Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
VII BIRDS AND THE UNKNOWN
The ancients without exception credited these birds with psychic properties.
"Ignarres bubo dirum mortalibus omen," said Ovid; whilst speaking of the fatal prognostications of the crow Virgil wrote:
"Saepe sinistra cava praedixit ab ilice cornix."
A number of crows are stated to have fluttered about Cicero's head on the day he was murdered.
Pliny says, "These birds, crows and rooks, all of them keep much prattling, and are full of chat, which most men take for an unlucky sign and presage of ill-fortune."
Ramesay, in his work _Elminthologia_ (1688), writes:
"If a crow fly over the house and croak thrice, how do they fear they, or someone else in the family, shall die."
The bittern is also a bird of ill omen. Alluding to this bird, Bishop Hall once said:
"If a bittern flies over this man's head by night, he will make his will"; whilst Sir Humphry Davy wrote:
"I know a man of very high dignity who was exceedingly moved by omens, and who never went out shooting without a bittern's claw fastened to his button-hole by a riband, which he thought ensured him 'good luck.'"
Ravens and swallows both, at times, prognosticate death. In Lloyd's _Stratagems of Jerusalem_ (1602) he says:
"By swallows lighting upon Pirrhus' tents, and lighting upon the mast of Mar. Antonius' ship, sailing after Cleopatra to Egypt, the soothsayers did prognosticate that Pirrhus should be slaine at Argos in Greece, and Mar. Antonius in Egypt."
He alludes to swallows following Cyrus from Persia to Scythia, from which the "wise men" foretold his death. Ravens followed Alexander the Great from India to Babylon, which was regarded by all who saw them as a fatal sign.
"'Tis not for nought that the raven sings now on my left and, croaking, has once scraped the earth with his feet," wrote Plautus.
Other references to the same bird are as follows:
"The raven himself is hoarse
"It comes o'er my memory
"Is it not ominous in all countries where crows
"The boding raven on her cottage sat,
"In Cornwall," writes Mr. Hunt, in his work on popular beliefs, etc., of the West of England, "it is believed that the croaking of a raven over the house bodes evil to some of the family. The following incident, given to me by a really intelligent man, illustrates the feeling:
"'One day our family were much annoyed by the continual croaking of a raven over the house. Some of us believed it to be a token; others derided the idea. But one good lady, our next-door neighbour, said:
"'"Just mark the day, and see if something does not come of it."
"'The day and hour were carefully noted. Months passed away, and unbelievers were loud in their boastings and enquiries after the token. The fifth month arrived, and with it a black-edged letter from Australia, announcing the death of one of the members of the family in that country. On comparing the dates of the death and the raven's croak, they were found to have occurred on the same day.'"
In an old number of _Notes and Queries_ a correspondent relates that in Somersetshire the appearance of a single jackdaw is regarded as a sure prognostication of evil. He goes on to add that the men employed in the quarries in the Avon Gorge, Clifton, Bristol, had more than once noticed a jackdaw perched on the chain that spanned the river, prior to some catastrophe among them.
Dead magpies were once hung over the doorways of haunted houses to keep away ghosts; it being almost universally believed that all phantasms shared the same dread of this bird. Ghosts of magpies themselves are, however, far from uncommon; on Dartmoor and Exmoor, for example, I have seen several of them, generally in the immediate vicinity of bogs or deep holes.