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The Private World of Ravens and Crows

Updated on October 24, 2012
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A Bird is a Bird is a Corvid

For centuries both ravens and crows have received a bad rap from humanity. They were described as harbingers of death during the Middle Ages, as they helped dispose of the dead in the streets that passed on from the Bubonic Plague. They also handled disposal of the dead during wartime. But what people didn’t see directly, was the fact that they always ate dead things.

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Does History Repeat Itself?

Ravens have followed hunters and wolves for millennia to get a free meal. That in turn was during the time of the domestication of the wolf to become our familiar pet dogs. To this day the Common Raven associates with wolves, due to camaraderie. Nature is remarkable, is it not?

Crows and ravens have also been chastised and killed for eating crops, the reason being that they were “eating too much.” By the same token, these birds ate many of the farm pests that helped destroy crops, like corn borers. Perhaps that is why a group of crows is called a “murder”?

Crows were forced to move closer to cities to escape persecution as such. Rural crows were often shot, especially in roost areas. Today, many of our agrarian areas are shrinking due to humanity “spreading out.”

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Language Credits

Crows and ravens have even infiltrated the English language to a large degree. If we “eat crow,” it means that we have been proven to be wrong. A “scarecrow” is put in gardens and in fields to purportedly keep crows away from the area, but does it really do that? I think not, as crows are smart enough to know that it doesn’t move, and really doesn’t resemble a human at all, just the basic form. Prior to that, there were “crowboys” guarding fields and repelling crows. I used to live a quarter mile from the ocean “as the crow flies,” which means the most direct route, whether or not it can be readily travelled. In criminal matters, a “crow” was a lookout for a thief. “Crow’s feet” are a common term for wrinkles about the eyes, and if you are a useless horse, you will soon be “raven food.” “Crowing” was an old term for the sounds that one made if someone had the croup. We said “Jesum Crow” instead of swearing in the country in Maine.

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And There Are Many More!

Of all the raven, crow, and related species that used to be on this earth, several of the approximately fifty are either extinct, or well on their way. Hawaii has its own crow(‘Alala), but for how much longer, we can’t say) as well as the one in Guam called the Mariana Crow, which is endangered. We still have the Fish Crow, the Chihuahuan Raven, the Rook(in Europe and Asia), and the Western Jackdaw in Europe, Asia and northern Africa. It is possible that some of these species may have hybridized with another in order to survive.

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Who Will Survive in the End? Crows or Ravens?

To attempt to reintroduce new life into these diminishing species is not easy. One must have a control group to work with, and if there are too few of the species available, they could be rather elderly. Fertile eggs are the key, and it is best if they are already incubated. Raising these chicks are also challenging, as they must be fed the correct foods with the right balance of nutrients, vitamins, and water. They also must be kept as disease-free as possible and also be fed frequently. Once these birds are taken from the nest, it opens up another entirely different venue for the scientists involved in this challenging venture. Not only is it time consuming, it is also very costly.

The Common Raven population is slowly increasing, but may not be if wooded lands are being turned into fields. The American Crow is definitely on the rise, specifically for the lack of wooded areas. They are adapting well to suburbia and the city, and have less threats to their lives than in rural areas.

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Pharmd242. I'm glad that you enjoyed the piece.

    • profile image

      Pharmd242 4 years ago

      Hello! eedgdgk interesting eedgdgk site! I'm really like it! Very, very eedgdgk good!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Mrs. M. I appreciate that link, and will look at it now.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 4 years ago from The Zoo

      Hi Deb,

      The woman that runs The Wild B.I.R.D. Center of Denver (also named Debbie) has been using BioActive Flu Tonic with great success. I will find the link...

      Here it is...http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?...

      I can't say I know the dose, you'd have to contact Debbie.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Mrs. Menagerie, WNV hits everywhere, some years worse than others. Where can I read about the cure?

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 4 years ago from The Zoo

      Don't know about where you live, but these guys are being hit hard by the West Nile virus around here. Good news though...just a few months ago I spoke with a rehabber in Denver who has found a remedy for WN...if it is caught early enough!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Starlings are not in the corvid family. They came from Europe. The more that the corvids are around humans, the better that they can mimic, especially those in zoos. Mockingbirds are also great mimics, too, but the corvids have more intelligence, so they can learn a lot more, but it will take a long time for them to perpetuate an understanding of what they say.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      I did not even know that starlings were in that family. I grew up on a farm in Indiana and there were thousands of starlings there. I do not have fond memories of them. I did know that crows and ravens could be taught to speak. Do you have to do something to their tongue to achieve that? It seems as though I remember something like that.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Chris, they are truly wonderful birds, all the black birds are. Did you know that they all can be trained to talk, even starlings?

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Ever since I was a child I have suspected that ravens and crows are intelligent birds. I think they are playful as well. I see them being chased by blackbirds and at other times they are chasing a Bald Eagle. Thank you for this article. It will enrich my enjoyment of these birds.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Peter, I should be the one to thank YOU. Thanks for finding me and increasing my knowledge with your wonderful articles.

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 4 years ago from South East Asia

      Having been lucky enough to breed Ravens, and on occassion, hand rear some....as well as supply birds to the Tower of London....and care for retiring bids...I can vouch for their magic and intelligence. Thank you for your article.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They are great birds, Mr. Byers. I'm glad that you're taking good care of "your" birds. Thanks for such kind words.

    • crazyhorsesghost profile image

      Thomas Byers 4 years ago from East Coast , United States

      I really enjoyed this. It is one of the best Hubs on the subject I have ever seen. I have several pet crows including one that can't fly. They are quite the interesting bird. The one I have that can't fly is one of the smartest birds I have ever seen. He will even fetch. Again thanks for a wonderful hub. Great work and a lot of thought went into this.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Coffee, thanks for the great comments. It means a lot for your to share your legends with me. I believe I heard about the coloration of the raven from another friend. Thanks for coming by and your input.

    • coffeegginmyrice profile image

      Marites Mabugat-Simbajon 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      I have chicken phobia so that makes me scared of birds too. Thank goodness that the photos here does not scare me (lol) coz I really wanted to know about them from your hub. And here I am able to read it.

      Murder, yes, that's what a group of crows is called. And in the old times, the crows and ravens share the same dark symbol as in "bad omen". They were "messengers of death". They symbolized sin and stealing. They had been pet birds of witches. And the story of Noah's Ark too when he sent out a white raven first before the dove. But the raven made a mistake of drying up the waters of the Earth instead of testing the waters and report back to Noah. So the raven was punished and that is how they became black and feed on carrion.

      So many things that I didn't know about them until your hub came along. Yes, they have come to the cities and they visit home gardens too. Those are your photos, that's so nice, Deb!

      Here is a quote I'd like to share...

      "One of the most difficult of all things to endure for a crow, a raven, a wolf, or a human is to feel alone and separated from one's own kind. A sense of belonging is one of the most universal of all feelings."

      ― By Lawrence Kilham, The American Crow & Common Raven

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Connie, they are remarkable. Most of the juveniles will fly for miles to explore and gain knowledge, which is why they appear to be so experienced in so many things.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Suhail, thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed what you had posted, and I loved the pictures.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I heard about the Raven Keeper, Nell. Sounds like an appropriate job for me!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The crow has a lot more space that they like than the raven will ever it. They will keep having less and less, due to urban sprawl. Unless they can quickly adapt, they will only become more rare, or move to deeper woods and be seen even less.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi Deb, Lately there have been several ravens flying back and forth over my head on a daily basis. I love to hear their crazy wooden calls, and they are so graceful in flight, so effortless. I enjoy seeing crows as well. To everything there is a purpose, and these birds are no exception. Amazing animals. Voted Up, Interesting and Beautiful.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      My daughter, son and I hiked to the top of the Grandfather Mountain near Boone, North Carolina. As the 3 of us stood there, a Common (Northern) Raven came time and time again to observe us, soar above and then fly downwind all the way into the low valley. He repeated this stunt over and over again. Our adventure with raven is covered here:

      http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/1ee415/

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      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Over here in England the Raven has a special place at the Tower of London, they have been there for centuries now, and are a popular tourist destination, not only for the tower but also the Ravens. I think that all animals have a place in the eco system and its a shame that some get a bad reputation, we are surrounded by crows where I live, I hear them every morning, lovely birds, nell

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, this is an interesting one.

      Ravens are much rarer than crows because they need woods to survive . . . I suspect the common crow is unkillable!

      Voted "up," and "interesting," and sharing.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Jackie, the corvids are such interesting birds. The crows tend to to raucous and rude, but they are very bright. Maybe if people can overlook a bit of the roughness?

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very strange, I have never liked crows but a raven seems a special bird. lol. I suppose that might have something to do with Poe. How we can be influenced. Maybe you can straighten us all out. Had to refollow you, was not getting any notices of your hubs. It happens with certain ones I follow, doesn't make sense but I won't lose track of you!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Crows like to observe, and if necessary, they will be silent. They even could have been hiding from an enemy.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Suhail, they can be very solemn and they have excellent memories. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I like to hear about what others have encountered, as it is important from a research standpoint.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Scribenet, they do. Ravens follow man and wolves in the woods in hopes of procuring feeding on carcasses.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, kashmir. These birds are pretty fascinating.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Highland Terrier! Thanks for the compliments! It would be so nice if man and beast could live in harmony.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, shiningirisheyes. I like these kinds of birds, too. Their intellect interests me greatly.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Linda! Ravens seem to enjoy forested areas, and crows like fields...basically open areas.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, gamby. People seem to like to hear about corvids, so I thought that I'd do something else on them.

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 4 years ago

      I dislike crows because their cawing kills the harmony generated by nature. However once I noticed two crows perched on a branch of a tree sitting still and they were well concealed by the foliage.

      Then I discovered that this was a common feature amongst crows. They sit still for long periods of time in isolated spots. Probably tired out and re-charging for a cawing session? Lol!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      I have seen two types of funerals. In one, a dead crow was lying on the ground accidentally killed by a cyclist. The crows were in agitated mood. Although they wanted to mourn, they were also upset by us humans passing by near the dead body. They cawed nosily.

      In another, and I must say an eerie one, I saw a number of crows that came over a tree under which lied a dead crow. They kept silent as if in deep mourning and contemplating life versus death. They kept coming and going after spending quite a bit of time in silent mourning. I felt so depressed in my life that I can't express in words.

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      In Ontario crows and ravens frequent roadsides cleaning up all the smaller roadkill. Sounds gruesome, but they keep the roads a whole lot cleaner!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend thanks for all this great and interesting information, i also learned a few things here has well . Well done !

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Poor ravens and crows, like very other animal on the planet is been done out of habitat due to the excesses of that greedy animal homo sapien.

      Still as you mention some are trying to reverse the decline.

      Good hub, excellent info and well presentated.

      Thanks again.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      How sad is that? The crow is welcomed when they rid the area of harmful pests but killed when they eat their reward!

      I hold the raven a bit dear to me as my big sister would read Edgar Allan Poe to me as a young girl My favorite was The Raven. I would drive her crazy until she would close the drapes and read by one solitary light in the spooky atmosphere.

      Great write as usual my Nature Loving friend. I'm glad there is someone like you on their side!

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      A great informative read. I had no idea that populations wer threatened. We have an abundance of Crows here but few Ravens. I love waking up to the Crow that sits outside my window each morning yelling at me to "get up, get up, get up". :-) Voted up!

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      gamby79 4 years ago

      Wow..Great story and very interesting! You know me, being a 'language' person , I love that you incorporated the language infiltration tidbits in your story. Voted all up as usual!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, bdegulio. All corvids are very bright, including the jays, so keep an eye on them, too.

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      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great job Deb. They certainly are adaptable and smart to boot. I enjoy watching the crows chase the hawks away, amazing to watch.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Correct, Suhail! Have you personally attended a crow funeral?

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      It has been found that crows mourn the death of their fellow crows. They congregate and pay last tributes to the fallen comrade just like humans do.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      And one that can remove a peg from a cage door.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it! lol You have to respect a bird that smart!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, I'll go you one better. Crows have such long-term memories, they will drop rocks on the heads of people that shot at them 5 years ago.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting hub, Deb! They really are very smart birds. I have seen kids get ready to throw a rock at them, and as soon as a kid picks up a rock the crows take off, even before the kid cocks his arm. As for ravens, I'm sure we have them here but we sure don't see them very often.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Mhatter, you know that I would never turn a bird away.

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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Donna! They hold funerals. Ever notice what live crows do around dead ones?

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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Meldz, they are remarkable creatures. Watch them sometime and you will see some of the things that they do. They appear odd at first, but they will begin to make sense.

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      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. I will send some of our crows your way. I'm sure you will like their show.

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      Donna Sundblad 4 years ago from Georgia

      I've heard of people here in GA shooting crows because they uproot corn when it is a seedling and eat it. They can wipe out entire fields. I also hear they are not easy to shoot. They are smart birds, and they communicate well. One death cry and you won't see one for the rest of the day.

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      ignugent17 4 years ago

      Deb I enjoyed reading the information about crow. Language credits is really interesting.

      Thanks for sharing. :-)