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Ravens are scavengers. They follow wolves, coyotes and polar bears in order to garner from the remains of their kills. It is highly likely that they had a similar relationship with prehistoric man. It would seem reasonable to assume that by the time written records could be left behind, that mankind and ravenkind knew each other well. Birds which look to be Ravens or Crows occur among the cave paintings of Lascaux (France) and are among the 12 bird species depicted in Neolithic cave paintings in the Tajo Segura Cave in Spain. The Raven is a bird to be noticed and as such it gets mentioned in the Bible - Elijah is fed by them and Noah sends them out to find dry land (and they don't return). Shakespeare includes mention of them in about half of his plays, Edgar Allen Poe wrote one of the most famous poems in the English with a Raven as one of its major characters and Dickens included them in Barnaby Rudge. Few other birds have such a literary claim to fame. They are, apparently, named in the Koran as well. To the ancient Romans the Raven was the most important bird for omens, and Ravens were kept as pets by legionnaires. To the Norsemen the Raven was the sacred bird of their religion - Odin was apparently accompanied by two Ravens, Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory). Each day they flew across the world, returning in the evenings to Odin's shoulders to report to him what they had seen. Odin is/was the Raven God and the war banner of the Norsemen was fashioned in the form of a Raven. Across the whole of the northern hemisphere the Raven is regarded as a bird of omen, a messenger for the Gods and a harbinger of death. This is probably as a result of its taste for feeding on carcasses, human as well as any other. Before the Middle Ages the Raven was looked upon kindly in the UK where it was honored for its role as a scavenger helping to keep the cities clean. Up to the late 1400s it was protected by law in many cities. Ravens still live in London, nesting in the Tower of London. Mythology claims the tower will crumble and collapse and the Monarchy be in danger if less than 6 Ravens live there. In the countryside they were not so appreciated and were blamed for many dead lambs. This would have been as the result of their habit of feeding on the afterbirth of sheep as well as on stillborn and recently dead lambs. To many North American Indians the Raven was a bird of extraordinary knowledge and power. It was honored as being unearthly and it is a frequent totem animal in North
American culture. The Inuits have a myth telling how the Raven invented light by throwing chips of mica into the air. By the 1500s the Raven had lost its protected status in the UK where it was then persecuted as it was in much of the rest of Western Europe. Bounties were paid for it up until the 1800s. During the 20th century however Ravens have gradually come to be respected in much of Europe though they are still often blamed by farmers for the deaths of lambs. Ravens in particular, but also all the other members of the Genus Corvus are wonderful intelligent, playful birds.
It was a raven who was the first bird released from Noah's ark in the flood. The Raven abandoned Noah, preferring to fly above the waters alone rather than go back to the ark. In the myths of the Norsemen, Odin kept two oracular ravens named Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory) who kept him informed of all that went on in the world with their whispers. The Muslims call the raven Abu Zajir, which means the Father of Omens. The Elizabethan writer, Christopher Marlow, wrote in his play, The Jew of Malta, this passage describing a raven: "Like the sad-presaging raven that tolls the sick man's passport in her hollow beak. And in the shadow of the silent night Doth shake contagion from her sable wing." The raven is known throughout history as both portent and prophet. Among the Irish the "Raven's Knowledge" is used when describing seers. These people with extra senses and often some ability to prophesy are compared to this bird which man has attributed supernatural abilities. A group of crows is known as a "murder" of crows. A "murder" of crows is based on the persistent but fallacious folk tale that crows form tribunals to judge and punish the bad behavior of a member of the flock. If the verdict goes against the defendant, that bird is killed (murdered) by the flock. The basis in fact is probably that occasionally crows will kill a dying crow that doesn't belong in their territory or much more commonly feed on carcasses of dead crows. Also, both crows and ravens are associated with battlefields, medieval hospitals, execution sites and cemeteries (because they scavenged on human remains). In England, a tombstone is sometimes called a ravenstone.
Here is a report of a crow funeral which I found on the Internet written by Carl Cook: "The sound of many crows calling at once filled the air. I peeked out the window, and everywhere I could see, crows, maybe a couple hundred of them. They were on the sidewalk. They were on the power lines. They were on the logs that served as stops for parked cars, and they were in the trees. Almost hidden against one of the logs, I saw a dead crow. There were a few crows standing near the body. The noise continued for about a minute or so, when suddenly, an unseen conductor waved his baton, and the cawing stopped. The silence was equally as loud. There was a pause. Then, the invisible conductor again waved his baton, and there was a great and noisy flurry of feathers, as the crows took off and flew in all directions. Soon they were gone, leaving their lifeless kin to the elements. I continued my watch in silent awe, feeling that I had just witnessed something few have seen. In the various articles and books I have read about the corvids and their behavior, the authors cannot agree as to whether the Crow Funeral is fact or legend. Based on what I observed, and barring evidence to the contrary, I believe that I indeed observed the crow's version of what we would call, a funeral.
So the next time you see a murder of crows eating from a garbage can or cawing loudly from the top of a lamppost, don't throw a stone at them or shout abuse at them, but as someone once said "... if you meet me have some courtesy, have some sympathy, have some taste..."
Common Raven Corvus corax Because of its black plumage, croaking call, and diet of carrion, the raven has long been considered a bird of ill omen and of interest to creators of myths and legends. There are many references to ravens in literature as well as playing a prominent part in some cultures. For instance, in Tlingit culture, there are two different Raven characters; one is the creator Raven who is responsible for bringing the world into being and the other is the trickster Raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. England's Raven legend has the raven as a protector of the country; England will not fall to a foreign invader as long as there are ravens at the Tower of London The government now maintains several birds on the grounds of the tower, either for insurance or to please tourists (or both). In any case, Common Ravens are known for their intelligence and complex social dynamics. They often forage in larger groups in areas where resources are concentrated, and non-breeding individuals may occupy communal roosts, but most commonly ravens occur alone or in pairs. Ravens can thrive in varied climates and are one of the most widespread, naturally occurring birds worldwide. Its range is from the Arctic to the deserts of North Africa, and to islands in the Pacific Ocean. Common ravens in North America tend to be found in wild areas, whereas their cousins, common crows tend to be found in areas more affected by human habitation. However, with a loss of habitat, many may be found in urban areas. The Common Raven is a large black bird in the crow family, with iridescent feathers. The bill is large and slightly curved. At maturity, it is between 22 to 27 inches in length (with males being slightly larger), with a wingspan double that. Ravens usually live ten to fifteen years in the wild or twice that in captivity. Apart from its greater size, the raven differs from its cousins the crows by having a larger and heavier beak, and a deeper and more varied barking call note, shaggy throat feathers, and a longer, wedge-shaped tail. Much of raven behavior is related to mating and reproduction. Juveniles begin to court at a very early age, but may not bond for another 2-3 years. Aerial acrobatics and displays of intelligence and ability to provide food are key behaviors of courting ravens. Once paired, ravens tend to nest together for life, usually in the same location. Breeding pairs must have a territory of their own before they begin nest-building and reproduction, and the territory and its food resources will be defended against others. The female will lay from three to seven pale bluish-green, brown-blotched eggs. Both parents keep the eggs warm, and take turns feeding the chicks. As with many birds, pairing does not necessarily mandate sexual monogamy, and raven habits show fluidity in this regard. Common ravens are mainly scavengers. They eat a wide array of animal foods, including arthropods, amphibians, small mammals, birds, reptiles, and carrion. They are attracted to carrion and eat also the insects that feed on carrion (chiefly maggots and beetles). They are also known to eat the afterbirth of ewes and other large mammals. Stomach analyses show that their diet is made up primarily of mammalian flesh, followed by insects and birds. Common ravens take their food from the ground and will store foods of all kinds, including nuts, bones, eggs, and meat.
Ravens have impressed their biologist observers with their apparent intelligence and insight. They seem capable of learning innovative solutions to newly encountered problems. In fact, experiments have shown that members of the crow family are capable of using tools. They communicate with physical displays of either threat or appeasement to subordinate and dominant ravens. They are very vocal animals, with a diverse suite of calls and non-vocal sounds for different purposes and social contexts. 15 to 33 categories of vocalizations have been described in this species. Like other corvids, Ravens can copy sounds from their environment, including human speech. Because of the wide distribution of the raven throughout the Northern Hemisphere, its shrewdness, its all black color, and relatively large size, it is no wonder that man has developed myths and legends associated with this great bird. In societies throughout the northern hemisphere, the raven has appeared since ancient times as a prophet, a harbinger of death and doom, a messenger, as well as being strongly associated with storms and floods. We speak admiringly of a pride of lions, or kindly of a charm of finches, but not true of the raven. Somehow it does not seem fair, although opportunistically scavenging and feeding on dead animals makes the association with death obvious. So what are we to make of this bird—creator of the world, scourge of all mankind? There is possibly no other species which has evoked such strong emotion, or found its way more into the psyches of men and women throughout time. It is truly remarkable to consider that the raven could have been at the center of mankind's earliest thoughts on the origin of the earth, and that a raven creation myth subsequently spread around the world.