Meet the Feathered Guardians of the United Kingdom

Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle cares for one of his special charges.

Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle cares for one of his special charges.

Permanent residents of the Tower of London include six ravens. They have been seen in and around the tower since being built in 1078. They have been officially-sanctioned since the days of Charles II (r. 1660-1685), who had been told that if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.

Henceforth, six ravens have been kept at the Tower to guard against the fall of the monarchy. Their wing feathers are clipped to keep them from flying away, but they are otherwise free to roam the grounds. During the attacks on London in World War II, all but one raven was killed. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the number to be replenished, thus, presumably, ensuring the survival of the nation.

The ravens are officially enlisted as soldiers and are given attestation cards in the same manner as those issued to members of the military and law enforcement. This allows ravens to be dismissed for failing to perform satisfactorily. Such was the case in 1986 when “Raven George” attacked and damaged a television antenna. A special decree was issued: “On Saturday 13th September 1986, Raven George, enlisted 1975, was posted to the Welsh Mountain Zoo. Conduct unsatisfactory, service therefore no longer required.”

The care of the guardian birds falls to the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, who has the responsibility of feeding the birds and watching out for their welfare. The birds are fed a variety of fruit, cheese, fresh meat and vitamin supplements. The birds can live up to 40 years under such expert care.

Interestingly enough, a group of ravens is officially classified as an “unkindness.” One cannot help but wondering if this particular unkindness of ravens feels it has been treated unkindly.


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