Crow Funerals

Photo courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Click for a trove of crow info.

Recently, my extremely brilliant and erudite BFF told me the craziest thing – he said that crows conduct funerals for their fallen compatriots.  Although he is always right, I was skeptical and just had to check this out as it sounded so implausible.  Sure enough, there are loads of crow funeral eyewitness accounts and even crow funeral videos on the web!

For example, I adored this account I found on Avian

“As I stepped out the door I was astonished to see a thick sea of black clouds rolling in. Murders of crows were flying in from every conceivable direction and landing in our neighborhood; the sound of ruffling feathers getting settled into place with each landing quieted by continued calling. Trees in every yard and in every direction were leaved in black, telephone wires and fences no longer distinguishable, rooftops and swing sets were covered, all the while screaming in unison, piercing the air with their haunting song of lament. The decibel level was increasing with each arrival …….

As I continued to watch in awe and breathtaking wonder, my neighbor’s son who was in his yard asked me with trepidation ‘what does it mean?’  I replied in a hesitant whisper ‘I think we have been invited to a crow funeral.’  …..

We stood silently watching, waiting and wondering. For twenty minutes or so we stood there rigidly and solemnly as if paying our respect to an unknown dignitary. For who of their clan they mourned I cannot say. I only know that my heart knew that theirs were saddened and I could feel their loss of a member much loved and respected by all.

That reverent twenty minutes was ended by a single crystal clear sounding “caw” and the periwinkle colored sky again became awash in black, as each left in silent departure creating the sound of the wind with their wings. You knew the service was over with that solitary caw, and that you would forever be haunted and humbled by it.”

Did you catch the murders of crows? Poor crows, such an ugly word to describe a group of them.

Photo courtesy of the Rochester City Newspaper. Click on photo for a nice story about crows.

Here is another less dramatic account of a funeral from

“At about 8:45 I heard an unusual cawing from the trees branches above the brush pile. I looked out a window and saw about a dozen crows all calling in an unusually higher pitched call. This went on for about 5 minutes. More began to show up and join in. I walked outside to observe the “ritual” better. One by one they left the tree and began circling the yard still calling in that same caw. A few of them came back back to the tree branches above the site of their fallen friend but they no longer called. They were still visible when we left for breakfast at 9:45.”

If you would like to watch a crow funeral, you might enjoy this one on Youtube,  Crows giving their buddy a funeral

And this scary crow’s funeral вороньи похороны , from somewhere in Eastern Europe, I am guessing.

A French crow I snapped. Crows live almost everywhere except South America.

Suspiciously, there is nary a word about crow funerals on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, (one of the most highly regarded birding sites on the web) although there is a cornucopia of other information about crows. Similarly, the Wikipedia article on crows is silent on funerals but I did learn that crows are like the Einsteins of the bird world! Not only are they really smart but they mate for life and care for their young for a long time. Teenaged crows help their parents raise younger siblings. Crows can even fashion and use tools.

So, in truth, crows are better than us in some ways, but, sorry crows, I still had my doubts about your ability to organize huge funerals, so I consulted my old friend, James T. Miller, Esq. (pro bono-hero/poet/Everglades-warrior/bird-o-phile). Jim has actually recorded gatherings of crows in the Everglades, in Florida.  His crow recordings (and other amazing swamp sounds) can be heard on a beautiful album called Pahayokee, a Plea for Life.

Jim wrote that,

“Sometimes (for reasons that are not clear) groups of crows gather and engage in loud raucous calls- some people think these calls sound like Lamentations or hysterical crying at a funeral-hence the name. So far as I know, the cries are not actually mourning a dead crow. I have heard this about 3 times and it is quite a vocal show- to me, it sounds more like a vocal battle than a funeral.”

Hmmm. So,probably not a funeral then (most likely a mere coincidence that dead crows are in the vicinity of the gatherings) and more likely a crow-version of The Voice, but how freaking cool anyhow!


6 Responses to “Crow Funerals”

  1. 1 S February 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Hi Professor Donsky,

    Thought this page might interest you.

    I randomly came across it.

  2. 2 maezeppa June 19, 2013 at 12:53 am

    I have seen crows doing this behavior in a crowded urban enviornment. A neighbor shot a crow and soon easily a hundred or more gathered on the powerlines and treetops above the dead crow and called for hours.

  3. 3 kdevious July 16, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Shot a crow in my back yard some years back, 20-30 crows circled the dead crow and called out for about 5 min.. blew my mind. It was very surreal.

  4. 4 naquan ware September 19, 2014 at 6:04 am

    I have seen crows gathering around this parking lot next to my building but the thought of crows mourning their dead never crossed my mind. Now it is clear why dozens of crows were circling around the parking lot that morning.

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