A few years ago, there was talk about how one no longer spots the humble sparrow within the city. Noticed how the number of crow sightings have also reduced? Once a staple of the Bengaluru skyline, crows are becoming a rare sight. We spoke to ornithologist MB Krishna — who, confirming that the number of crows has, in fact, reduced in the city — says that this is a warning sign.

“It’s not only crows, but a lot of other garden and woodland birds in the city whose numbers have also dwindled. As a rough rule of thumb, this drop has been by 95% for many species over the last three decades. Although there is no quantitative study done across the city yet, just like the sparrow decline, the reduction of crows is noticeable,” says Krishna, who adds that there are many reasons for this.

Crows, says Krishna, are essentially scavengers and are not getting enough food in the city. They also require a certain amount of tree cover, because crows build nests on trees and need twigs to make their nests. Due to the drastic reduction in tree cover, crows are unable to reproduce. “Another reason is the rise in pollution levels. Birds have a high metabolic rate, since flight requires a lot of energy. Therefore, crows take in a large proportion of toxins. Pollution also adversely impacts the population of some insects, which are a source of food for birds. So, crows are directly or indirectly not getting enough food,” says Krishna.

An offshoot to the reduction of crows in the city is that the number of pigeons seem to have drastically increased. “Not only pigeons,” says Krishna, adding, “The number of barn owls has also increased. Unlike crows, pigeons and barn owls can adapt to multi-story buildings. The increase in garbage in the city means that there are more rats, which is what barn owls feast on.”

So, what impact does this have on the ecology? “More than an ecological impact, birds are a warning system. Crows are important scavengers of human debris (the garbage that people throw out), but they also have a big role in sending out warning signals that something is amiss. Considering that a successful species like crows is seeing a decline in numbers sounds a warning bell to us all. The decline in green cover and the alarming rise in pollution levels will invariably have an impact on us, just as it has had on crows. These birds are telling us that it’s time to act,” signs off Krishna.


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