I wonder if school children still get taught the weird and wonderful collective nouns for the various groupings of birds, animals and fishes. No one really knows the origins of some of these nouns but it’s easy to speculate about how a murder of crows came about. Humans have always been wary and suspicious of scavenging black birds like ravens and crows, thinking them harbingers of death and associating them with battlefields and cemeteries. Even the Ancient Greeks painted black birds in their pottery scenes, an inclusion that indicated someone was going to die, or had already died.
There are old folk tales and superstitions saying that crows will appear in large numbers in places where people or animals are expected soon to die. And just as there are rhymes associated with magpies, there is also one covering the number of crows seen together at one time: ‘One’s unlucky / Two’s lucky / Three is health / Four is wealth / Five is sickness / And six is death’.
I’ve also read that crows make good weather forecasters. In Fauna Britannica, Buczacki writes that ‘In Wales, an indication of strong winds is given by ravens and crows flapping their wings and flying at a great height, while sunshine will follow if they are seen flying towards the sun.’ I’ll be interested to find out whether any of my Welsh friends have heard of this and, indeed, to know whether this forecasting method works! And I wonder if a crow standing in water means it’s going to rain.