According to scientific research, Crows’ colouring is linked to their melanin levels and their colours may vary if they don’t get enough melanin. This can equal them becoming grey, brown and in some cases, even white. However, some mythological theories surround this topic but they are not backed scientifically.
Read on to find out how melanin affects crows’ colouring, how some crows would come to lack melanin, what other factors can affect their colour and why it’s important for crows to be black in the first place.
You will also find out about Greek Mythological theories that have their own answer to why crows are black.
How Does Melanin Affect Crows’ Colouring?
As do humans and most living things, Crows have Melanin levels in their bodies and therefore, in their feathers.
Melanin is what makes us, as humans, tanned in the sunlight and it’s the same for Crows, the melanin is what gives them the beautiful black colour.
Unfortunately, if Crows’ melanin levels start to decrease, so does their black colouring, equalling in them becoming much lighter shades of black, sometimes grey and in rare cases, bright white.
What Can Reduce Crows’ Melanin Levels?
What we eat has a huge impact on our melanin levels, and Crows are no different.
If Crows have a diet rich in hemp seeds and oils then their melanin levels will increase and therefore, their feathers will become much darker.
However, if these Crows are struggling to get their necessary minerals and vitamins into their diet, colour changes will start to happen and over some time, their feathers will become lighter.
Are All Crows Born Black?
Surprisingly, although the majority of Crows are born in a fantastic jet black colour, not all of them are so lucky.
Studies show that if a female lacks melanin before producing her eggs, it’s likely her babies will also show signs of malnutrition through light patches in their colouring.
What Genetic Conditions Affect Their Colour?
There are a few genetic conditions that can result in Crows being born with patches of light colours across their feathers and face, or even an entirely different colour.
Albinism is a condition where there is no melanin present in the body, resulting in white feathers, face and feet along with pink or red eyes.
Unfortunately, this condition makes crows very vulnerable and they often don’t get the opportunity to reach a mature age.
Leucism is also sometimes known as partial Albinism (however oxymoronic that is!) These birds have a large amount of white in their feathers but often in the face.
Their eye and feet colour usually stays the same. Some other very rare conditions can affect crows’ colouring, but these are the most common.
Why Is It Beneficial For Crows To Be Black?
There are several reasons why being black certainly has its benefits for the crow and being white can be particularly risky for these birds in their natural surroundings.
1. Weather Protection
The Crows’ black colouring is certainly beneficial during the winter months.
As we all know, black is an insulating colour and in cold periods crows can retain all the heat necessary to survive the winter.
2. Parasite Protection
The black colour of a crow actually repulses most parasites and because of this, they are far less prone to have any parasites.
Luckily for them, this means they rarely become sick as a result.
Crows are extremely camouflaged at night due to their dark colour and this helps them avoid detection from larger prey while resting.
More often than not, crows live in large flocks and usually with young therefore they need to be as well protected as possible.
What Other Theories Are Behind Black Crows?
There are many other theories and stories that are not scientifically backed and have no link or any scientific evidence.
However, they are still strongly believed and followed around the world, mostly due to their link with religion and culture.
Greek and Romans Mythology
Greeks and Romans believe that Zeus’ son, Apollo, was the most powerful Greek God and the Greek word for ‘Crow’ is ‘Corone’. Apollo and his partner, Coronis, were associated with crows because of the similarity in her name. (Check Crows Symbolism)
The story states that Coronis left Apollo to be with a man below her class, Ischys. After witnessing them together, it was a crow who told Apollo the devastating news. Apollo became so upset that he killed Coronis, but not only that, he burned the crow black, therefore creating the link.
Another version says that because of their forbidden love, Coronis turned herself and Ischys into black crows to represent their love. Greeks now class the crow as a negative bird as it’s said to be gossipy because of this myth.
According to the Chinese myth, one day a few phoenixes were peacefully sleeping on an old tree, until all of sudden the tree became engulfed in flames. (check where do crows sleep at night?)
All of the phoenixes, except one, were able to fly away to safety and with no harm.
However, there was one that had been left on the tree, this phoenix became charcoaled from the flames and from that point on, people started calling it a crow.
One tale ‘ The Friendship between Crows and Buffalos’ says that white crows used to help buffalos by keeping a watch out for the hunters. When they approached, the crows would fly over and tell the buffalos.
One day the hunters caught a white crow and threw it in the fire, however, the crow just about escaped with only burnt black wings.
Another story is the tale of ‘Mr Crow and Mr Turkey’. Here, we are told that one day, after an argument, a turkey and crow decided to go and play in some black paint.
After a while they became tired and attempted to wash the paint off, unfortunately, the paint wouldn’t come off. Other crows saw this new black crow and wanted to do the same, equalling all crows becoming black.
The dark pigment-producing melanin in crows body make crows black. However, there are different myths and stories about how crows turned black but none of them really seems true as there are no scientific explanation about them.