Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 16, 2000 - Issue 25


Raven Tricks Crow

Shared by Ojilaka ZicaHot'a at Native American Tales and Legends


Raven used to live high up in the upper Skagit River country. He was very lazy. In the summer when the other animals were busy gathering food for winter, he would be flying from rock to stump and stump to rock making fun of them. Raven just laughed when Crow (his cousin) urged him to follow Squirrel's example but Raven never prepared for the cold months, when the snow would drift over the ground and cover all the remaining food.

But now Raven was in trouble. Winter had come and the snows were deep. He was hungry and Raven loved to eat. He had to find someone who would share their food with him.

Raven went to see Squirrel. He had a huge supply of pine nuts and seeds and other food hidden all over the place. Raven poked his head in squirrel's nest in a old fir tree. Squirrel had lots to eat. Raven politely begged for some food. Squirrel scolded him that was always Squirrel's way "You refused to work and save for winter and you poked much fun at me, you deserve to starve!"

Raven went looking for Bear. But Bear was sound asleep in his cave and could not be wakened. Raven looked around for some food, but it was all in Bear's belly. Bear had already eaten it all and was sleeping till spring.

Raven was now very hungry. He thought: "Who can give me something to eat? Everyone is either stingy like Squirrel or sleeping like Bear and Marmot, or they have gone South for winter like the snowbirds." Then he thought of Crow he would be easy to fool!

Raven flew to Crow's nest. "Cousin Crow, we must talk about your coming potlatch!" Crow answered. "I have not planned a potlatch"

Raven ignored his response. "Crow, everyone is talking about your potlatch will you sing at it?" "Sing?" Crow had not known that anybody really cared for his singing voice, though in those days, Crow's song was much more like that of Wood Thrush than it is today.

Raven continued to talk of Crow's potlatch. "You are very talented and possess a beautiful voice - everyone will be so disappointed if you don't sing at your potlatch!"

"What potlatch? .... You really like my singing?"

"We love your singing, Crow," Raven answered. "The Winter's cold has chilled the forest and we're cold and hungry and singing will help us forget our cold feet and empty stomachs. Now you get started fixing the food, looks like you have plenty here and I will go invite the guests to your potlatch. You can practice your songs as you cook!"

Crow's hesitation now overcome, he began to prepare all the food he had collected for winter, and as he prepared it, he practiced his songs. The more he thought the feast and how everyone wanted to hear him sing, the more excited he got about it.

Meanwhile Raven was offering invitations to all the animals of the forest. (Of course Marmot and Beaver were sleeping like Bear, and Robin and Goose were gone South) To each he said the same thing: "Come to My potlatch! I have worked hard to prepare it. There will be much food at Raven's potlatch and Crow is helping and will sing for us. There will be fern roots and wild potatoes, dried berries, fish and meat. Come to My potlatch! It will be a great occaision." Raven did not invite Squirrel however since he had refused to share his food with Raven. But all the rest of the animals were invited to Raven's Potlatch.

When he returned to Crow - he was busy singing and cooking. Raven told him, "Everyone is coming - be sure and fix all your food, they will be hungry after their journey. And your songs are sounding so good! Crow's potlatch will be a great feast!"

As the guest arrived, Raven welcomed each one to his potlatch. There was Deer and Mountain Goat and Mouse, Rabbit, Ptarmigan and Jay. The guests were seated and the food was brought out. Crow started to sit and eat, but Raven asked him for a song first. "It's not good to sing on a full stomach, Crow".

So Crow began to sing. Every time he would stop to eat - Raven would insist he sing another song. "You can't sing with your mouth full, Crow!" Encouraged again and again by the guests who were busy stuffing themselves with Crow's food. Crow sang song after song after song all day until night and Crow's voice became hoarser and hoarser until all he could do was "Caw - caw".

As was the custom - the left over food was collected by the guests and taken by them for their homeward journey. Even Raven had taken his share and left as Crow was cleaning up. Crow had nothing left to eat. " At least," Crow thought, "I won't go hungry, I will be invited to their feasts." For it was the custom that having been entertained, each guest was now obliged to return the favor and invite the host for a return potlatch.

But the invitations never came. Since all the guests thought it was Raven who hosted the feast, Raven was invited to enough dinners to keep his stomach full for several winters and he never went hungry.

But Crow, who had been fooled, had been reduced to starving, and never regained his singing voice either. He was destined to spend his winters begging in the camps of men for scraps of food. And that's where we find him today, squabbling over scraps in grocery store parking lots.

Print and Color Your Own Picture of the Crow


Ravens and Crows

The Common raven (Corvus corax) is any of several species of heavy-billed, dark birds, larger than crows, of the genus Corvus, family Corvidae (q.v.). The common raven (C. corax) is the biggest passerine bird (member of the order Passeriformes); it reaches a length of as much as 66 cm (26 inches) and has a wingspan of more than 1.3 m (4 feet). (Some magpies and the lyrebird are bigger than the raven in length but are smaller bodied.) Although it looks like a crow, the raven has a much heavier bill and shaggier plumage, especially around the throat. The raven's lustrous feathers have a blue or purplish iridescence. In the white-necked raven (C. cryptoleucus) of western North America, the base of the neck feathers are white. Other species of ravens, some with white or brown markings, occur in Africa, southern Asia, and North America.

Formerly abundant throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the raven is now restricted to the wilder, undisturbed parts of its range. It is among the hardiest of birds, inhabiting the northern tundra and coniferous forests as well as barren mountains and desert. It is keen-sighted and notably wary. Long before it was immortalized in Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven," the common raven was a near-universal omen and symbol of dark prophecy -- of death, pestilence, and disease, though its cleverness and fearless habits also won it a degree of admiration, as evidenced in its noble heraldic roles in the mythology of some peoples.

Like other corvids, the raven is a noisy, aggressive omnivore whose diet includes rodents, insects, grain, and birds' eggs. In winter, especially, it scavenges and feeds on carrion, dead fish, and refuse. The raven has a large and varied vocabulary, including guttural croaks, gurglings, and a sharp metallic "tok" (which Peso has learned to mimic all too well!) The common raven usually is solitary but may feed in small flocks. The raven's spectacular courtship flight involves soaring and all kinds of aerial acrobatics. The birds' crudely made nest of coarse sticks, usually lined with hair or shredded bark, is a bulky structure up to 1.5 m (5 feet) in diameter that may be built on a cliff or the top of a large tree. The young remain in the nest for about a month. If captured while a nestling, a raven may make an interesting pet capable of learning to mimic a few words. One captive bird on record lived 69 years.

Mythology: The Raven is a central figure in West Coast native traditions from California to Alaska. Among his many feats, he stole the moon and sun from the Sky Chief and put them in the sky, brought humans the first berries and salmon, and (according to several traditions) called the first humans up from the earth, or discovered the first human babies within a clamshell. Raven was perpetually hounded by the trickster-god, Coyote. Raven is known by many names, including He' (Bella Bella tradition), Txamsem or We-gyet (Tsimshian), Nankil'slas (Haida), Yehl (Tlingit), and Kwekwaxa'we (Kwakiutl).

Common Raven$narrative.html


Also belonging to the family Corvidae (order Passeriformes), crows are smaller and less heavily billed than most ravens. They are named for their typical call: "caw" or "crah." More than 20 of the 30 species of the genus Corvus are known as crows, and the name has been widely borrowed.

The common crows are C. brachyrhynchos of North America and C. corone of Eurasia. The latter has two races (sometimes considered separate species): the carrion crow (C. c. corone) of western Europe and eastern Asia and the hooded crow (C. c. cornix), occupying the region between and occurring also in the northern British Isles. All crows are about 50 cm (20 inches) long and are coloured glossy black; the hooded crow has touches of gray. Other species include the house crow (C. splendens) of India to Malaysia (introduced in eastern Africa); the pied crow (C. albus), with white nape and breast, of tropical Africa; and the fish crow (C. ossifragu) of southeastern and central North America.

Crows are omnivorous and eat grain, berries, insects, carrion, and the eggs of other birds. The crow's habit of eating cultivated grains has made it very unpopular with farmers, who often try to kill the birds. Crows also eat many economically harmful insects, though. They feed chiefly on the ground, where they walk about sedately. Crows are gregarious, and at times they roost together in great numbers (tens of thousands), but most species do not nest in colonies. Each mating pair has its own nest of sticks and twigs, usually high up in a tree, in which are laid five or six greenish-to-olive eggs that have darker speckles. A crow may live 13 years in the wild and more than 20 years in captivity. Some pet crows "speak," and in the laboratory some have learned to count to three or four and to find food in boxes marked with symbols.

American Crow$narrative.html



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