One of Tower of London’s ravens, the conspiracy of birds whose fate is said to be intertwined with Britain’s, is missing and feared dead, the Royal Palace said on Thursday.
“We have some really unfortunate news to share,” Tower announced on its website, referring to the missing corvid as “Queen of the Ravens of the Tower.” “Our much-loved raven Merlina has not been seen in the tower for several weeks, and her continued absence indicates to us that she is sadly dead.”
Ravens are native to the area and can grow more than two feet long with a wingspan of up to 51 inches. According to folklore, if there are fewer than six ravens left to protect the tower, both the kingdom and the country will collapse.
But Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster Chris Skaife, who watches over the birds, assured worried Britons, already affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the Brexit divorce, that the nation was safe – for now.
“Of course, my concern as raven master is to look after the kingdom,” he told BBC Radio.
“But we have seven ravens here at the Tower of London, six by royal decree, and of course I still have an extra, so that’s OK at the moment.”
The decree, supposedly issued in the 17th century, said that there should be six on the site at a time. The tower’s website notes that the ravensmaster trims the large black birds’ flight feathers “to encourage them to stay in the tower.”
Skaife told AFP in an interview last October that he usually keeps two as “spare parts”, “just in case”, and that Merlina was his favorite.
Merlina, described by the tower as “the undisputed ruler of the roost”, was last seen at the historic palace on the Thames several weeks ago.
“Just before Christmas, before we locked up, we put the ravens to bed and she did not come back,” Skaife said.
He described Merlina as an “outdoor raven that has been known to leave the tower districts on many occasions.”
However, he added, “she usually comes back to us, but this time she did not, so I fear she is no longer with us.”
Merlina became an internet favorite from Skaife’s frequent posts and videos of her on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, which have more than 120,000 followers.
The seven remaining ravens in captivity in the tower are Poppy, Erin, Jubilee, Rocky, Harris, Gripp and George. The tower’s website notes that ravens are intelligent birds with different personalities that can mimic sounds, play games and solve problems.
Skaife, a former staff sergeant and drummer in the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, faced an unprecedented challenge that entertained the tower’s famous bird dwellers during coronavirus lockdowns last year.
The birds suddenly found themselves without anyone to play with – or steal food from. He raised fears that the birds would fly away to try to find food elsewhere.