Collective nouns are a curious breed – they often carry the prejudices of those who coined them. So for the pretty, colourful birds you have an exaltation of larks, a charm of goldfinches or a murmuration of starlings. But the large, black members of family corvidae have not received such sympathetic treatment.
A murder of crows; an unkindness of ravens. What have these birds done that they deserve such negative associations? For in fact corvids are among the most intelligent of our feathered friends. This intelligence has been reflected throughout history by the roles played by ravens and crows in mythology across various cultures, particularly Native American and Norse. Not merely bystanders in various myths and legends, these birds often play a central part as protagonists and messengers.
Some North American tribes’ shamanistic traditions depict Raven as the creator of the world. The chief god of the Norse peoples, Odin, was so strongly associated with ravens that he was known as the “raven god”; his pair, named Huginn and Muninn, being the god’s eyes and ears in the world of men, Midgard. Crows and magpies too have long been seen as spiritual beings, mediators between the realms of the living and the dead. Also to this day there persists a belief that should the ravens residing at the Tower of London ever leave, the kingdom will fall.
My personal belief is that crows, ravens, rooks and the other members of the corvid family are admirable, highly intelligent birds with an air of mystery and spirituality about them and a charming, insouciant – sometimes cheeky – manner. No wonder they have featured as tricksters so many times in mythology. And I love the black plumage with its subtle glossy iridescence.
2 thoughts on “In Defence of Corvids”
Hello Ben,Well, the Corvid family is one of my favorite bird groups. I love them and they are extremely intelligent. So many people I know get annoyed with them(except for perhaps the nuthatches), especially the Jays, but I find them to be fascinating and enjoy their company very much. There was a crow that lived in the woods out behind the house I grew up in and whenever I would go out to the woods for a romp around, she'd be out there and follow me through the trees, flying from one to another as I walked through. She would come very close by and stand on a branch where she was almost within reach, but just not quite. I really loved that crow. She disappeared one day after three years of us having this friendship. I missed her very badly and think of her often. People don't realize how intelligent and feeling these birds are. And I love all the mythology that goes alone with them, too, and their gorgeous plumage. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Bird. When I was growing up we had a pair of jays that lived in the wood – bold as brass one or other would often fly down and perch close to where I was doing something in the garden, watching me with that air of nonchalant curiosity that they have.Where I live now we have jackdaws and ravens. I often notice them watching from their lofty roosts – little appears to escape their notice. It's easy to see why it would be ravens that brought information back to Odin from across Midgard.