Dead birds are never a good sign. Dead crows are worse – at least according to many religions and cultures that look upon them as omens. So residents of Youngstown, Ohio, are understandably nervous about a large number of dead crows found on a major thoroughfare this past weekend. Is it a sign of disease, pollutants or just the end of the world?
The carcasses of dozens of dead crows were spotted on February 20th just south of downtown Youngstown by drivers on Interstate 680. The birds were apparently found already dead on the ground and not seen dropping from the sky. Officers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources collected samples from the carcasses and are testing them for the various avian diseases known to be present in that area, including avian flu, West Nile virus and conjunctivitis. As of this writing, a cause for the crow deaths has not been determined.
This isn’t the first time crows have caused concern in this area. In 2002, tens of thousands of crows invaded Boardman, a suburb of Youngstown. No explanation was ever found for the surprise arrival of the crows, the mysterious deaths of many of them nor their sudden departure. Migration would be one reason for the appearances of both the 2002 birds and 2016 ones, but things are always suspicious when the birds are crows.
Crows and ravens have been seen as symbols and omens since ancient times among many groups. The ancients Greeks saw them as symbols of foolishness while the ancient Romans believed they were signs that rain was imminent. Australian Aboriginal mythology and Native American folklore, among many others, saw the crow as a trickster. The Hindu faith regards crows as messengers, as the souls of the recently deceased and as signs of both good and bad luck. Swedes also believe crows and ravens are ghosts, but ghosts of murdered men. In some cultures, a live crow is a sign of bad news while a dead crow means good news … except for the crow.
If you add up the pros and cons of crows, most of their symbolism is on the death, bad luck and bad omens side, which is why Youngstown area residents are nervously watching the ground for more dead crows while they wait for an explanation.