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"If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows."
Henry Ward Beecher
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Crows and ravens (both corvids, as are magpies and jays) have both positive and negative associations, but few would quibble with the notion that they are clever creatures.

Although it can be hard to tell what species a particular corvid is meant to be in many visual media, heroic ravens are often wise or intelligent characters, while crows tend to be friendly tricksters or Plucky Comic Relief. For example, crows (never ravens) are a staple of The Golden Age of Animation, appearing in countless funny cartoon shorts set on family farms, where their role is to drive farmers nuts gobbling up their corn crops. These cartoon crows aren't the slightest bit scary, though they can certainly be annoying to the farmers (and the occasional living scarecrow). They tend to be tricksters.

Corvids often have been portrayed as sentries or lookouts, sometimes with magical powers and/or serving the ancient gods or other mythic figures. For example, the Norse god Odin was purported to have had a pair of ravens that served him in this manner.

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Truth in Television is very much in effect here; corvids have been a common subject of scientific research because of their intelligence, and the various findings gathered over the years implicate them as being among the smartest nonhuman, nonprimate animals in the world. Among other things, they're adept tool users, understand liquid displacement, can recognize faces, and are capable of creative thinking and social empathy (the latter meaning they can understand what others are thinking in a given situation, why they act the way they do, and what connections they have to other beings or objects).

For tropes about another intelligent and sometimes mischievous bird, see Polly Wants a Microphone, Fowl-Mouthed Parrot, and Not in Front of the Parrot. For a similar trope with less basis in reality, see The Owl-Knowing One. For less benevolent corvids, compare Creepy Crows. Idiot Crows, despite the name, is not this trope inverted, but an anime gag involving crows calling you an idiot.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Rei Hino from Sailor Moon (see Sailor Moon's Tropes Found in the Manga page [1]), aka Sailor Mars, has a pair of crows named Phobos and Deimos (named for the Moons of Mars and essentially Mars's sentries - kind of like Evil-Detecting Dog + Defence.) Let's just say that, in the manga, they aren't ordinary crows... They're shapeshifting aliens from the planet Coronis whose job is is to protect Sailor Mars. (They aren't this in the anime, only appear briefly as the shrine's pets, and aren't named at all in the live action.)
  • Toto, from The Cat Returns, is a stone statue shaped like a crow that is able to come to life. He enjoys pestering and insulting Muta, but is good friends with the Baron and very sweet when talking to Haru. He and his crow friends also play an important role at the end of the movie by preventing the rest of the gang from falling to their deaths.
  • The crows in Haibane Renmei bridge the line between Glie and the outside world. One acts indirectly as a spiritual guide for Rakka, and is implied to be some reincarnated loved one.
  • Tsukihime has Gransurg Blackmore, a vampire magus from the Age of the Gods who considers birds to be holy, and transfigured himself into a freakish crow person to better serve his god, Crimson Moon Brunestud. Due to this, the people he turns into Dead also transform into even more freakish crow monsters. He has a Reality Marble named Nevermore.
  • Killing Bites introduces the first bird-based therianthrope with Brute Crow. While others are primarily aggressive fighters, Crow is a Trickster Mentor that relies upon his wits to out-maneuver his enemies. He's also managed to remain off the Bureau's radar for 2 years, while building connections and preparing to take revenge.

    Comic Books 
  • Matthew the raven in The Sandman. Matthew is friendly, not a trickster (though a bit of a wise guy), pleasant and the most loyal guy in the Dreaming. He's as smart as a human and perhaps once was human. He's strongly implied to be the spirit of Matt Cable, former ally of Swamp Thing.
  • From Marvel's Loki comics - Ikol, the magpie containing the memories of what Loki was before he died. Since then young Loki developed certain associations with magpies, even if some people suggest other parallels beside cleverness.
  • Raven from Teen Titans (and its animated spinoff). She's a Dark Is Not Evil hero (when not being possessed or mind-controlled by her Eldritch Abomination father) whose magical powers often use a corvid motif.
  • Marvel Comics villain the Scarecrow, a contortionist, circus performer, and escape artist, who now works as a thief and burglar. He has a flock of over two dozen crows that are highly trained. They always hover protectively around him, will pick up and bring to him small objects (jewels, coins, etc.) when he points at them, and will attack and kill anyone who rushes at him suddenly or points a weapon at him.

    Fan Works 
  • In Child of the Storm Huginn and Muninn are a pair of talking animals who have taken a liking to Harry (Thor, not so much), are deputised by Odin to keep an eye on him at times, are exceedingly fond of eyeballs and marshmallows and generally come off as harmlessly amusing. However, Heimdall has mentioned that they were not always birds - they were once (and probably, technically, still are) Bran and Bard, the Raven-Lords of Avalon, Gods in their own right and may be even older than Odin. It's also mentioned that, despite being ravens, no one messes with them, and considering that they're the Messengers of Odin, this is likely for very good reason.

    Fairy Tales 

    Film — Animated 
  • The crows in Dumbo are friendly, comedic characters who are at first derisive but then help Dumbo discover his ability to fly (the Magic Feather was their idea).
  • In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent's raven was the only creature of her court who could find the missing Princess Aurora (granted, two of the fairies made this easier by getting into a spectacular magic fight at exactly the wrong moment).
  • In The Secret of NIMH, Jeremy the Crow is a funny and clumsy black crow who is allergic to cats. He also appears to get scared rather easily as he seems to be faint-hearted of Dragon and the Great Owl. Despite this, however, he befriends the widow Mrs. Brisby and is shown to care for her slightly.
  • The little Crow and the other Crows in The Day Of The Crows, Apparently clever enough to learn simple words like "Manon" or "Doctor", and to understand the hero's instructions when he asks with the little crow to search for Manon and a doctor, and lead them to him.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Wiz the crows use their intelligence to convince the Scarecrow that he's stupid and can't frighten them off.
  • Diaval in Maleficent is a raven given the ability to shapeshift into other animals (specifically a man, a horse, a wolf, and a dragon) by the title character, and becomes her loyal servant/friend after she saves him from a farmer. He is a Deadpan Snarker but also Maleficent's Morality Pet.

    Literature 
  • The Affix: Crows deliver the Affix to Matt a couple of times, and another artifact as well, negotiating increasing payment for their services each time. They hang around him in increasing numbers throughout the story. As his sanity slips, he talks to them more and more as well.
  • Robber the crow from The Animals of Farthing Wood. (Note he's just called "Crow" in the TV adaptation.) Robber is a friend to and cares for Bold, one of the many, many characters.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, in which corvids are for the most part benevolent or jokers at worst. The wise raven Sallowpad served as a royal advisor for the Pevensies, as shown in The Horse and His Boy, while a pair of jackdaws are comic relief in The Magician's Nephew.
  • Discworld
    • Ravens living around the High-Energy Magic building at Unseen University have developed intelligence beyond their already-clever limits, and view the city panorama below as a sort of daytime entertainment. A couple of them bother gnome constable Buggy Swires on a stakeout, constantly pestering him for details.
    • Quoth the Raven (yeah...), who starts off as a wizard's familiar in Soul Music, and ends up becoming the steed for the Death of Rats in later books. He advises a number of protagonists and is clearly more level-headed than most characters on the Disc, if a bit too keen on eating eyeballs (and is well-aware of the associations of his name, and refuses to say the N-word which in his case is Nevermore).
  • In Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, a raven helps and cares for the protagonist, Jonathan Rebeck, who lives in a graveyard, bringing him food and, later, news.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire, it is a raven that finally resolves the main character's problem by asking the Armor-Piercing Question.
  • In Hiromi Goto's Half World, crows can fly between the mortal world and Half World, and even serve as a literal bridge. They also follow Melanie (whose parents came from Half World) around, which makes her classmates think she is creepy and are one of the reasons she is bullied. Subverted in that they are her allies, eventually helping her fight the Big Bad.
  • Harry Potter: Ravenclaw House, although intelligence is its defining trait and it is not the most sinister of the Houses. Despite the name, Ravenclaw's mascot is an eagle.
  • In King Crow, the crow is clever but not spooky, even though it makes its first appearance on a battlefield (setting up an Androcles' Lion situation).
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Ravens are more intelligent than crows here, and function as Westeros's primary messaging system (similar to real-life homing pigeons). The fact that they're also birds of ill-omen is frequently remarked upon ("dark wings, dark words"), given that most of the messages people get are bad news.
    • A very rare breed of white raven exists, significantly more intelligent than the black kind. They can be trained to talk, and Jeor Mormont's bird has an unsettling habit of saying all-too-appropriate, or outright prophetic-sounding, things.
    • Bran's dreams are haunted by a Spirit Advisor in the form of a talking three-eyed crow, gradually revealed to be an avatar of an extremely powerful warg and greenseer who lives beyond the Wall and uses crows and ravens as spies.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's works, although crows are generally in the Forces of Evil, ravens are friendly and intelligent, exceptionally long-lived, and allied with the dwarves; they helped Bilbo and company in The Hobbit. (For example, Roac, son of Carc in The Hobbit, is a wise raven and an adviser for Thorin Oakenshield.)
  • Tortall Universe: Crows are a significant element of the Trickster's Duet. They're intelligent to the level of sentience and are the animal symbol of The Trickster. They assist Aly and the rebellion in numerous ways by directly fighting or spying on the regime. One of them even turns into a human to better help and court Aly — crows have Voluntary Shapeshifting in this 'verse.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "The Eaters of Light", Nardole is freaked out by a talking crow. The Doctor explains that all crows can talk, the ones in the 21st century just don't — he assumes they're surly because they got tired of having annoying conversations with humans. Later in the episode they learn that when the Pict woman Kar pulled a Heroic Sacrifice to save the world from the Eaters of Light, her brother asked the crows to remember her and spread her name to the winds. But they can't say her name perfectly, so it comes out as "caw".
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Ravens are used as the fastest messengers because of their intelligence and strength, but are also birds of ill omen since the most urgent messages are often bad news, as referenced by the episode title, "Dark Wings, Dark Words". Special white ravens are used to herald the change of season as seen in "The North Remembers".
    • Bran's dreams are haunted by a three-eyed crow who is eventually revealed to be the avatar of a powerful magician who lives beyond the Wall.
  • Charlie the Raven in The Munsters is a talking sentient raven that lives in their clock, and is the Deadpan Snarker, probably one of the most intelligent characters in the show.
  • Crow T Robot from Mystery Science Theater 3000 is definitely Plucky Comic Relief.
  • Raven, the host of the children's fantasy game show Raven, (who is actually a metamorph rather than a bona fide bird), is a pretty nice guy, who's probably supposed to be more Stern Teacher and Mr. Exposition than anything else.

    Mythology 
  • Odin had two ravens as companions. Their names, Hugin and Munin, suggest that they are his literal Thought and Memory. He sends them out all over the world each day to reconnoiter, and then they sit on his shoulders and tell him what they have seen.
  • Raven is one of many trickster heroes in Native American Mythology. In more than one case, the raven is actually the creator of the universe.
  • The crow has a role of the creator of the world in Aboriginal Australian Myths.
  • In one of Aesop's Fables, a crow fills a pitcher with pebbles to reach water, a behaviour which has been observed in real life.

    Radio 
  • Referenced in one Animal Interview Sketch on John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme while deconstructing The Owl-Knowing One. An owl explains that the idea they're clever is a myth, and in doing so says something that does actually sound quite clever, but explains that he heard it from a crow and doesn't know what it means.

    Religion 
  • Ravens are associated with some saints, such as Saint Benedict of Nursia and Saint Vincent of Saragossa.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000 two heroic Space Marine Chapters named themselves after ravens: the Raven Guard and the Blood Ravens. The Raven Guard are noted for emphasis on speed and tactical strikes (their Primarch was Corvus Corax, a contender for the least subtle Theme Naming in all 40K), and the Blood Ravens for valuing and seeking out knowledge and having many Librarians in their ranks.
  • In Warhammer, Tzeentch, the Chaos God of knowledge, magic, and intricate scheming, is sometimes referred to as the Raven God.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Ravens are commonly found as wizards' and sorcerers' Familiars. Raven familiars always have the ability to speak.
  • Ravenloft; were-ravens are among the wisest and noblest of lycanthropes, and among the strongest forces of good in the demiplane. (They aren't native to it, however; one guidebook suggests they originated on Oerth.
  • Pathfinder has tengu as somewhere between kenku-expys and their original inspiration. Complete with a feat that allows them to appear as humans with unusually big noses, even.
    • There are at least two sorts of psychopomp (the servants of Pharasma, another True Neutral death goddess) that look, or can look, corvid: The huge, powerful yamarajes appear part raven and part dragon, and the tiny nosoi often resemble crows.
  • In Eclipse Phase ravens and crows are among the avian species that were uplifted, though they share the same "neo-avian" stats as the more common parrots.

    Video Games 
  • Aya Shameimaru in Touhou is a Crow Tengu Paparazzi who publishes a rumor mill tabloid; if not an outright trickster, she's at least clever and annoying. There's also Utsuho Reiuji, a nuclear-powered hell raven who's a bit more... straightforward, except on the subject of nuclear physics.
  • One of the bird laguz tribes in Fire Emblem is the raven tribe. They fit most of the archetypes—often ending up being fought as enemies early in the game, but ultimately having had a perfectly good reason for their actions—and their leader's Leitmotif is called "Wheeling Corby".
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features Corvus Umbranox, the Grey Fox, leader of the Thieves Guild, and former Count of Anvil. Fellow gets around. He's clever and dark-haired.
  • In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, Raidou receives orders from the Yatagarasu - often depicted as crows, but only in a boss (Amatsu Mikaboshi)'s battle quote is it made explicit ("So the Foxes still serve the crows!"). They are mainly associated with divine will, linking them to the Law Alignment.
  • In The Longest Journey, a bird who is technically not a crow (since he comes from another world) but looks like one and is named Crow is April Ryan's Plucky Comic Relief sidekick who helps her solve some puzzles. Notably, he is rather offended when he learns after what kind of bird April named him, but April convinces him that she did so after a comic book hero of her childhood named Crowboy.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the crows in Twilight Town discuss such things as renewable energy sources and Internet start-up companies.
  • From the Bayonetta series, the titular character can use Crow Within to transform into a crow in order to fly, its also the only one of her Beast Within spells with the ability to attack, using Feather Flechettes called the Umbran Spear technique.
  • Ravens are used as messenger birds for your Spymaster in Dragon Age: Inquisition, a brilliant and ruthless assassin. The birds are no slouch either, some hold their nerve when there is fighting nearby and most any quest you can do: fight Snownball, reach the Redcliffe gates, aid a companion, ect one will observe and maybe fly off.
  • Pokémon: The Murkrow and Rookidee lines are based off corvids and demonstrate the same degree of intelligence as their inspirations, with a Murkrow memorizing the password to a locked gate in the Team Rocket Hideout and Corvisquire using sticks and vines as weapons and tools when in battle. Corviknight even serves as the life blood of Galar's taxi service because of how intelligent it is.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The Xanadu storyverse, where a large convention Goes Horribly Wrong (or right) when costumes become real, started after Eric Winters put on a Raven mask and turned into a bird who is possibly a god.
  • RWBY features Qrow Branwen, who covers a lot of this trope's angles at once. He's always drunk, often snarky and mischievous, and serves as a Cool Uncle to main characters Ruby Rose and Yang Xiao Long, so he can be viewed as a comical figure. But a lot of his drunkenness is just an act, he spends much of his time gathering intelligence for Professor Ozpin's Benevolent Conspiracy, and he taught Ruby everything she knows about using a Sinister Scythe, so he's got some smarts as well. Also, he can turn into a crow. Qrow's sister Raven Branwen, on the other hand, is much more morally ambiguous and falls under the Creepy Crows trope.
  • One redditor claims that a crow paid him to buy it a taco.
  • TierZoo ranks corvids in general as S-ranked animals in the city meta, primarily due to their high intelligence that allows them to find food and interface with manmade objects easily. This combined with their flight capability allows them to dominate in the city.

    Western Animation 
  • Heckle and Jeckle are two identical wisecracking magpies, one with a British and the other with a New York accent. They're are fast friends who are able to overcome foes by outwitting them, breaking the rules, and generally having fun at other people's expense.
  • Raoul from Sitting Ducks is Plucky Comic Relief.
  • Crawford Crow, one half of The Fox and the Crow from Columbia Cartoons. He spends his days playing tricks on Fauntleroy Fox, who unlike most of his brethren, is quite gullible.
  • Buzzy Crow from Famous Studios, who is usually paired with dimwitted Katnip Cat. Katnip tries to eat Buzzy as some form of cure for something, so Buzzy fools him into trying some other "cures", resulting in Amusing Injuries.
  • In the China, IL episode "Crow College," The Dean, in one of his Cloudcuckoolander Bad Boss moments, decides to replace all of the professors with crows, because the crows will work for feed but are just as smart as the college's human faculty. The crows are so smart as to understand morality. their downfall is that they are unwilling to murder the human faculty to defend their jobs, while the human faculty does not share the same distaste.

    Other 
  • There's a Big Crow F.A.Q., which maintains that fictional corvids are boring compared to their Real Life counterparts.

    Real Life 
  • Crows have demonstrated their ability to make tools. Being among the most intelligent genus of birds, any one of the corvid species may be capable of pulling this off, but The New Caledonian Crow is the best known and documented. Check out this video depicting one fishing some food out of a plastic tube, using nothing but a bent piece of wire and a good dose of intuition.
  • Aesop's fable about a crow using stones to raise the water level in a pitcher so it could drink is based on behavior observed in wild crows.
  • Researchers have recently discovered that the Corvidae are comparable to chimps in creative thinking, although their cooperation skills don't quite match up (but are still considerable).
  • Think all ravens look the same? They do not think the same about us. They can identify people and form ideas of which ones of us are trustworthy. They also remember people they don't like, and spread the word to fellow crows.
  • Crows and ravens remember when humans and other animals have been kind to them, and have been recorded presenting particularly generous humans with gifts.
    • On the flip side, they hold grudges too! A crow will remember when someone or something has been cruel or antagonistic towards it, and will communicate with the rest of the flock to tell them of what they've learned. The flock will then help the wronged crow in attacking the threat. Woe betide any bird or mammal who tries picking on a crow who has a family of chicks to look after...
  • Wild ravens can readily mimic what they hear without necessarily having to be taught to copy it. This woman caught a raven mimicking a songbird outside her house. Tame ones don't lose this ability either, and can even speak like parrots (albeit with much deeper voices).
  • Crows are known to return to their parents every year to help them raise their newly-hatched brothers and sisters.
  • Increasing evidence suggests that crows actually have a rudimentary vocabulary, using different calls to alert their fellows to possible predators or worrying situations. Meaning the other crows are not only warned of danger, they're given some inkling of what type of danger they face. They even have two different sets of vocabulary: a soft-toned, quiet version for communication within their immediate family, and a harsh, carrying voice used to convey similar sorts of information to non-relatives in the same flock.
    • While unproven, the existence of the first, quieter tone of crow-calls strongly implies that they keep secrets (e.g. where to find food) from unrelated flockmates.
  • Crows are becoming something of a problem in Japan due to a population boom, and some cities, such as Kagoshima, have employed "crow patrols" to help keep their numbers down. The crows are proving to be very difficult to outsmart: they have begun building decoy nests in obvious locations, with their real nests being more well-hidden.
  • Eurasian magpies (and maybe other corvids too) are known to take part in grieving rituals that have been compared to human funerals. It has even been argued they can feel complex emotions as grief. Other findings indicate that these might not be funerals, but rather crime scene investigations, with the flock gathering to figure out how the deceased corvid died and whether or not the nearby environment is dangerous, if the corvid was indeed killed by one event or another.
  • Nutcrackers (another genus in the corvid family) don't seem to have the social skills that crows do, but they have excellent memories. They bury caches of pine nuts for the winter, and seem to be able to recall the locations of thousands of cache sites each year. (The seeds that they do forget about, or that they end up not needing during the winter, can be important for forest regeneration.)
  • Crows have been documented to have adapted to urban areas and have even used our own tools for their benefit. Watch as a crow uses a busy street and a crosswalk to crack nuts.
  • Ravens have been observed helping wolf packs hunt, circling and calling wounded prey or carrion, and in return the wolves will let them scavenge their prey after the kill. Some ravens have even been observed playing with wolf puppies after bonding with the pack as hunting companions!

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