As the Crow Flies

Over recent weeks I have been posting articles about idioms that feature birds in some way. Here is another one:

“As the crow flies.”


The shortest distance between two points.


The idiom “as the crow flies” seems to have been in use since the early 1800s. One source I found said:

British coastal vessels customarily carried a cage of crows. Crows detest large expanses of water and head, as straight as a crow flies, towards the nearest land if released at sea – very useful if you were unsure of the nearest land when sailing in foggy waters before the days of radar. The lookout perch on sailing vessels thus became known as the crow’s nest.

Several other sources I found gave a very similar answer. In my experience crows and ravens do not fly in particularly straight lines and there are many other species that may fly more directly to a given spot. On reflection, I feel that the point this idiom is making is that a bird, any bird, is easily able to fly directly from one point to another without being hindered by obstacles like humans might be. This direct flight is therefore the shortest distance between those two points.


  • “I am three kilometres from my home, as the crow flies, but by car it is five kilometres.”
Little Raven

Little Raven


One Response to “As the Crow Flies”

  1. allan ashby says:

    It sounds like an old urban legend, possibly based on the story of Noah’s Ark. People were a lot more familiar with the Bible back then. Okay, Noah used a raven, but most people can’t tell the difference. When flying from their night roosts to their home territory, crows do indeed fly in straight lines at greater than normal altitude.
    I always thought that the crow’s nest expression came from where the ship’s lookout was stationed on the mast – a bit below the very top, just like a crow’s favorite nesting spot in a tree.
    But ‘as the crow flies’ isn’t always an accurate expression. Those canny birds always avoid a direct route back to their nest. No matter how busy they are finding food for their young, crows are extremely careful about that. You have to watch their curving flight-paths for quite a while before you can work out where their nest is.

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