What is it about birds? We have been reporting on this lately.

When we think of it, they play much more of a biblical role than we usually contemplate. They are a part of nature -- which St. Augustine called the first "bible" -- and it was John Paul II who said that animals have the "spark of God."

Each year, thousands of swallows leave the cliffs at Mission San Juan Capistrano in California around the feast of San Juan (St. John) and return just about precisely on March 19 -- the feast day of St. Joseph!

Does Heaven orchestrate that? Are they used as messengers? Do animals have souls?

Many claim they do. Some even assert to have seen pets in those alleged glimpses of the afterlife. It is a controversial subject!

But less debatable is their role in spiritual symbolism or metaphors or augurs on earth. Crows. Eagles. Ravens (a type of crow). And doves.

Many report unusual numbers of crows, which some see (along with owls, snakes, and black cats) as associated with darkness. There seems to be an upsurge.

Others scoff. Spiritual eyesight, or superstition?

We'll let you decide. Did you know that an African Gray parrot has the intelligence of a five-year-old human, according to scientists studying them, and crows are equally smart (up there with chimps)?

But let's start with doves.

"Speaking of animals, we found a snow white dove in a parking lot, and of course, we took her home," said a viewer, Katie Furman. "She lived with us many years. She was usually very quiet but when mom got sick, a gentleman from St. Katharine's Church came to give mama Holy Communion.

"When the man came in the downstairs door the dove went crazy, flapping and calling out. We were thinking something was wrong so we opened the cage to look in and she flew out. She flew downstairs and hovered over the head of the man who had the Blessed Sacrament. The gentleman was dumbfounded!"

In this case, it seemed like the animal was responding to holiness. Placed back, it turned totally peaceful. There are other such stories. St. Francis was famous for taming wild beasts. Dogs sometimes howl when their owners die, even if they are far away. Was it Billy Graham who said, "God creates all life and at death he calls that life back to Himself"?

Some day, said Christ, we will again get along with wildlife, and animals with each other.

On the other hand:

"I want to confirm your story about the crows and ravens -- large black birds," said Lisa Nance. "I am with the Intercessors of the Lamb lay community, and just moved to Omaha from Denver. In Denver these birds were very frequent always near the youth center and the Most Blessed Sacrament oratory, and sitting on top of the church. I would always take them as warnings that evil is lurking and prayer needed to be stepped up, until I learned to take authority over the evil spirits through the Intercessors' charism.

"I was working on a youth program one day, and distributing flyers throughout the parish. In doing so, two very large crows were on top of the youth center building cawing at me. I asked the Precious Blood of Jesus to shelter me as I sensed the evil.  When I came back to the building, there were seven of them lined up on a fence in a row and all were cawing at me, which was intimidation. I was told by the Lord in prayer that they were the seven capital sins. So now when I see them I take authority as I have been taught, and they fly away right away when there is evil present.

"Just yesterday again I was 'ambushed' by these birds again here in Omaha in the morning, and that evening we were going to have a big spiritual event  here with the Intercessors. The weapon is the name of Jesus, and the power of His Precious Blood!"

"I read your article on crows increasing and thought it was exaggeration but the next day I went for a walk in the mountains in this area [Catskills] where there are never many birds at all and I heard tons of caw caw noises," mentioned Rene Lynch of Phoenicia,  New York. "There in a field I always pass were many crows flying from tree to tree and making lots of noise. My mother used to say when there is going to be a death in the family a bird flies to the window and tries to come in."

Such occurred at a Florida church recently, but the bird trying to get into a skylight instantly flew away when the Host was elevated!

Are crows that bad? Isn't there a raven on the medal of St. Benedict (who is invoked against evil)? Too, what about Elijah, and Noah (also associated with that bird)? Didn't a crow bring bread to St. Antony of the Desert? Is it like anything else: prone to use by forces good and bad, perhaps in this case more pointedly than with most animals?

Said another reader named Steve: "Sometimes when I drive up in my car, one will fly up into a nearby tree, and make no noise, just patiently wait for me. Sometimes I just talk to him, tell him what a good bird he is, if I don't have anything for him. My experience with crows mostly has been positive. I have seen some who are bossy, opportunistic bullies, but I have seen some who seem to show patience and gentleness and shyness and also concern for others (crows)."

Added Catherine McGrath of Concord, Massachusetts: "As for our crows, we talk to them affectionately and they seem to like this. But if they make too much noise in the mornings, we scold them and go for a day or two without putting out any peanuts (they love peanuts), and after that they quiet down, seeming to understand that their getting fed is contingent upon this. 

"Generally, the crows are conscious of their size and behave in what Iíd have to call a deferential way with the smaller birds, whom they seem inclined to protect. By this I mean that when the red-tailed hawk who lives by the river at the edge of our neighborhood flies overhead, the crows rush up to do battle and send him off. 

"But do you know whatís most interesting about our 'extended bird family,' especially the crows? They love to hear the Ave Maria!  I used to be a church choir singer and know the Schubert version, and sometimes I sing it while Iím doing housework. 

"If the windows of our apartment are open at the time, Iíll notice after a while a little chorus of sparrows in a bush, chiming in; and as for the crows, on a couple of occasions like this three or four of them turned up and perched not far from our back door, apparently listening attentively, their black heads cocked in a way that made them look like real music lovers ó or perhaps it was the Blessed Mother they loved as much as the music?"   

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