Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What is a Raven?

March 30, 2011
Warren County Bike Path

Welcome to "Jeopardy" !
Now for 100 dollars, here is the clue: It’s our largest songbird.
(Jeopardy theme music plays here -- doo doo doo doo, etc.)
Time's up ! If you answered “What is a Raven?”you are correct !

They are indeed, classed as songbirds, so I guess there is hope for all of us.
Around the world, they mean many things to people of different cultures.
To some they are evil, harbingers (or even hasteners) of death.
Being carrion-eaters doesn’t help their reputation. Warriors of old noticed who was first to show up on the battlefield , when the fighting was over.

To others, they are gods, or messengers from the gods. Or messengers TO the gods, like the pair Huginn and Muninn, who sat on Odin’s shoulder and informed him of the doings of mortals far below. (Click on all of the green words, to follow a link.)

Spies. Conspirators. Tattlers. One term for a group of ravens
is “an unkindness.”

They have one of the largest brains, proportionally, of any of the birds. Researchers, like my hero Bernd Heinrich, have collected stories and data which show ravens using wolves and human hunters to locate food for them. They have been observed using tools (the famous meat-on-a-string experiment) , and making toys with sticks, and playing.

Bringers of fire, according to an Abenaki story. In a similar Lenape story, from people who lived just south of the raven’s range , the hero is Rainbow Crow, who like the Raven, burned his beautiful feathers in stealing fire to bring to the People. In the Pacific Northwest cultures, Raven the Trickster steals the Sun itself, and pays a price.


                                                                               ( Haida clan crest )

Usually a nest site is chosen for remoteness, as a protection from predators, both animal and human. Many generations of ravens learned the hard way not to nest too closely to farms and houses. So most nests are found high up on rocky cliffs, far from our eyes and weapons.

In short, we humans have a complicated relationship with these creatures.

I love ravens. When they call, it feels like
they are calling to me.
Lookout ! Lookup !
Who really knows what they are saying? Researchers have identified at least 30 different vocalizations, including a fascinating “gong” noise that sounds just like someone hitting a metal flagpole.

Today I took a short walk at the bike trail nearby, to check on the Frog Puddle. A year ago, the ground was clear of snow, and in this puddle, woodfrogs were gathering. Today, that puddle is still frozen over, so there would be no “qwacking” heard today !

Instead, I heard croaking of another sort, and paused to find the source. Then a hearty Rrrrrwhaaaa! rang out, and I knew it was a raven.
That “crazy-lady scream” is unmistakable. It was coming from some tall white pines, over by an electric substation.

The trail passes close enough to this station for me to see large black birds, swooping around one of the metal pylons. Over the hum of electrical currents from the transformers, I could clearly hear the ravens calling.
Look over here !

And there they were, one raven perched on the farthest pylon, next to a pile of sticks. They seemed to be building a nest, right out there in the open, close to several busy roadways. In the middle of an electrical substation !

So at first I did not believe my eyes. What a rare treat ! And one easily observed with just a pair of binoculars, standing there just yards from the car.

It seemed an odd place. After looking about , I observed that there is plenty of pine woods, water and all the fast-food dumpsters one might wish for, close at hand. (or, wing). No irate farmers standing by with shotguns – just cars going by, the drivers intent on getting bargains at the mall.

The first raven was just hanging out, enjoying the view, perhaps. What shall we have for lunch today? Long John Silver’s, or Golden Corral?

The other raven , cawing as he flew, was coming back from a dead standing pine nearby, and was carrying a twig in his beak. They called loudly to each other. They weren’t being sneaky at all. That was a sharp contrast to crows, whom I have seen building a nest in eerie and uncharacteristic silence.

When the second raven alighted next to the other, some quiet croaking conversation passed between them. Little clucks, urps, chuckles.
A young couple setting up house. They are believed to mate for life.

I wish these two the best of luck.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful photos! Thanks, too, for the links to other references to ravens. Now, keep looking for their nest so we can watch their family life.