How has the crow sustained such a long-standing symbolic association to the otherworld, the unknown, and death?
Writing in Society & Animals, Moreman (2014) argues that the bird:death connection is manifested in four particular ways: (1) through birds’ capacity for winged flight, which provides access to the heavens; (2) birds’ capacity for voice, which connects us to the unconscious; (3) bipedalism, which connects us to our earthly humanity; and (4) the laying of eggs, which provides a symbolic representation of the cycles of life and rebirth. Arguing that, as symbols of life and death, birds remind us of our own mortality, Moreman suggests that birds symbolically call upon us to live more fully in the present moment (2014:499).
Conversely, recent scientific studies of animal intelligence have examined corvid cognition in the context of Aesop’s fable, whereby the crow and pitcher exercise is repeated in various capacities to determine the extent of corvid intelligence (Taylor 2014). As Taylor describes, these studies reveal that corvids present two hallmarks of species intelligence: large relative brain size, and behavioural complexity (2014:367).
As Taylor states: “corvid species use sophisticated cognition when thinking about temporal events, conspecifics, tools, and the causality of the world” (2014:367). Known as ‘feathered apes’, corvid intelligence may even surpass that found for primates. This examination of their problem-solving abilities demonstrates a cognition that lies at an intermediate juncture between human thought and simple learning (Taylor 2014:368). Yet, as Taylor argues, the real scientific potential of corvids has yet to be realized.