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Opinions of Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

The ravens of the sky - 2

File photo: Ravens in the sky File photo: Ravens in the sky


In the first part of this story, the author recounted how he once interfered with the natural order of hierarchy among birds.

He saw a big crow bullying 'bola-birds' and driving them away from food the author had put out for all the birds. He yelled at the crow to go away. It left. But what happened next?

Read on:

I didn't think much of what had happened. Until the next morning., When I went to sit on my chair, as usual, to await the arrival of the birds.

The birds came. But it wasn't the bola-birds or the apatuprɛ. Or the doves.

It was crows. Tens and tens of them! They must have numbered at least forty!

They didn't make for the bread crumbs and they didn't cry out “kwaa!....kwaa”! as I could have expected.

They just sat on the roof opposite where I was sitting, making soft noises to one another. And they all kept their eyes on me!

It was eerie. I realized at once that I was witnessing a unique, epic event, as far as my experience of life was concerned.

The birds were not behaving in a way that was threatening to me. It rather looked as if they had come to tell me something!

I looked at them. And they looked at me. What was the inter-species message they had for me?

I worked it out as follows: “Listen, fellow! Do you see us in our numbers? Don't ever behave aggressively towards any of us again! For we are many. And you're just one. Not only that – what right do you have to intervene when we are interacting with birds of another species?

Are you a bird? Do you know when we were created and when bola-birds were created? Do you know how our relationship began? They always know that they have to give way to us! That is the law of Nature. And you want to change it?

“You see, small as they are, the bola-birds survive because we protect them in ways you would never guess at. We let them know, with alarm calls, when hawks and other birds of prey are prowling around.

We tell them where carrion is, and so long as they show respect and wait until we've had our fill, they can gorge themselves as much as they like. But they don't always wait their turn and try to precede us to the dinner table, whereupon we peck at them and they move away, only to come back when we allow them to.

“We and the bola-birds have had this relationship of mutual understanding for millions of years. How dare you a human – whose evolution took place only a few thousands of years ago – try to change a relationship that has lasted for so long?”

I watched the crows watching me decipher the silent message they were delivering to me. It was uncanny.

First of all, how did the one crow I had driven away communicate its discomfiture to the whole flock of brother and sister crows?

How could it have got them all to agree to stop feeding and come to support it by delivering a collective message to me?

What they were actually saying was this: “Chum, Can you see? We have THE NUMBERS! If you like, try something stupid, such as showing any aggression towards us. We can swoop down and beat you with our wings and beaks.

You, humans, think you are all-powerful. But here you are, alone right now, facing the whole lot of us! Before help could arrive, we would have finished you! Idiot, never do something stupid like that again!”

The idea of them attacking me took my mind to a frightening movie I had once watched – “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock:

The thought of what happened to the people in that film sent shivers through my body, followed by beads of sweat on my forehead.

I won't spoil the film's story for you by recounting it here, but if you are able to, try and watch it or read about it. Hitchcock's horror film was based on a story, also entitled “The Birds” by that creator of dark storylines, Daphne Du Maurier.

The irony of such a fate as happened to the people in the fiction stories happening – as an actuality – to me, could not escape me.

With hardly-suppressed fear and trembling, I left and went inside. When I came back about an hour later, there was no sign of the crows.

It's one of the wonders of Nature that when one species faces off against another and one of the “turns tail”, the victor leaves the fugitive alone.

They had scared me and I'd scrammed from the potential battlefront. End of story. Would quarrelsome humans have behaved like that?.

The event will never go out of my mind. The puzzling aspects, as I have intimated, are these: How did the one crow I had offended manage to get forty or so others to come and brandish their collective strength at me?

How did they know that I would be impressed – if not frightened – by their numbers? Had they massed together somewhere else before and frightened off a potential antagonist? Did they act merely by instinct or did they have an intelligence decision-taking capability of which we humans are unaware?

I mean – theirs was a psychological victory: complete and unalloyed. But how did they come by the strategy that procured it? Was it a hard-wired instinct programmed into their genes?

How do rows communicate amongst themselves about abstract issues like “I have run into someone who has exhibited hostility towards me? Will you please come and help me show him some power?”

When the first crow said this to its mates (in whatever language it was!) why had the other crows not said, “It's your fight, mate! Go and fight it and don't involve us! When we get food, don' you always fight with us in gobbling it up?

If they had said that, what would the original crow have replied? Could it have argued: “Listen!

Today, it's me he's driving away from food. But tomorrow it could be you! We have to act together to ensure that none of us ever encounters such an experience again!”

If it argued like that, why did they accept the argument? Is co-operation natural to crows?

I sigh, as I think: we live in the world, but don't know even half of what goes on inside it. For me, I ain't gonna fool with Nature ever again. I may think I'm being “humanitarian” in going to fight on the side of a weak animal that's being “oppressed” by a stronger one.

But what do I know? The “law of the jungle” took millions – perhaps billions – of years to be “written”! Who am I, whose lifetime lasts for only the blink of an eye (in Time, as defined by Nature) to challenge things I do not understand?