The Corbie is a large black bird of ominous aspect but cheerful nature, dark-winged, heavy-beaked, bright-eyed and strong-clawed. Not a raptor, but a scavenger, the Corbie can be found in most climates and environments in the Sarvonian continent. Some believe it to be a symbol of death and decay, due to its preference for scavenging carrion and other dilapidated consumables, but others consider it a good omen, as it is a gregarious bird always found in family groups or larger flocks. The Corbie is also known Crow, Carrion Crow, Stormcrow, Jav’veir, Hravn, Death Bird or Rogue Bird.
Picture description. A corbie crow as seen on a bridge near the fishing village of Nepris. Image drawn by Bard Judith.
The Stormcrow is a
larger bird, almost hawk-size, his body from beak to tail being about a
fore in adult growth.
Covered completely in
nor'sidian-black feathers, with piercing eyes and a strong black beak, he
presents an imposing picture at close range - or would if the bird were better
groomed. Somehow the glossy feathers of his body and wings always seem unkempt,
as if the crow never preens. The tail feathers are set slightly askew one from
another, and the primaries and secondaries thrust out on an angle like the
windvanes of a mill. It is possible that this somehow provides more 'lift' for
the bird or aids his striking aerial maneuvers (see below).
The wings are full and thickly feathered, extending almost five handspans on either side when spread, and nearly a fore deep. The leading edge of each wing is heavy, with tiny, thickly packed feathers forming a buffer the width of a man’s thumb. The feather colour varies in hue from nor'sidian-black through to dusky grey, with the darker shades almost always prevailing. Some peasants claim to have seen a pure white Corbie, but scholars have never verified this - see Myth/Lore, below.
A blunt head ends in a beak almost the length of a finger, from around the base of which small wiry featherlets spring, lending an ‘unshaven’ look to the bird. A bright, satirical expression in his night-opal eyes creates a look of intelligence, and could almost give credence to the Manthrian peasants’ belief that the Carrion Crow not only feasts on the dead but assists Queprur to choose them.
The legs are dark brown or black-scaled, with three strong toes projecting frontwards and one spurred toe pointing back. Unruly tufts of feathers, like a court doublet with its points unlaced, conceal the juncture of legs to body and complete the picture of this scruffy “Rogue Bird”.
Corbies are noted most especially for two abilities that demarcate them from
other birds of their size: their amazing ability in the
air, and their equally rapacious and
They curvet and dive, pivot and swoop, rising like gulls and stooping like hawks, graceful in the air despite their bulk and untidy feathers. When flying in a ‘storm’, as their flocks are called, they can turn and vary their flight almost as one, keeping the edges of the group from scattering so effectively that from a distance they really do appear like a cohesive black storm cloud. However, when playing on their own, each crow seems to want to outdo the next, climbing steeply up then shooting down like a black arrow, rolling from side to side in midair, stooping on bits of drifting seed fluff or unwary insects, and hovering with almost imperceptible motions of the wide wings.
Our researchers have seen amazing acrobatics from the stormcrow that are unparalleled by other birds; herewith an excerpt from one of our scholars’ field notes.
“…We saw a Corbie shoot towards a narrow gap in a rocky escarpment with wild flaps propelling it onwards, then when it seemed almost impossible that the bird could do aught else but crash or wedge, the wings tucked inwards, the body curled sideways – we declare it is so – and the feathery missile shot through to the free air on the opposing side. The wings boomed open again with an audible clap like the patting of two hands, and the bird rose leisurely upwards as if it had done nothing extraordinary…”
The second, and less appealing ability of the Corbie, as
evidenced by its name of “Carrion Crow”, is that it can digest almost anything
of animal or vegetable origin, even in an advanced state of decay. It is true
that this is a valuable part of the ecosystem as it prevents the spread of
disease from rotting carcasses and other detritus, especially those in places
that might not be accessible to four-footed scavengers. For more (unsavory)
details if necessary, please see the paragraph on Diet
Territory. Throughout the more moderate to cool areas of Sarvonia, and parts of Nybelmar and Aeruillin. The Corbie is found as far up as some southern-facing rocky slopes of the Himiko or Wicker Islands, but cannot tolerate extreme cold. Nor does it like the heat; presumably its dark coat renders strong sunshine intolerable. Within Sarvonia, it is specially prevalent in the Silvermarshes, and prefers the east side of the Mithrals to the west. They are also found in large numbers around the Yanthian Gulf; not only is it suitably reliably stormy and marshy, the whaling industry provides more waste flesh than the average scavenger could dream of, and they enjoy making play swoops and dives at the large reptilian 'kaimuns' who are their major competition for the meat.
A larger variety of Corbie is exclusive to Northern Sarvonia, where it is known as Jav'veir (in the Kuglimz tongue, "Death Bird") or Hravn (as both the dwarves and orcs name it). Some scholars argue that this ‘raven’ is actually a separate tribe from the Corbie and should be classified as such; however, the consensus among the compilers of the Bestiarium is that the Hravn/Jav’veir is merely a larger form of the same species. As our gnomish friends are wont to comment, “If it quorks like a kyck-kyck, hops like a kyck-kyck, and tastes like a kyck-kyck... it’s doubtless a kyck-kyck!” (Old gnome saying on the merits of simplicity in argument…) The Hravn is bulkier in the body, with a more pointed, sleek tail, and has a wingspan the size of a man’s outstretched arms. Yet its habits, diet, and general build are identical to the crows, thus we stand by our opinion.
On the continent of Aeruillin, we are told that the Dark Sea of Aegyslam took its ominous name from the omnipresent flocks of corbies (there known as "Darkbirds" or "Stormcrow"’) which group along the coast and hover out over the water, riding the sea air. Whether their constant reflections gave a black hue to the water, making the name only literal, or whether the stormy and treacherous nature of the sea cast its shadow over the gregarious bird, is not known.
Habitat/Behaviour. Corbies are found most thickly in rainy, windy, or stormy climes. Whether this is because they are responsible for 'causing' the bad weather, as the common folk believe, or because they simply enjoy riding the air currents that are associated with such weather, this Compendium writer cannot say. What is certain is that they are excellent flyers in conditions that would drive most other birds to roost, seeming to 'sport with the wind', as one of our bards puts it. Observations we have made are as follows:
Corbies can swarm in such large flocks (known as 'storms') that they literally cast a shadow over the ground below
Each flock, or storm, has a 'flight leader', usually an old matriarch Corbie who chooses the direction and distance for the day when out hunting for 'food'.
Corbie roost in thickly-spaced tall pines and create gigantic communal nests - area known as a 'rookery' or 'corbiepile'!
(Note to scholars who have just had an ample meal: Do not read the following
paragraph if you are weak-stomached. The
Compendium refuses to accept any responsibility for merely providing
accurate information to seekers after knowledge...)
The diet of the Corbie consists of anything not actually liquified or of a mineral origin. Corbies have been known to eat mummified havach-oxen (from a wagon train which were dessicated by the Nybelmarian desert winds/sands and then revealed literally hundreds of years later), blood-moist wool discarded in the shearing, still-steaming pinnip entrails, two-week 'high' fish, old turnip tops, baby mice, the placental debris from an aj'nuvic birth, and cheese rinds. Corbies kept in captivity have disposed of eggshells, the wax seals off the top of cherry preserves, and bread crusts in an advanced state of blue mold. Generally their diet consists of any fresh or carrion meat, but they also seek out sunsmile leaves and other greenery when in season, pick at wingecherries and wild apples, and use their long beaks skillfully to strip grass seeds and wild grains from the stalk.
Mating. When interested in mating, which may be at any time of the year, the males and females choose sticks or twigs from the ground below the rookery. They polish them and stroke them back and forth between bill and claw, seemingly very affectionate and possessive. It is believed that in the process the twig acquires the bird’s own unique scent, which may at this time have a particular attraction and encourage the idea of mating.
A bird thus laden is the object of interest from any corbies of the opposite gender who have already picked out their own ‘wedding stick’, as we have chosen to call it. A male will sidle up to a female and attempt to convince her to exchange sticks, brandishing his twig before her face, rubbing it along the side of her beak, and even dropping it just in front of her path. If she accepts, dropping her own in the process, woe betide any rejected suitor who attempts to press his cause by snatching up the lady’s discard… not only will the amorous female turn on him with savage pecks of her strong bill, but the other swains will come to her defense, although she will have none of them either! The successful male preens himself, takes up her wedding stick, and waits until his new bride is ready to take flight. She chooses a not-too-distant firtree or pine for the subsequent courtship and consummation, and the two return to the rookery when she feels ready to lay. There are always plenty of open egg nooks in the great conglomeration of twigs that constitutes the rookery...
Description of communal nest, with various crevices and nooks of twigs for each bird: the egg nooks for the sitting mothers are lined roughly with dried grasses or straw, the hatched corchicks are flapping around the wide, flat center, and the young bachelors’ crannies are merely a few sticks at rough angles around the outer rim…
Apparently the Stormcrow is fertile year-round, as in the ‘corbiepile’ that is a flock’s communal nest there may be found both eggs ripe and rotten, ready to hatch and hatching, fledgling corchicks, and young corbies just testing their wings. Thankfully this muddle inevitably results in a number of ‘accidents’, particularly to the eggs that have not been hidden away as carefully as they might – or Caelereth might well be under a perpetual shadow of Corbies!
Image description. A Stormcrow sitting on fence - a bad omen? Picture drawn by Quellion.
As mentioned above, the wingfeathers are sometimes made into charms. Also, the
beaks can be off-set into a wooden crank-handle in such a way as to make a very
effective hand drill. Being scavengers, their flesh is never consumed, as it
gives off a foul odour which would deter the hungriest of adventurers. Even the
mullogs, who, it is claimed, devour frogs,
snails, and other such swamp life, are said to have never tried Carrion Crow.
The Jav'veir is very important in Kuglimz death rituals, as it plays a key role in the ceremony. A live Jav'veir is taken to where a male Kuglimz has been lain out atop a mound of dried alth'ho. His fei'put ("blood rings") have been taken from the hair and beard, melted and reshaped into a crude dagger. This dagger is used to pierce the breast of the Jav'veir, and its blood is allowed to drip out over the chest of the deceased.
The dead bird is then placed respectfully between the feet of the corpse and the pyre is set alight. The Kuglimz believe that the spirit of the Jav'veir, who is always present at death, will lift them up into the sky higher and higher until they join with Sur'tyan and Lier'tyan.
Jav'vier wings, feathers, and representations are thus avoided in most tribes unless they are actually preparing for battle or going into war, at which point they are considered a sort of spiritual insurance in case of unexpected death. A feather may be braided into the hair as an amulet, or a small bone carving of the bird hung around the neck. Where one's body cannot be recovered for the full death ritual, it is believed that the amulet will serve as a connection in place of the bird's sacrifice.
Myth/Lore. Stormcrows are beloved of Grothar and can often be seen riding the winds before a coming gale, or fleeing rainclouds, thus alerting the farmers.
In some areas they are liked for their boisterous good nature and grace in the air, while in others they are disliked or even feared because of their black plumage and ill-chosen diet.
See the many counting rhymes which refer to corbies or crows. Their ambiguous nature is clearly shown in the varying references to either good fortune or ill which repeat in rhyme after rhyme throughout the continent of Sarvonia.
The primary glossy black wingfeather of a corbie is believed to ward off bad weather in the areas around Carmalad and Cavthan. In Voldar it is considered meritorious for children to pick them off with bows or slings, and hang the carcasses spread-winged on a pine, to discourage them settling in an area. However, just across the river in Milkengrad, to have any part of a Corbie's dead body exposed to the air and light is certain to summon a storm. If one kills a Stormcrow or finds it dead, the carcass must immediately be buried so as not to offend Grothar.
A famous tale related to the Corbie is the story about "The White Crow of Selimar": This legend from the Tolonian Heath area will be added on this spot later.
Information provided by Bard Judith