Lazy Sunday Video

From our favorite japanese crow, we present:

Crow Chef

…and when he’s not busy cooking, cleaning, and being adorable, he is trying out to be the greatest heavy metal singer to have ever lived!

And finally, in case the first three weren’t cute enough, here is crow as a young bird being fed.  Strange how much he sounds like a penguin!

Earth Day: How You Can Help Corvids

Earth Day is dedicated to celebrating the lands, waters and animals that we care for the most. It is also a day to honor those people who care so deeply for nature and for the future of our natural world.

That is why we wish to thank you for supporting this cause.  You have helped to build a community of caring individuals that use their unique voices to challenge, support and inspire others into taking action for our natural world.

A group of caring individuals really can make a difference, and here’s how you can help bring nature into the spotlight today:

Send an Earth Day E-card
Use Reusable Bags

The world uses over 1.2 trillion plastic bags a year ie we are using one million bags per minute. On average we use each plastic bag for approximately 12 minutes before disposing of it. It then can last in the environment for centuries.

It’s estimated that over 10’s of thousands of birds choke or get tangled in plastic debris every year, and about 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate, although some scientists believe this figure to be much higher.

Green Your Garden

Pesticides cause significant bird mortality each year. Repeated exposure to some pesticides can also lead to sub-lethal effects such as decreased breeding success. These effects are hard to detect but nevertheless can produce dramatic species declines over time.

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Proceeds go to support Corvid research and conservation. Everyone wins!

“Just Ask Crow”

There are many stories on the internet about the “borrower” phenomenon, or disappearing object phenomenon (DOPler effect). In these cases, a commonly used object goes missing and the owner searches in vain for it everywhere. Then later – sometimes hours, sometimes days or even weeks later – the object inexplicably reappears, either in an obvious spot that had been searched before, or in some impossible location.

In the following story, we are given a Native American twist on the phenomenon with a tradition that asks the crows to return the missing object. In myth and lore, the crow is a symbol of mystery, magic, prophecy, creation, cunning and trickery. They earned these attributes, at least in part, because of their mischievous nature: crows like to steal shiny objects and that might explain why asking the crows to return a missing object makes sense – they might have taken it!

READ MORE

National Seashore’s Crow Poisoning Plan

A wildlife scientist with the Humane Society said this week that the Seashore failed to allow the public to properly weigh in on its controversial proposal to balance visitor access to the beaches with piping plover protection by eliminating crows. In two public meetings held on the plan in February and March, Seashore administrators said that to avoid closing Marconi Beach, a plover nesting spot, the park will kill crows that prey on piping plovers in other areas, thereby making up for the damage to the plover population that occurs when humans infiltrate Marconi.

“They’re planning to proceed with a program that was never put out for public review,” Boyles said. “Giving an informational meeting about a decision you’ve already made does not allow the public to [weigh in]. Folks that are going to be impacted by the decision are going to be powerless to have any input.”

Seashore Supt. George Price, at the Feb. 25 gathering, did establish for the record that the meetings were informational in nature and were not public hearings, a distinction he was careful to make.

The one recommendation the Seashore did take under advisement was Provincetown resident Polly Burnell’s suggestion that the Seashore lay crow carcasses around plover nesting areas to keep crows away — a method that has worked for a biologist in Southern California in preventing crow predation on terns.

But instead of postponing the crow poisoning while it investigates that alternative, Price announced recently that the Seashore will proceed with its original plan while it “experiments” with the crow carcass method.

“That’s just unacceptable,” said Boyles. “All the public is asking them to do is practice due diligence before doing something that is extremely controversial.” She said there is no evidence that the piping plover population will be put into immediate jeopardy by refraining from killing crows.

Boyles confirmed the HSUS is investigating its legal options for challenging the plan.

Read the full report here

Yata-Garasu – The Ravens of Japanese Myth

One of the oldest symbols in Japanese mythology is the 3-Legged Bird, called Yatagarasu (八咫烏) in Japanese. This legendary bird was said to have led the Emperor Jimmu from Kumano no kuni (熊の国), which is present-day Wakyama Prefecture, to Yamato no kuni (大和国), which is present-day Nara Prefecture. The three-legged (or “tripedal”) bird is a creature found in various mythologies and arts of Asia, Asia Minor, and North Africa.It is often thought to inhabit and represent the sun.

In Japanese mythology, the appearance of Yatagarasu is construed as evidence of the will of Heaven or divine intervention in human affairs. It is generally accepted that Yatagarasu is an incarnation of Taketsunimi no mikoto, but none of the early surviving documentary records are quite so specific. The shinto goddess Amaterasu was also said to transform into a Raven (or the raven transforms into the goddess) as worship of Amaterasu to the exclusion of other kami has been described as “the cult of the sun”.

On many occasions, it appears in art as a three-legged bird, although there is no description stating that the Yatagarasu was three-legged in the Kojiki.

This 3-legged crow can be seen on a number of items from pre-war Japan and in post-war Japan one can see it in select shrines and also on the uniform of the national soccer team. In pre-war Japan the Imperial Japan Soldier Relief League used the yatagarasu image on a series of membership and merit badges.

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ww2 japanese badge medal

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/archive/f/fe/20090915181709%21Yatagarasu%2C_Kumano_Nachi_Taisha.jpg

The appearance of this figure appeared in two early Japanese sources, the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀)and  the Kojiki (古 事記). However, in these and other early sources there is no mention of the number of legs. This seems to have been a later addition, but it is unclear when this happened. In addition, there seems to have been some early confusion between the yatagarasu and the golden kite because in the Kojiki the bird did not lead the Emperor; the kite did. The yatagarasu did appear in the Kojiki, though.

Ravens and Crows have since appeared in classical Japanese art and textiles for hundreds of years. Most woodblock prints were produced during the Japanese feudal era by dedicated publishing houses employing skilled writers, artists, wood carvers and woodblock printing facilities.  A single print could be produced many times over until interest in the title waned or until the carved wooden blocks used to make the images began to wear and the quality of the impressions failed.  Birds such as cranes, crows, sparrows, and swallows are so prevalent in these pieces that we decided to give this gallery its own page. Enjoy!

[button link=]Visit the Gallery[/button]

[box]Ukiyoe Gallery is not only an online gallery of over 2,000 Japanese woodblock prints (“ukiyo-e” and “shin-hanga”), but is also an extensive “Library” of reference articles about Japanese woodblocks, publishers, artists, printmaking techniques, and anyone who wants to find out more about this wonderful art style.[/box]

Raven Lore: Origin of Light

According to the Native American legend told by many Pacific Northwest tribes, including the Inuit, “In the beginning the world was in total darkness.”


This is a common beginning to most creation stories, but this one has a twist.


The Raven, who had existed from the beginning of time, was tired of groping about and bumping into things in the dark.

One day the Raven came upon the mouth of a great river, where lived a chief and his only daughter. Through his slyness, the Raven learned that the old man had a great treasure. This treasure was All the Light in the Universe, contained in a tiny box concealed within many boxes. At once the Raven vowed to steal it.

He thought and thought, and finally came up with a plan.  He had watched the young woman go to the river to gather water every day. On this day, he waited for her in a nearby tree.  As she knealt to dip her water-skin into the river, he transformed himself into a pine needle and dropped himself into the river. Humming to herself under the stars, she never noticed him float gently into the basket.

As she drank, she swallowed the needle. It slipped and slithered down into her warm belly, where the Raven transformed himself again, this time into a tiny human. After sleeping and growing there for a very long time, at last the Raven emerged into the world once more, this time as a baby boy.

However, Raven was not a normal little boy. He had been born with a Raven’s beak. As he grew he was always after the treasure box, which his grandfather would never let him touch. Even though he had a rather strange appearance, the Raven’s grandfather loved him nontheless. Ravenchild begged and begged to be allowed to hold the light just for a moment.

In time, Raven’s mother yielded to his pleas and lifted from the box a warm and glowing sphere.

As the light was moving toward him, the human child transformed into his Raven form, wings spread ready for flight and beak open in anticipation. As the beautiful ball of light reached him, the Raven captured it in his beak!

Moving his powerful wings, he burst through the smoke-hole in the roof of the house, and escaped into the darkness with his stolen treasure.

He placed the ball into the sky, where the sun has been giving light to the world ever since.

About the Artists:

The late and great Bill Reid spent his life confronting public opinion. The artist, who was of Haida and European descent, was largely credited with inspiring a Haida renaissance with his masterful works of art. Some viewed Reid as a curiosity – an artist who navigated his way through two dissimilar worlds. Others viewed him with a more cynical eye and criticized him as a mimic with manufactured ties to the Haida community

Bob Patterson worked on the linked series of twelve totemic paintings for over eighteen months after studying the art and legends of ancient, Northwest American tribes for over fifteen years. Through his study and masterful artistry, Patterson has created important work that accurately represents the ideas and cultural complexities of people believed to have lived in the area more than 35,000 years ago.

The ancient art that Patterson understands and so beautifully expresses through his paintings is quite complex.  The artist explains, “All things in the totemic world use forms and variations to connect, disconnect, and embellish their purpose.  Totem poles are not the original forms of their art.” Totem poles were used only for memories or to record events and sometimes were considered as poles showing debt.

Patterson further explains that ancient artisans would decorate a bowl with symbols to honor the animal that sacrificed its life to sustain the humans.  “Certain animals were assigned duties by a creator animal or bird. The ancients believed that everything had to be created and that all things that lived were called people. Salmon people, frog people and so on,” he explains.

The intricate designs in Patterson’s Totemic paintings are true to the important symbolism of the ancient people.  According to the artist the symbolic concepts and ancient beliefs can be somewhat esoteric, but important to understand in order to fully appreciate Totemic art.

Ravens in Native American Culture

Raven is a Native American god called by many different names by many different tribes.

The symbolic meaning of the Raven in Native American  lore describes the raven as a creature of metamorphosis, and symbolizes change/transformation.

In some tribes, the Raven is considered a trickster because of its transforming/changing attributes. This is especially true for the  Haida tribe, who claim he discovered the first humans hiding in a clam shell and brought them berries and salmon.

Each  tribe had a name for the bird and because of its non-secretive habits, it is one of the most familiar birds to the casual observer. The Sioux tell the story of how a white raven used to warn buffalo of approaching hunting parties. The buffalo would then stampede, and the hunters would be left hungry. Eventually, an angry shaman threw the bird into the fire which turned it black.

Often honored among medicine & holy men of tribes for its shape-shifting qualities, the Raven was called upon in ritual so that visions could be clarified.  Native holy men understood that what the physical eye sees, is not necessarily the truth, and he would call upon the Raven for clarity in these matters.

Foremost, the Raven is the Native American bearer of magic, and a harbinger of messages from the cosmos.  Messages that are beyond space and time are nestled in the midnight wings of the Raven and come to only those within the tribe who are worthy of the knowledge.

The Raven is also a keeper of secrets, and can assist us in determining answers to our own “hidden” thoughts.  Areas in our lives that we are unwilling to face, or secrets we keep that harm us – the Raven can help us expose the truth behind these (often distorted) secrets and wing us back to health and harmony.

Although there is no evidence that Raven was ever worshiped, as such, it is said by some that the Northwest peoples did used to leave food out on the beaches for ravens. In this form he is capable of inspiring awe and terror, although always there is that twinkle in the eye and the knowledge that it can be only moments before he says something that will inspire laughter. His creative nature usually shows itself through circumstance rather than intent, through the desire to satisfy his own needs, rather than any altruistic principles, but he seems genuinely fond of human beings, as related in “Raven finds the First Men”, amongst others.

In his later, perhaps younger guise, Raven, or Yetl/Yelth, is often the butt of his own jokes; these are the stories in which Raven is often undertaking a position taken by Coyote in the desert and plains regions of the South. In this guise, Raven is at his most devious and tricky, is also cruel, with little thought for anyone or anything other than his own stomach. He will go to great efforts to satisfy his appetite, from tricking his cousin Crow out of his entire Winter’s food supply, to tricking Deer into leaping onto some rocks so that he may be devoured, and even tricking an entire tribe into being killed by an avalanche so that he might eat their eyes.

He is the Raven at whom the young Haida men are allowed to laugh, but is also the Raven of whom to be most wary. He can be much crueler than his demiurge culture hero self. This Raven will have you in fits of laughter while he distracts you from the fact he is tricking you into doing something for him you may not actually want to do, and which may cost you dearly.  Some of the stories do have Crow as the main character, and the main difference appears to be that Crow stories concern the themes of justice rather than greed, even if justice is not always seen to be done, as in the story of Raven and Crow’s Potlatch, mentioned above.

The only time at which Raven’s position in the Northwest coast culture bears any similarity to that in European culture is in his guise as one of the servants of the medicine lodge tutelary Baxbakualanuchsiwae, the Kwakiutl Cannibal Spirit, whose initiates practice ritual anthropology. This is a comparatively recent trend in the culture, and is not widely mentioned.

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Haida Raven Mask

In Raven stories told by the Tlingit and other tribes along the Pacific coast and Canada, Raven likes to cause trouble for humankind, but his actions often end up benefiting us.

In the Haida legend “How Raven Gave Light to the World”, Raven wants to steal the boxes that hold the stars, Moon, and Sun for himself but the people ultimately benefit from his trick when the light is mistakenly released into the sky.  The Inuit tell a slightly different version in which the young girl swallows a feather and later gives birth to the raven, whom she later entertains by giving him her father’s relic. In breaking the relic, light is let into the world.

In our new column, Raven Lore, we will be sharing with you the wonderful stories passed down through various native cultures in America and beyond. We hope you enjoy them!

Crows in Buddhist Culture

Original photo by Yun Dan

The Dhe-Tsang monastery, built in 1414 by a close disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, is situated in the Gyalrong district of eastern Tibet. When its founder, Ngawang Drakpa, came to the region intending to build a monastery there, he realized that the place was special but couldn’t decide on the best location to build the hermitage. At that very moment, a huge crow swooped down on him, picked off his scarf, and flew away with it. The monk hastened to follow the crow.Eventually, the garment was found hanging from the branches of a Juniper tree.

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Here it is relevant to observe that the crow is visualized in Tibetan Buddhism as an incarnation of Mahakala, whose name literally means the ‘Great Black One.’

Taking this occurrence to be an auspicious omen, Ngawang decided to build the monastery around the tree, which would itself serve as a natural pillar of the prayer hall. During the actual construction of the monastery, the revered monk faced many obstructions from the local Bonpo masters who practiced a primitive form of shamanism and thus felt threatened by the unfolding of the Buddhist faith in Tibet. Whatever was constructed of the building during the day would collapse during the night. These mishaps were attributed to the black magic performed by the Bonpos.

photo by flytrue2

One day, when Ngawang Drakpa was contemplating the problem, the crow reappeared. Much relieved by its presence, the venerable monk wrote a letter to his guru Tsongkhapa in Lhasa, asking for help.  In response to his pupil’s plea, the master composed a practice brimming with spiritual potency and gave it the name: ‘The Solitary Hero Vajra Bhairava Sadhana.’  He gave it to the crow to deliver it to Ngawang Drakpa. When the latter received the manual he performed the practice immediately, which led to the subduing of all the leading Bonpo priests.

This text later became one of the most significant one used in all Gelukpa monasteries and retains its popularity to the present day. When the major part of construction was completed, the lama began to look for master sculptors who could create spiritually charged images for the retreat. One day, three black men came to the monastery and stayed there for some time. They later revealed that they were sculptors from India. Delighted on hearing this, Ngawang Drakpa eagerly sought their services in building the required deity statues.  Of the three men from India, only one agreed to stay on and help.  As per his promise, the sculptor created all the statues requested except that of Mahakala, which was only half-finished when the day of inauguration arrived.

The celebrations for the occasion consisted of various ritual dance performances. At the end of the program, the Indian sculptor declared that he too wished to perform a dance for the contemplation of the audience and proceeded to enthrall them with an exceptionally energetic performance wearing a swirling costume and a large wrathful mask, leaving the viewers in raptures.  Towards the conclusion of the dance, his physical form suddenly started to shrink until finally only the giant mask remained on the ground and there was no trace of the body of the dancer.

Taken aback by the bizarre turn of events, the monks rushed to the chamber where the half finished statue of Mahakala lay.  To their utter surprise, the statue was complete.  The sculptor had merged with his creation, granting it an unparalleled spiritual potency.  The story does not end here however.

Later they were informed that the two companions of the Indian sculptor, who had declined to stay on, had each made a Mahakala statue at two different monasteries and had likewise mysteriously disappeared into their respective creations. It was not long before the perceptive adepts realized that these sculptors were none other than the great god Mahakala in his various manifestations, incarnating himself as the savior and protector of monasteries. Thus at Ngawang’s hermitage he was the Six-Armed Mahakala and had created a sculpture of himself with half-a-dozen hands. In a similar manner the other two had created icons of the Four-Armed and the White Mahakala respectively. Collectively, they were named the three Mahakala brothers and became vastly popular all over Tibet.

Ravens in Celtic Mythology

Ravens figure heavily in Celtic mythology and legend. They were linked to darkness and death – especially the death of warriors in battle. Celtic war goddesses often took the form of a raven. In “The Dream of Rhonabwy”, the knight Owein battles King Arthur in a dream world assisted by ravens. Some tales suggest that the great King Arthur himself was turned in to a raven upon his death.

Rhonabwy is the most literary of the medieval Welsh prose tales. It may have also been the last written. A colophon at the end declares that no one is able to recite the work in full without a book, the level of detail being too much for the memory to handle. The comment suggests it was not popular with storytellers, though this was more likely due to its position as a literary tale rather than a traditional one.

The frame story tells that Madog sends Rhonabwy and two companions to find the prince’s rebellious brother Iorwerth. One night during the pursuit they seek shelter with Heilyn the Red, but find his house filthy and his beds full of fleas. Lying down on a yellow ox-skin, Rhonabwy experiences a vision of Arthur and his time. Serving as his guide is one of Arthur’s followers, Iddawg the Churn of Britain, so called because he sparked the Battle of Camlann when he distorted the king’s messages of peace he was supposed to deliver to the enemy Medrawd (Mordred). Iddawg introduces Rhonabwy and his friends to Arthur, who regrets that Wales has been inherited by such tiny men.

Iddawg reveals that Arthur’s men are assembled to meet the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon. However, Arthur is more concerned with a game of gwyddbwyll (a chess-like board game) he is playing against his follower Owain mab Urien (Ywain). While they play, messengers arrive declaring that Arthur’s squires are attacking Owain’s ravens; when Owain asks that this be stopped Arthur only responds, “your move.” Finally Owain orders his ravens to attack Arthur’s servants; when Arthur asks him to call them off, Owain says “your move, lord.” Eventually Arthur crushes the chess pieces into dust, and the two declare peace between their forces. After this the Saxons send a contingent asking for a truce, which Arthur grants after consulting his advisors. Cai (Kay) declares that any who wish to follow Arthur should come to Cornwall. The noise of the troops moving wakes Rhonabwy, who realizes he has slept for three days.

Because King Arthur lived on in the form of a raven, in Corwall it is considered very unlucky to kill one, however there is no consensus about the ultimate meaning of The Dream of Rhonabwy. On one hand it derides Madoc’s time, which is critically compared to the illustrious Arthurian age, and on the other Arthur’s time is portrayed as illogical and silly, leading to suggestions that this is a satire on both contemporary times and the myth of a heroic age.

Many of the Celtic goddesses are linked with the raven or crow. In this mythology the goddesses are the aggressive deities, those associated with war and death. Badb, Macha and Nemain are all associated with crows and/or ravens, as is Nantosuelta, a Gaulish water and healing goddess. The wife of the Fomorian sea-god, Tethra, was said to be a crow goddess who also hovered above battlefields, and Scottish myth has the Cailleach Bheure, who often appeared in crow form. The association of the birds with death and war is an obvious reflection of its tendency to eat carrion, plenty of which is to be found in the aftermath of battle. This tendency led, eventually, to the persecution of the raven, as a harbinger of doom and destruction, and also to the common notion in modern European culture that the main attribute of Crow and Raven is their connection with the Otherworld. Upon Cuchulainn’s death, the Morrigan perched on his shoulder in the form of a raven.


The other main characteristic of Raven in Irish and Welsh myth is that of prophesy. The Morrigan was prone to prophesising and predicting the outcome of battle. King Cormac also came across the Badb as an old woman dressed in red garments (always a bad sign) who explained that she was washing the armor of a doomed king. Raven also acts as a messenger for the Irish/Welsh gods.
In “The Hawk of Achill” Cuchulainn’s father, Lugh, is spoken of in association with ravens and crows. Ravens warned Lugh of the Formorians’ approach. Ravens tended Cuchulainn when he was very ill, which is about the only time Cuchulainn appears to have had anything approaching a good relationship with the birds, save for when he was announced by two Druidic ravens on his entrance to Elysium. He was responsible for killing a flock of magical sea ravens, which were large and able to swim in the sea (it is possible, from the description, that the birds were, in fact, cormorants, and not ravens at all. Cormorants also have a certain mythology associated with them). Also associated with ravens is the son of Cerridwen, Afagddu, who was also known as Morvran, or Sea Raven. Cerridwen ’s intent had been to bestow the gift of Inspiration upon him. A rather bizarre association is that of ravens and chess.

Bendigeidfran (“Bran the Blessed“),perhaps the best known of the Celtic gods associated with the raven, was a giant of enormous strength and a fierce warrior whose head continued to speak after he was beheaded. Tradition holds that his head was buried at the White Mount in London, believed to be the site of the White Tower (The Tower of London). His head is a protective charm for Britain. The word “Bran” means raven, and this may be how the story of the Rooks of The Tower originated.

Tower of London

Photo by sargas

Today, ravens are still kept at the Tower of London. The ravens have their own Yeoman Warder  to care for them. During World War II, Tower Hill was bombed, and the ravens were lost. Winston Churchill, knowing full well the ancient legends, ordered the immediate replacement of the birds, and they were brought to Tower Hill from the Welsh hills and Scottish Highlands.

In England, tombstones are sometimes called “ravenstones”.

Among the Irish Celts, the raven was associated with the Triple Goddess, the Morrigan, who took the shape of a raven over battlefields while acting as “Chooser of the Slain” and the protector of warriors.

Irish and Scots Bean Sidhes (Banshees) can take the form of ravens. Their calls from over the roof of a dwelling was considered to be an omen of death for the occupants.

“There is wisdom in a raven’s head.” – Gaelic Proverb

“To have a raven’s knowledge” is an Irish proverb meaning to have a seer’s supernatural powers. The raven is considered to be one of the oldest and wisest of all animals.

Ravens were the favorite bird of the god Lludd, the Celtic god of artists and artisans. He was said to have two ravens to attend to all of his needs (similar to Odin and his ravens).

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Samhain edition of “White Dragon”, 1998

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Crowmageddon

Every month, birders in the Twin Cities (MN, USA) get together for Birds and Beers. It is a social event to bring birders together and it is hosted by Birdchick. Last month they chose to gather in Loring Park, central to downtown Minneapolis, to watch the Crows come in to roost for the night.

As the sun began to set, the Crows came in wave after wave with clans ranging from 30 birds to hundreds. Kirk Mona was kind enough to shoot the below video showing this amazing event.  The crows are small, click the full screen button on the video to get the best effect.

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