Crows form a distinct family of highly evolved birds. Seven members of the family are resident breeders in Ireland. They are all alert and quick to learn.
They are all big and most are well known especially the Rook, Magpie, and Jackdaw that can be seen almost every day. Less well known because they are less often seen are the Jay, Raven, Chough, and Carrion Crow/Hooded Crow.
"As black as a Raven" and "raven-haired" are common expressions both referring to jet black. However, very close-up the Raven has a metallic sheen on its feathers making the black glow with subtle hints of blues, lilacs and greens.
The blackness of the Raven has another meaning in that the bird is a scavenger feeding on carrion, especially in winter when other food sources may be unavailable. So, Ravens have long been associated with death and are often portraited as omens of imminent demise. A fine example is the beautifully crafted, famous statue in the GPO in Dublin by sculptor Oliver Sheppard depicting in bronze the dying mythic warrior Cúchulainn with a Raven perched on his right shoulder.
All birds are classified into groups called 'orders' and the biggest and most familiar order comprises the passerines. Perching is one of the key features that defines the members of the group: they are all capable of standing on a perch while gripping it with three toes forward and one backward. Most sing so they are also popularly known as 'songbirds'.
More than half of all the birds found throughout the world are passerines and the Raven has the distinction of being the biggest of them all. Many people think Buzzards are big, but Ravens have bodies that can be up to 10cm longer.
While passerines are often loosely referred to as songbirds the Raven certainly doesn't distinguish itself in that department. It is difficult to describe bird calls in English words. To define and pronounce their call, the excellent Collins Bird Guide invents the word 'korrp' to describe the Raven's loudest and most distinctive call. Uttered in a loud, clanging, and jarring way, and with a rolled r-sound, the Raven often repeats that call three or four times.
Anyone familiar with seeing a Raven or two fly overhead will instantly recognise the deep-throated and far-carrying 'korrp' call of the large black birds that roam widely from their traditional upland haunts, increasingly turning up and seen in suburban areas.