A few birdwatchers love corvids (crows, jays, magpies and allies) and the Grey Treepie, but public views of these ubiquitous omnivores are mostly negative.
By Rex Graham
Crows, ravens and wolves could use a public relations agency that reminds us of the good side of these sociable, brash and noisy animals.
Some birdwatchers won’t be swayed by PR, because they can’t forget that crows and other corvids eat carrion and occasionally other birds’ nestlings.
However, the origin of over 100 corvid species in 25 genuses, or genera, explains an important chapter in ornithology and the natural history of the earth.
Still not sure these mischievous birds deserve a little love?
Grey Treepie PR Hurdles
That’s OK. Their low public-opinion-poll numbers will likely persist. After all, crows and ravens have been used as literary symbols of the ghoulish and macabre for centuries. They’re too intelligent for many humans and corvids often come disturbingly closer to us than even pigeons and gulls.
This photo of a Grey Treepie taken by Vimal Thapa shows one of the oldest corvid species. By the way, Grey Treepies are commonly seen on trips offered by Nature-Treks, which also offers photography tours to Nepal’s most scenic mountains, forests and wetlands that are magnets for birds migrating to and from Siberia.
Treepie has some innate PR problems because it rhymes with creepy. Treepie is actually an important name among all corvids. The Grey Treepie’s head and beak resemble a crow’s, the body looks like a big jay’s, and the tail is definitely magpie-ish.
A genetic analysis of all corvids published in 2005 found that the most basal, or ancestral lines of all corvids include a group of species that includes the Grey Treepie, Racquet-tailed Treepie, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Black Magpie, and the Green and the Blue Magpies. The forests of the Himalayan region from India and Nepal east to Taiwan are the best places to see these ancestral birds.
Grey Treepie a Reminder of Corvin Origin
The home of these birds in Southeast Asia is an important clue about the origin of all corvids. Swedish and Australian scientists wrote in the Journal of Avian Biology that the ancestors of all perching birds, including corvids, first appeared in the forests on the Australo-Papuan tectonic plate, which split from Antarctica roughly 60 million years ago. That plate moved north, and the birds went along for the ride.
When the plate moved close enough to Asia, the forest birds were able to fly to what is now Southeast Asia. From there, the corvids and perching birds spread across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. Meanwhile in Australia, as savannas replaced forests, their forest birds mostly disappeared.
The Grey Treepie is a generalist consumer of insects and other invertebrates, mice, lizards, bird eggs, fruit and seeds found from the Eastern Ghats of India across Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and southern Tibet and Taiwan. The Grey Treepie likes the nectar of flowering trees and shrubs, according to The Handbook of the Birds of the World. Like other corvids, they scavenges kitchen wastes around cities and prosper in urban areas where more food is available.