Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 247
D. L. Ashliman
Of all the birds the crow is considered the ugliest, especially its young fledglings. The legend tells that sometime after God had created all the living beings, he called everyone to see them and their offspring. He wanted to see how the young birds and animals looked, and then to give them suitable gifts, and food for their little ones.
They came one by one, and God looked at them, patted some and stroked others, and was very pleased with every one of them, for each one had something of beauty in it. And so he blessed them and gave them food by which to live. The last to come was the crow, bringing her little brood with her, very proud of them.
When God cast his eyes upon the young crows, he spat in astonishment, and said, "Surely these are not my creatures. I could not have made such ugly things. Every one of my creatures has such beautiful young ones that they are a pleasure to look at, but yours are so ugly that it makes one sick to look at them. Where did you get this one?"
"Where should I get them from?" replied the crow. "It is my very own young child," she added with pride.
"You had better go back and bring me another one. This is much too ugly. I cannot look at it."
Annoyed at the words of God, the crow went away and flew all over the earth to search for another young one that would be more beautiful than the one she had brought to God. But no other young bird appeared so beautiful in her eyes as her own. So she returned back to God and said, "I have been all over the world, and I have searched high and low, but young birds more beautiful and more dainty than mine I have not been able to find."
Then God smilingly replied, "Quite right. Just so are all mothers. No other child is so beautiful in their eyes as their own."
Then he blessed the little crows and sent them away into the world with his gifts.
The crow was in very great distress, for however she tried and whatever she did, she could not rear a family. No sooner were the young hatched, than the hawk would come and pick them up. In vain did she try to hide her nest in the hollows of a tree or in the thickets of a bush. As sure as death would the hawk find them and eat them.
Not knowing what to do, she bethought herself and said, "How would it do if I try and get the hawk to be godmother? For then, being a near relation, she is sure to spare my little ones."
Said and done. She went out of her place to search for the hawk, and finding her, she said, "Good morning, sister."
"Good morning," replied the hawk.
"How pleased I should feel," said the crow, "if you would become godmother to my children."
"With pleasure," replied the hawk. "Why not?" And so they made up a covenant of friendship and of good fellowship between them.
Before leaving the hawk, the crow said to her, "Now, sister, I have one request to make."
"Granted," replied the hawk. "What is it?"
"I only beg of you to spare my children. Do not eat them when you have found them."
"All right," replied the hawk. "I shall certainly not touch them. But tell me how they look, so that in case I meet them, I may spare them."
"Oh," replied the crow, "mine are the most beautiful creatures in the world. They are more lovely than any other bird can boast of."
"Very well. Rest assured. Go in peace." And they parted.
The crow, being quite satisfied with the hawk's promise, began flying about the next day trying to find something with which to feed her children. The hawk the next morning went about her own business and tried to find some nice little young ones to eat. Flying about, she saw the young ones of the thrush, the blackbird, and of other beautiful birds, and she said to herself, "Surely these are the children of the crow. Look how lovely and beautiful they are. I am not going to touch them."
She went all day without finding any little birds but these. And she said to herself, "I must keep my word to my sister. I am not going to touch them." And she went to bed hungry. The next day the same thing happened, and still the hawk kept her word and would not touch them.
On the third day she was so hungry that she could scarcely see out of her eyes. Roaming about, the hawk suddenly lighted upon the nest of the crow. Seeing the little, miserable, ugly things in the nest, the hawk at first would not touch them, although she never dreamt that these ugly things were the children of the crow, so much praised by her for their beauty, and thought they must belong to some hideous bird. But what is one to do when one is hungry? One eats what one gets, and not finding anything better, she sat down and gobbled them up one by one, and then flew away.
Not long after the hawk had left, the crow came in, feeling sure this time to find her little ones unhurt. But how great was her dismay when she found the nest empty! First she thought the little birds had tried their wings and were flying about in the neighborhood, and she went in search of them. Not finding them, she began to be a little more anxious, and hunting a little more closely, found on the ground near some rushes some tufts of feathers with little bones and blood. She knew at once that the hawk had again been there, feeding on her children.
Full of wrath and fury, she went to find the hawk. Meeting her, she said, "A nice sister and godmother you are! After you had promised most faithfully not to touch my children, no sooner had I turned my back on them, then you come again and eat them."
"I do not understand what you are saying," replied the hawk. "It is your own fault. You told me your children were the most beautiful in the world, and those which I have eaten were monsters of hideousness. If I had not felt the pinch of hunger so strong, I would not have touched them, not for anything, such ugly things they were! They nearly made me sick."
"Is that the way you keep your promise?" replied the angry crow. "After having eaten them, you even have the impudence to tell lies and insult me. Off with you! And woe betide you if I ever catch you, I will teach you to behave properly."
From that day on, the hawk, if it gets near the crows, attacks them. And from that day on there is implacable hatred between the crows and the hawks.
The eagle and the owl entered into a treaty with one another, each taking a solemn oath that neither would ever harm the chicks of the other. "But do you know what my chicks look like?" asked the mother owl, fearing that the eagle might attack them by mistake.
"No," said the eagle. "Describe them, so that I will know to spare them."
"They cannot be mistaken for any other bird," returned the proud mother owl. "They are small and ever so beautiful, by far the prettiest of any baby bird."
One evening, while scouting for food, the eagle came upon a nest filled with screeching baby birds. "Surely these do not belong to my friend, the owl," said the eagle. "No, for hers are things of great beauty, but these are hideous, ugly creatures." And he swept down and devoured them every one.
Returning to her nest, the mother owl found only the feet of her offspring. "How can the eagle have violated our bond?" she asked herself in grief. Did he not hear me describe my little ones as the most beautiful chicks of all?
Moral: Every mother thinks that her own children are the prettiest of all.
A marksman went out once into the woods to shoot, and he met a snipe.
"Dear friend," said the snipe, "don't shoot my children?"
"How shall I know your children?" asked the marksman. "What are they like?"
"Oh!" said the snipe, "mine are the most beautiful children in all the woods."
"Very well," said the sportsman, "I'll not shoot them. Don't be afraid." But for all that, when he came back, he had a whole string of young snipes in his hand which he had shot.
"Oh! oh!" said the snipe. "Why did you shoot my children after all?"
"What, these your children!" said the sportsman. Why, I shot the ugliest I could find, that I did!"
"Woe is me!" said the snipe. "Don't you know that everyone thinks his own children are best?"
"It is all very well," said the monkey, "to laugh at my offspring, but you go into any gallery of antique sculpture and look at the statues and busts of the fellows that you begot yourself."
"Sh! don't expose me," said Jupiter, and awarded her the first prize.
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Revised July 8, 2009.