crows as whistleblowers and snowdens

Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 min­utes.

MY ROOMMATE GADJI is a cat who ac­tu­ally likes having a har­ness strapped around her neck and midriff: it means that she is going out­side! Ap­par­ently, any price is worth paying to spend the time in the fresh air—rolling in the dirt, spying on birds, and going for walks.

When walking, we tend to head to the green belt about 100 feet from the house and in­vari­ably, as we enter the treed area, a large black crow swoops in, perches on a branch on one of the ever­greens around us, and be­gins ha­ranguing us:

Cawww! Cawww!
Cawww! Cawww!

Now I know that C-A-W is the normal way to spell the sound (word?) that this bird is making, but there sounds like there is an ‘r’ sound rolling in there, giving each crow a sort of JFK-ish feel:

Ca(rrr)www! Ca(rrr)www!

It’s not a par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive sound: no one is going to ac­cuse crows and re­lated black bids of being mu­sical. 1

And what are they cawing about? My ob­ser­va­tions lead me to be­lieve that the sole bird over­seeing Gadji and my wan­dering is a sen­tinel, a watcher. He is there to make sure that we are merely doing what most hu­mans and their pets do: nothing much. 2

 Crow Rabena 574 1This is the work of Glen Rabena, who dis­plays and ad­ver­tises his work on his web­site as “North­west Coast Na­tive Art.” Yes, this a raven, cousin to the crow, but they look alike to most of us and this art is too damn beau­tiful not to use here!

Crow as spirit animal

For the unenlightened—those readers not fa­miliar with or­nithology or es­pe­cially the be­liefs, myths, and leg­ends of Na­tive American—reading such be­havior into these sen­tinels is justified:

“The crow is a spirit an­imal as­so­ci­ated with life mys­teries and magic. The power of this bird as totem and spirit guide is pro­vide in­sight and means of sup­porting in­ten­tions. Sign of luck, it is also as­so­ci­ated with the ar­che­type of the trick­ster; be aware of de­ceiving appearances.

If the crow has chosen you as your spirit or totem an­imal, it sup­ports you in de­vel­oping the power of sight, trans­for­ma­tion, and con­nec­tion with life’s magic. Throughout his­tory, the crow has been as­so­ci­ated with both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive sym­bolic mean­ings. The most common are:

•  life magic; mys­tery of creation
des­tiny, per­sonal trans­for­ma­tion, alchemy
higher per­spec­tive
being fear­less, audacious
flex­i­bility, adaptability
trick­ster, ma­nip­u­la­tive, mischievous

Other tra­di­tional mean­ings as­so­ciate the crow with bad omen, death, and dark witch­craft. The crow also car­ries the power of prophetic in­sight and sym­bol­izes the void or core of cre­ation.” (Spirit An­i­mals & An­imal Totems)


This cir­cular image is paint on yellow cedar by Rabena: it is a raven atop a frog with the moon in the center.

Crow as whistleblower

Our sen­tinel is making sure that we are not in­ter­lopers, on the verge of in­ter­rupting if not en­dan­gering a crow get-together.

His cawing is his alerting his fel­lows to our presence.

He is a whistle­blower of sorts.

Hence I have taken to re­fer­ring to these watch­birds as snow­dens—in honor of Amer­i­ca’s most fa­mous whistle­blower, Ed­ward Snowden—be­cause they are telling on me and Gadji!

So it is that I see crows as whistleblowers—and knowl­edge­able whistle­blowers at that! 3

Crows tree bw 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is a pair of snow­dens keeping an eye on Gadji and me on a sunny day in the Pa­cific Northwest.



1   Did you know that North America is the only con­ti­nent that does not have a song­bird na­tive to its grounds? Yup, all other lands have at least one bird that sings melo­di­ously. Amer­ican and Cana­dian birds can and do chirp but many make noises that, in groups can fairly be de­scribed as cacophonous.

2   “Amer­ican Crows are fa­miliar over much of the con­ti­nent: large, in­tel­li­gent, all-black birds with hoarse, cawing voices. They are common sights in tree­tops, fields, and road­sides, and in habi­tats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town cen­ters. They usu­ally feed on the ground and eat al­most anything-—typically earth­worms, in­sects and other small an­i­mals, seeds, and fruit but also garbage, car­rion, and chicks they rob from nests. Their flight style is unique, a pa­tient, me­thod­ical flap­ping that is rarely broken up with glides.” (All About Birds)

3   As crowwatcher and Reiki Master (Mistess of Reiki would sound better) (and dur­dier) Debbie Wiedorfer com­mented on Face­book, “Crows knows stuff.”


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