Among the smartest of the smart is Corvus.
The name derived from Latin is used for ravens and crows. In greek mythology ravens are associated with Apollo, the God of Prophecy. They were seen as symbols of good luck, and seen as messengers of God in the mortal world. According to a myth, Apollo sent a white raven, or crow in some versions, to spy on his lover Coronis.
I find it intresting how humans perceive this mysterious, black, cunning, and intelligent bird. Sometimes it's reveered as a sacred bird, an evil omen, a symbol of misfortune, death and perhaps war. And in some case a guide and messenger also viewed as supreme Godess or God by others.
What I find interesting in English language is that the collective noun for a group of crows is called "a murder of crows". This is most propably related to situations when crows hung around dead bodies, or how they sometimes viciously attack one other in combat until death. There are many intresting theories behind the saying.
I couldn't help noticing when I first moved to Finland the presence of the crows as they are very common birds thriving around human habitat. In my excitement I thought the Finnish word "kurkku", also very often used, is refering to crow as it sounded very convincing and perhaps similar compared to English word.
It took a while before I realized that "kurkku" means cucumber, and realized how I have managed to make a sophisticated fool of myself talking about how there were so many cucumbers flying around and hanging on the power lines. Now I know that crow is "varis" in Finnish but "kurkku" still makes me laugh.
In terms of numbers, it however seemed there were more crows in Tanzania, in the city of Dar es Salaam around where we lived, which made me wonder what attracted them so much to the city.
Perhaps lights or rubbish dumps as they are omnivorous and eat whatever various food that may be availabe. Crows are also very adaptable to feeding on carrion. Their behavior could have influcended the mythology.
With time I learned more about the very diverse types of crow species. The family also includes some colorful species like the jay or another common bird in Finland, the magpie.
My first thought, when I saw a crows' roost in Finland was, that perhaps they were too many of them around, as I was used to mostly seeing less flocks on safari in Southern Africa and it was mostly the pied crow.
But I learned that gathering in large numbers into a huge group to sleep together, also known as roost, is part of their natural behavior. In nature there's safety in numbers helping crows to defend themselves against the predators, and also protecting them from the elements of bad whether.
During the winter there was a time when I saw a lot of crows circulatig in one spot in the open field close to my home here in Ostrobothnia. After taking a closer look I noticed that there, perched on the ground, was a massive eagle owl, and crows were taking turns as they mobbed it.
As I later learned, an imitation of eagle owl, being one of the arch-enemies of the crow, is also sometimes used for hunting the crows to control the numbers.
Seing crows in Finland also reminded me of a story I was told by a friend from Namibia. He is a member of the San community and they have a legend that when the San women were afraid that their husbands had not survived their hunt, they would send a pied crow, with animal fat hanging on its neck, to find the men.
The fat was for the crow to feed on during its journey. And here comes the belief, why pied crows have the white patches on their necks or breast.
Cover photo: Jani Uusitalo/Flickr