Most etymologists agree that this small lookout near the top of a ship's mast was inspired by the crow's haven atop a tree. Word expert Robert Hendrickson, however, thinks there is more to it than a nesting resemblance. He says the naval reference originated with ravens carried in cages aboard Norse vessels.
"The cages were hoisted aloft when land was near and the birds released," he reports. The ship then followed these black-winged compasses to shore. He does not explain, however, why the ship's lookout was not named for the raven. Then again, we often mistake crows for ravens - and vice versa.
SOURCES: 'The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins' by Robert Hendrickson; 'The
Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology,' by Robert Barnhart.