It's been a while since we have received the mail we did following our last stories on a peculiar topic: the seeming prevalence and sometimes "strange" behavior of birds, particularly crows.

We have broached the topic for two reasons: one, we are interested in God's Creation, and what appears to be a diminishing of other kinds of birds, along with wildlife in general as the earth moans; and second, crows, which in some areas are dominating where those other birds once were, have long carried spiritual connotations.

Are they a sign -- spiritual, ecological, or both -- of something afoot in the environment around us? We left it as we do many times for your own decision-making. No doubt peculiarities, and coincidences, there are. The reports come from all over. "Do a Google search for Auburn, New York, crows," advised reader Barbara  Ingraham. "You will see many articles on a city under siege by crows, up to 70,000 crows in a town of about 30,000 people. They have brought in and released predator birds. They have resorted to having a 'shoot' to reduce the numbers.

"We used to live about 45 minutes south of Auburn," continued Barbara. "One morning while getting up early to prepare breakfast for our bed-and-breakfast guests I became very frightened as suddenly I could hear thousands of crows flying just above the trees, and all cawing.

"I looked out of the kitchen window and the early morning sky was filled with them. It was very unnerving. It continued for several minutes. There are people who speak about the fact that they congregate around the cemetery and the Indian burial grounds [around Auburn]. We spent this last Christmas in Ithaca, an hour south of Auburn, with relatives, and again saw the sky filled with crows."

We did a Google search, and Barbara is right -- including her observation that they congregate in burial areas. Is it something about the region? In addition to old Indian cites, upstate was known as an origin for American Masonry, spiritualism, and feminism.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

Can such a shift in wildlife be due to changes in the climate? And is there really a shift?

News reports are now frequent of birds roosting in unfamiliar locales. A shift there has been.

If nothing else, smaller birds seem to have been replaced by predatory ones.

"When I saw your article about the birds, my eyeballs almost popped out of my head," wrote Alicia Naccarato of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. "I have been meaning to write you about my experience. Last summer, my husband and four children were staying for a week at a rented cabin on the beach in Goulis Bay, just outside of Sault Ste. Marie (border town of the Michigan's Upper Peninsula). I took the three eldest children for a walk along the beach and on the way back, my three-year old son said, 'Mommy, look at the big bird!', referring to a large black bird flying overhead. The bird perched in a tree and watched us. It started to make loud noises. I began becoming uncomfortable. Another bird joined it. 

"They began swooping down low, like they were stalking their prey.

"As we kept walking, three more joined the group, swooping down at us lower and lower. They flew in a circle, five of them circling overhead and swooping. I also have no doubt in my mind that this was something diabolical -- I could feel it. After we got inside safely, it just so happened that there was a bird identifying book inside. They were, indeed, turkey vultures, a bird virtually unknown in these parts." 

A woman named  Linda Hachey who thought the crows were actually making a discernible word said that "a few of us were at morning Adoration at St. Anne's Parish and the quiet was abruptly broken by this large crow tapping and digging at the church window. It was as if it were trying to get inside. It created such a disturbance that a woman left her pew to go to the window to shoo it away. That has happened on two separate occasions during Adoration. There definitely  is something going on with crows!"

Such is also reported with a different kind of bird in Florida.

Indeed, predator birds and crows carry that spiritual symbolism, sometimes a good one (see Elijah), often a dark one (along with the species of crows called ravens).

Said Joe Healy: "I just read your article about the birds and I thought I'd pass this along to you.

"During the Forty Days for Life prayer campaign, we were holding a vigil outside of the local abortion facility (Hillcrest Clinic in Catonsville, Maryland). This abortion facility is in an ugly seven-floor concrete building with a bunch of radio and cell-phone antennas on the roof. 

"I had noticed the fact that crows seemed to gather on the roof of the building, even standing on the antenna structures. They would caw raucously, seemingly trying to disrupt the silent or quiet prayers being said on the sidewalk."

"In July of 1994, nine months after my 'reversion,' or return to Catholicism, I went to work and live at a retreat center in Dallas, Texas," adds Sonni Gilley of Grapevine. "The friars lived in the main building and monastery; women employees lived in the small guest house on campus.

"Frequently, crows would fly over or sit in the trees or on the roof of the monastery, 'cawing.' Sometimes they would sit on top of the Cross, mockingly, it seemed to me. As a Protestant, I had witnessed certain demonic activities in birds, and through prayer and calling on the Name of Jesus had successfully driven them away.

"When I attempted to do this at this monastery, dozens of them descended upon the roof of my living quarters, stomping and crowing loudly for several minutes. I was astounded at their boldness and mockery! They were clearly telling me that they had a right to be there and that I had no power over them (I realized, of course, having submitted to the Church, I was now completely under her authority). I would later change my tactics to singing songs of praise whenever they were present. They would soon quiet, sometimes cocking their heads to listen, then depart. Whether their presence was good or evil, I'll let you decide."

And we'll let you.

Do we give crows a bad rap?

We have pointed out that there were good sides to these bird in the Old Testament. Did not Noah use one? And were they not associated with Elijah as well as St. Benedict?

Moreover, notes an expert who wrote us, "Our Lord told us in Luke 12:24, to 'consider the ravens' [vulgate: 'corvos', not 'birds', ='aves'] , which is a common but incorrect translation].   

"I am a retired Catholic ornithologist-ecologist  of Carmelite spirituality, and I took His directive seriously, in more than a figurative sense. In lectio divina I have for many years pondered all scriptural references to ravens within context, integrating these meditations with ornithological knowledge of crows and ravens and eventually gaining useful spiritual insights.

"Ravens and crows are the world's largest and most intelligent passerines. Ravens are larger and more solitary; crows are smaller and more social; however ravens sometimes flock, while individual crows often leave a flock -- poetically termed a 'murder' -- to explore on their own.  

"Crows and ravens are -- like man -- social, curious, playful, monogamous, and omnivorous. They are physiologically 'generalist' feeders, unlike carnivore hawks, nectar-eating hummingbirds, seed-eating finches, and insect-eating warblers: when one source of food fails, they turn to another, and share this knowledge with their own offspring and their neighbors of the flock which often feed or roost together.  

"Ravens and crows have a higher IQ than the smartest dog; closer to chimps and porpoises. Their impressive intelligence and memory renders them behaviorally adaptable. This means that they are superb opportunistic survivors in hard times. Fires and drought, disappearance of some insects, plants, and other imponderables are degrading songbird habitat in different ways around the globe. As small bird populations fall, the corvids, able to eat anything and less subject to environmental stress, move in to occupy vacant ecological niches.

"This is why even as we observe the disappearance of doves, orioles, finches, sparrows, we see an increase of  corvids. The vast evening flocking reported by the Spirit Daily reader walking her dog in West Virginia was observing typical rookery behavior in the spring mating season; the huge flocks rise and settle as a social exercise to determine status rankings of birds in it. This in turn fosters pairing  of birds with similar peck-order status."

And the spiritual aspect? Explains the ornithologist: "In both the book of Job 38:41 and in Psalm 147: 9, we read that God feeds the young ravens, which cry ('pray' in one felicitious translation) to Him for food. In 1 Kings 17: 6  we see that God, having first fed the ravens -- then sends ravens twice daily for a year to feed his servant the prophet Elijah.   

"So: those who fear God have ravens as guardians and providers in time of need: the martyred body of St. Vincent of Saragossa was protected from scavenging or predatory animals by a guardian raven. Indeed, St. Vincent is the patron of those who keep ravens.  

"The last biblical mention of ravens occurs in the Apocalypse, which indicates that corvids are birds not destined for extinction. In the Book of Revelation, God sends an angel to summon the birds of prey to feast on the carrion of kings and their armies after the battle of Armageddon.  

"These birds will rid the earth of filth and corruption, and afterward the lilies of the field will reclaim the fields of war. To the end of history, God continues to feed the ravens -- though a scavenger, no longer an unclean bird -- as servants of the saints and nemesis of evildoers."  

Ironically, this viewer's name is Raven Wenner (from Houston). 

Far more were those who saw the underside.

Edgar Allan Poe? Hitchcock?

As far as diminishing animals, one flying creature that is also associated with darkness is on the demise -- at least back up there in Upstate New York, where recent news reports tell us there has been a mysterious and sudden collapse of bat populations.

The Associated Press reports that they are "dying off by the thousands as they hibernate in caves and mines around New York and Vermont, sending researchers scrambling to find the cause of a mysterious condition dubbed white-nose syndrome."

First bees. Then birds. Now too bats. A fungus?

"I read your article about the birds and totally agree that there is something odd going on," noted Jody Daggett of Arlington, Washington. "We have always had lots of crows where we live, but they seem to be more aggressive, even fighting with each other, and that I have never seen. They are louder than I have ever remembered. Another thing that is happening here often and I was even talking to a friend of mine who is a bird watcher about it: I am having birds hit my windows all the time, like they are confused. They are usually the robins, and there are few of them left around here. I am seeing birds that I have never seen before in the 13 years we have lived in this house." 

"Did you know that to the ancient Jews, ravens were a sign of Confession and penance?" asked another viewer.

"'Consider the sparrow: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!'" notes yet another, quoting Jesus. "Amazingly, the context is all about Christ admonishing us about being ready and on guard for His coming (note verse 49 of Luke)."

"When I saw today's headline on Spirit Daily, my mouth fell open," concludes Kathryn Barattini for us. "I work in a three-story building which has a great window at the end of the hall. Reflecting on a recent Spirit Daily story about 'signs in the sky,' I looked out of this large window on the third story and wondered if I would see a sign in the sky. 

"At that moment, I saw in the sky two fighter jets in perfect alignment with each other (I work next to a U.S. Air Force Base) juxtaposed with two large birds gliding through the air in the same configuration as the planes, but directly opposite from them. It struck me to mean a possible sign of something coming affiliated both with humans (the planes) and nature (the birds). I didn't think much more about it until today's headline... the birds I saw in the sky at that time were two giant crows. I had no idea that others were reporting the appearance of crows. For me, what I have noticed more than any other time in my life is the preponderance of large hawks everywhere. Both are birds of prey."

We prefer birds of pray.

Doves, anyone?

"Fear not, little flock," the Bible also says [Luke 12:32], "for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

[resources: Tower of Light]

[see also: the language of the birds]

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