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a murder of crows [Aug. 7th, 2008|11:26 pm]
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[gwoman]
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a murder of crows
-This more poetic term for a flock of crows can be traced back at least to the 15th century, when it was recorded as a murther of crowes. Murther is a variant of Middle English murthre 'murder,' though the th sound had begun to be replaced with a d around 1300 C.E. There are several theories as to how this particular term came about, but all of them have to do with the supposed behavior of crows. For instance, crows are scavengers and therefore often seen feeding on rotting bodies of various sorts. Survivors of wars have described how the battlefields were covered in black as crows (and ravens) came down to eat the dead. Another theory hearkens back to old folklore which told of groups of crows essentially holding court over members of their flock that had committed offenses. If they decide against the "defendant" crow, then the rest of the flock swoops down on it and kills it. There are legends outside of the Germanic culture that relate to crows being judges over people as well, and how their appearance is an omen of death.
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[User Picture]From: laura_holt_pi
2008-08-08 07:47 am (UTC)

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Some further information:

The groups of crows that pass judgement on others of their kind are also known as a "parliament of crows". It was long considered a piece of folklore, but these gatherings have been witnessed in recent years. There were letters to Fortean Times a few years ago describing these events and someone said the following on the snopes.com message board:

I don't know about the origin of the word, but I would guess that since they tend to consider corpses edible and show up in great numbers around one, they also show up around a murder site.

I do know, however, that the behaviour of ganging up on one crow (which does not necessarily have to be the weakest) is real. In Swedish, it's called "kråkriksdag", roughly translated as "crow parliament". I've seen it happen, and it is a brutal event. There is some general squaking, but there is no clear target. Suddenly it starts and all of them jump on one crow, picking at it until it is dead, literally tearing it to pieces. They are so focused on this that you have to run straight in among them to scatter them.

http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=28;t=000919;p=2

[User Picture]From: omdog
2008-08-08 12:52 pm (UTC)

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Not only have I heard of this phenomenon of a crow court, I've had the pleasure to see one.

Imagine an amphitheater style field with a large sloping hill carved out between a farmstead at the top, cow pasture below, thicket and forrest squaring off the far sides and end, with two roads making a right angle at the top corner of the field.

I'd come up over the top of the farm one evening before sunset and saw that the entire bank of the hill was covered with crows. I'm not talking about just the ten to fifteen you might normally see in a typical murder, spread out, some in the trees, others pecking about the field. There were at least seventy five, maybe even a hundred crows ranged about the hill as though they were there to watch a performance. Sure enough, down in the field below the masses, there were three crows holding court.

I pulled over and got out of the car to get a closer look, which was when I noticed the really strange thing; there was hardly any noise. I'd expected to step out of the car and hear chattering, a low level murmur at the least from a group that large, but there wasn't any. The crows on the hill were silent and intent on the actions of the three below who were making noise, but not anything that carried to my ears.

I stood in awe for just a few minutes before more people on their way home in their SUVs and Minni-Vans, came rolling along. They slowed down to wonder what I was doing at the side of the road, out of my car, looking at a field. I don't think the trial going on behind them even registered until, spooked by the attention and presence of more humans, one crow called out. The entire court lifted off then, and settled in the pines further to the middle of the hill.

Clearly, I didn't see them tear whichever of their members were the "accused" to shreds, so maybe this was a more favorable trial. Then again, maybe they just didn't want any humans running into the frenzy trying to save a crow that deserved it's punishment.
[User Picture]From: laura_holt_pi
2008-08-08 01:00 pm (UTC)

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That's fascinating. I've never seen it myself, but I've heard too many accounts of it not to consider it a fact.

Crow courts do sometimes seem to acquit, suggesting that it is a genuine discussion rather than a lynch mob intent on violence. The corvid family are highly intelligent, so I don't think anyone should be surprised at them behaving in this way.
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 03:46 am (UTC)

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great stories and info. :) thanks for adding that!

and i'm glad neither of you had to witness the defendant crow being torn apart!
[User Picture]From: daughterofeve
2008-08-27 10:09 am (UTC)

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Where can one find more infomation about this occurance? I tried doing a web search, but don't seem to be getting any further infomation.
[User Picture]From: laura_holt_pi
2008-08-28 03:39 am (UTC)

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I've had trouble finding it online myself. It was covered in Fortean Times a few years ago and should be in any book on the folklore of birds.
From: (Anonymous)
2013-07-22 03:30 am (UTC)

Murder

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I've always thought the 'murder' referred to the actual more common action you can see almost daily here in the northwest of a group of crows attacking hawks. The larger the group the more vicious and brazen the attack and often murder. Crows will also travel tree to tree seeking other birds eggs and young, and eat them.
[User Picture]From: omdog
2013-07-25 04:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Murder

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Murder is the term for a grouping of crows, generally a familial group consisting of about 12 to 15. Ravens, collectively are called a jury.

They are exceptionally social, and they will actually foster and raise abandoned baby birds of other parentage. I have NEVER heard of them seeking out other birds eggs and young to eat. For one thing they are scavengers, carrion birds, going mainly for road-kill and dumpster diving.
[User Picture]From: sweetgonzotooth
2008-08-08 08:01 am (UTC)

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do you do anything as narrowly focused as colloquial ancestry? if i've even worded that properly... what my question is, is whether there is a clear 'original' usage of "closet" and/or "closeted" in the context of repressed identity...
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 03:47 am (UTC)

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i can add closet to the req list and write myself a note to make sure i cover how it also came to be used in the context you mentioned. i'm not sure if i'll have oodles of info in that, but i'll do my best!
From: sparrow_arrow
2008-08-08 08:24 am (UTC)

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I've wondered about this one, thanks for posting :)
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:03 am (UTC)

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my pleasure :)
[User Picture]From: infintysquared
2008-08-08 09:05 am (UTC)

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I was introduced to this turn of words by the Sandman comics, and I think it fits rightly.
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:03 am (UTC)

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ahhh Sandman. the only American graphic novels i've ever liked, to be honest.
[User Picture]From: brassknight86
2008-08-08 11:59 am (UTC)

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This reminds me of a five page story I read once in a compilation of 'Sudden' fictions (five pagers, in other words).
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:04 am (UTC)

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i've never heard of that type of short story before. do you buy the compilations or do you usually read them in magazines or the like?
[User Picture]From: brassknight86
2008-08-09 04:07 am (UTC)

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This one, I bought for a beginning-level fiction class. It was worth it, without a doubt.
[User Picture]From: green_rusalki
2008-08-08 02:14 pm (UTC)

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Wow that's incredibly fascinating. I have actually never heard of the crow court but I have heard of their flock being refered to as a mruder. Really interesting thanks for this post :).
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:04 am (UTC)

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my pleasure!
[User Picture]From: bravesaintash
2008-08-08 02:46 pm (UTC)

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Has any requested the history of "book"?
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:06 am (UTC)

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not yet, so added :)
[User Picture]From: matrixrefugee
2008-08-08 02:55 pm (UTC)

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Ooh, this immediately makes me think of one of Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics, entitled "A Parliment of Rooks", now in the collection entitled "Fables and Reflections".
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:07 am (UTC)

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that sounds awfully familiar. i read through i think 5 or 6 of the series but never finished it. :(
[User Picture]From: elinara
2008-08-08 04:23 pm (UTC)

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I'd never heard of a crow court before. That's interesting. On a complete tangent, could you find the origin of the phrase "on the fritz" as in something not working?
[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-08-09 04:07 am (UTC)

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i use that phrase all the time, so it'll be nice to know where it actually comes from ;) added!
[User Picture]From: windsparrow
2008-08-29 06:45 am (UTC)

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I'm curious as to what originally spurred the impulse to this pattern of colorful collectives. Do other languages have such collective noun phrases?
From: (Anonymous)
2009-06-08 01:34 am (UTC)

Three Crows

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Very interesting post. I've always been intrigued by Crows, how intelligent they appear to behave and the way they appear to communicate.

Wondered if you had come across the term "three crows". According to the brewer of a beer by that name, I am told it has some particular meaning in old English but all I have been able to find is at ...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_crows

Wondered if you were able to find out anything more a more reputable source.

St3v3
From: (Anonymous)
2013-06-27 07:28 pm (UTC)

parliament of rooks

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what is a parliament of rooks?
From: (Anonymous)
2012-01-29 08:29 am (UTC)

First Post (Finally)

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Greetings

I've been lurking here for many many months but this is the first time I've finally registered and posted.

Very useful board here but I wonder about additional resources you use for this type of stuff.

Please let me know other sites/forums you use

I'll go post an intro now!
From: (Anonymous)
2012-07-06 03:55 pm (UTC)

I totally thought everything was awesomely done

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You gotta be kidding me?! So helpful
From: (Anonymous)
2012-07-06 04:10 pm (UTC)

Thanks for all the info.

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Reading this i realized how little i know about this subject
From: (Anonymous)
2012-07-06 04:14 pm (UTC)

Compliments to you!

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Awesomeness ensues, you rock!!!! JJJ
[User Picture]From: majesticjac
2012-09-08 08:27 pm (UTC)

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Hey! This is really fascinating to me. I was wondering if you have a source for this information? For my personal sake of research. :]