are revered as messengers from heaven and envoys of Baliraja, the king of death.”
Many birds have been objects of worship down through history. Among the Indians of the northwest coast of America, the crow and raven are worshipped. They believe that the birds produce dry land by the beating of their wings. In India offerings are regularly made to crows, which are believed to be ancestors.
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In most parts of the world also the raven is considered a prophet and a bad omen – Arabs call the bird Abu Zajir, meaning ‘Father of Omens’. The Irish domesticated ravens for use in divination and ‘Raven’s Knowledge’ was applied to those who have second sight. And in many areas of the ancient world, the sight of a raven flying to the right was a good omen, whilst a raven flying to the left was an evil one.
Crows are quite similar to ravens, yes different; both birds are highly intelligent and part of humankind’s mythology since the beginning of time. Ravens have about a 30 year lifespan, while crows only reach up to 8 years. They are of the same family and genus but ravens are larger bodied and have a wider wingspan than crows. They are both black-feathered but the Ravens’ feathers look glossier, displaying a wet sheen.
Ravens’ cries are low and hoarse: gronk-gronk, croooaaak; whereas crows have a nasal and high pitched call: caw-caw.
In 10 Fascinating Facts About Ravens, Joy Lanzendorfer wrote an in-depth article that is most gratifying to read as it not only explains the intelligence of the bird but also its ability to imitate human speech (the reverse of Gautam Sapkota and the crows), its habits, playfulness and apparent capability of feeling empathy. The article incorporates also several illuminating videos (Credit to Samhitta via Alison Moore Doss)