The cawing of crows can send shivers down anyone’s spine. Their black eyes and rustling wings symbolize death in many cultures. The crow’s behaviors, diet, and cultural history play a role in the belief.
Known for holding crow funerals, eating dead creatures, and spreading disease, it’s no wonder these flying creatures have a dark place in cultures around the world.
Read on to discover how crows became synonymous with death in the modern world and why do we still associate crows with death today?
A Note On Ravens and Crows
Before leaping in to explore the relationship between death and crows, bear in mind that ravens and crows are synonymous in most cultures. Ravens and crows are of the same genetic family, the genus Corvus.
Up until the last hundred years or so, history treated crows and ravens as the same bird. Both creatures receive the same identification as creatures connected to death. Therefore, most references to crows can apply to ravens and vice versa.
# 1 The Phrase “A Murder of Crows”
It’s hard to drop a stereotype about death when you’ve got the label of “a murder” going on. A murder of crows refers to a group of three or more crows (or ravens). But how often do crows gather into a murder?
Crows are sometimes solitary creatures, but many species of the Corvus genus (the family of birds that crows, ravens, and rooks fall into) live in groups. Yearlings and non-mating adults tend to live in roosting communities, essentially rather large murders.
The name “a murder of crows” has no official origin; the origin debate circles around 15th Century English poetry, the Corvus family’s tradition of punishing other crows or predators with death, or simply the carrion-eating habits of crows.
Another possible source of the name? Crows tend to assault humans and other birds who invade their territory. It’s not uncommon for crows to murder animals and seriously harm humans who cross the line.
# 2 Crows Are Carrion Creatures
A big part of why crows carry the connection to death is their eating habits. Crows and their Corvus relatives, the raven, are omnivores – they’ll eat just about anything, berries, trash, and, yes, dead flesh.
There is one crow sub-species named for this behavior: the Corvus corone, or Carrion Crow. However, all crows engage in eating dead flesh. They are known to arrive on scenes of massive death, like battlefields and open graves for a bite to eat.
# 3 Crows Have A “Plague” Heritage
The scavenging nature of crows has only added to their ominous reputation. We can trace much of their dark fame to the crow’s inclination to eat rotting flesh and the results of such activities.
Like other avian species, crows can quickly spread disease and contagion. Dead bodies tend to carry diseases, including viral, bacterial, or fungal pathogens that crows could pass to other animals, like livestock or humans.
However, their notoriety is not entirely the crow’s fault. On occasion, humans have added to their notoriety.
Between 1346 and 1352, the Black Death ravaged Europe. During that time, plague doctors began wearing masks shaped like a crow’s beak. That, paired with their black cloaks, hats, and gloves, gave the appearance of crows visiting the sick and dying.
For the next three hundred years, plague doctors continued to show up in the bird-like garb. Unfortunately for crows, the plague doctors’ appearance only contributed to the terrifying connection between crows and death.
# 4 Funerary Birds
Crows are no strangers to graveyards and cemeteries. Because of their scavenging nature, crows frequent cemeteries much like they do other sites of death. But, there’s another unique reason why crows are associated with death: crows hold funerals.
A crow’s funeral occurs much like a human one. After a member of a group dies, other crows congregate around the dead body. The group, sometimes containing hundreds of crows, will watch over the dead body for a time in silence before breaking into a chorus of caws.
It may come as a shock that crows hold funerals, but it’s actually essential for the species’ survival. The phenomenon of a crow’s funeral serves as a problem-solving situation for the surviving flock.
Crows study the dead to understand what killed them. Their intelligence helps them know what foods, animals, or locations to avoid.
Of course, it doesn’t help that crows are all black. Since ancient times, black has represented the eternal darkness of death. Thus, their coloring and eery intelligence have made them appear otherworldly and dangerous to humans for a thousand years.
# 5 Crows In Folklore and Religion
After a thousand years of bad reputation, crows probably won’t ever shake their connection to death. This reputation remains because humans are prone to holding on to ancient beliefs, despite our modern technology and science.
Many ancient cultures believed crows symbolized or caused death.
In China, the call of the crow indicates bad luck and death. This tradition is fascinating because crows are also symbols of the sun.
Ancient Egyptians associated crows with the goddess of death, Isis. Archaeologists have discovered crows in many of her temples.
In Whales, the Mabinogion, or The Raven, was the bringer of death. The Morrigan of Celtic mythology turned into a raven or crow and collected the dead on battlefields. Europeans believed witches and warlocks turned into crows to spread their evil, too.
In many Native American traditions, crows and ravens represented mischievous tricksters occasionally connected to death. In modern Appalachia, three or more ravens flying low in the sky warn of illness, while a crow cawing over a house three times indicates impending death.
Islam, Judaism, and Christianity
The Bible warns that crows are “unclean” creatures, likely pointing to their habit of eating the dead. In the Talmud of Jewish tradition, the crow teaches humans how to cope with death. In the Quran and Old Testament, a crow taught Adam and Eve funeral rites to bury their son Abel.
The Crows and Death Connection
With cultures around the world associating crows with death, it’s no wonder the belief has not died out. On the contrary, their presence at graveyards, history with plague, and taste for dead flesh have helped cement crows into a permanent symbol of death.
Now that you have gone through the entire post, you must have know all the superstitious beliefs around Why are Crows Associated with Death and now keep yourself away from these.
Why do crows come when someone dies? There are many beliefs around the world about crows and some people do believe that crows don’t just herald death, they come to escort the departed soul to a certain level above earth.