Anyone who has ever spent time in the European Alps will may have spotted the large, black, crow-like birds circling around high above the mountains. The Choucas, native to the French Alps, are an unremarkable bird, keeping to themselves, disturbing no-one, and preferring to prowl around the lesser visited areas, away from the tourists. If you stay still in a quiet place you may find them creeping closer, on the hunt for scraps of food, but on the whole you will only notice them if you turn your eyes skywards.
Yet despite not making much of an aesthetic impact, legend has it that the Choucas circle around the mountains searching for those who have lost their lives, and it is agreed amongst mountain locals that the souls of the dead live on in these birds, remaining in the place they loved, and keeping watch over those who live on.
Indeed there are too many who lose their lives each year in the high mountains, from ski accidents, to a rock climb that goes wrong, to a devastating avalanche. Whether there is any truth in it or not, it is a lovely thought that every time you spot one of these unassuming birds circling ominously above the snowy peaks, you are seeing the spirit of a fallen mountaineer living on.