Corvids

From The Moment:

In the evenings the rooks and crows congregate in the air, split apart and come together, then suddenly settle in the trees as night falls. Who knows what they’re saying to each other as they fill the sky with their raucous calls? Are they gossiping, fighting, finding mates? Yet they can also talk like us, mimic our speech. They can recognise our faces, bring us gifts or take revenge on us, even through generations. They’re social, cunning, adaptable.

Early humans, it’s said, learned about their surroundings from corvids. Interactions between hunter-gatherers and corvids may even have led to a kind of cultural coevolution: the birds may have changed their behaviour to lead people to large prey in hope of a meal of leftovers, and people in turn may have changed their behaviour to understand and follow the birds. Our close association with them, and the need to defend our food from them, may have refined our own co-operation and communication. Later cultures saw them as living symbols of natural and divine forces—sometimes light, sometimes primal darkness. Crows and ravens carried messages from the gods or had sacred ties to the sun. They were bearers of meaning in the world. The negative connotations of corvids largely came about with the rise of industrial agriculture and the sight of crows picking at corpses on battlefields. They became seen as threats to profit and birds of ill omen—to us. But these kinds of physical and symbolic links between people and animals have long since broken. Animals are now mostly products or sources of entertainment, to be used and segregated, or only let into our world as pets. Even so, they’re still essentially the same: both like and unlike man, as John Berger wrote. They still gaze at us from afar, from the silence of the day, and before their gazes we’re more alone than ever. We look to them to find the secret of our origins but they don’t answer us. Maybe their non-answer is the answer: find the secret for yourself.

Advertisement

Comments are closed.