Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Real Raven Talk

In following the suit of my Blog name, Raven Talk I have decided to share a bit more about my favorite bird and the subject of many legends and myths. Particularly here in Alaska, Ravens are revered for many reasons, not only his she a trickster yet also a creator. Ravens are the largest member of the songbird family (if you can even call their kwonk a song) or the Passerine family. Belong to the order of birds known as Corvids which includes Jays, Magpies, Crows, Rooks, Treepies and such. From my perspective they indeed are the smartest of birds and true survivors. In the middle of a cold stark winter once in Montana when literally no sign of life was to be seen anywhere, there perched atop a barren tree was my friend.

Ravens are found in every type of environment, from the coldest and most barren arctic to stark deserts of the southwestern US. Ravens in Alaska are particulary endearing to me and larger than most of their southern brothers and sisters.

Up here they can exceed 24 inches in length from head to tail, sometimes reaching 27 inches. Unlike their smaller cousins the Crows, Ravens do not live in family groups, since Raven's mate for life they are more often seen with their life mate and sometimes will forage on their own. They quietly nest away from all the other noise and chatter in the mountains and finding a Raven nest is not an easy task. Crows however live in larger family groups and roost together. When young their eyes are blue and begin to darken after several months. Last summer I was fortunate to witness a mother raven training her youngsters while living in Seward Alaska.

After she noticed I was observing them, she and one of the kids took off, one of the youngsters stayed around and I watched her goofing off without mom watching. At this age which I guess might of been 3 months, they were already roughly the same size as the adult. Anyway, it was a blast watching them and they are quite enjoyable to observe with their various antics and clever abilities. Ravens have around 40 different type of vocalizations, from their standard deep throaty kwonk to little whistles and sounds coming from their throats as if they have bells in them. How they do that is a wonder. My fascination with Raven's began around 15 years ago. While volunteering for a wildlife Rehabilitation center in San Rafael California on my fisrt day I had asked the intern supervisor what to do. She responded by saying well you can feed Edgar and Lenore, the two resident Ravens who lived there. She also followed up by saying make sure you wear a hat as Edgar was particularly fond of peoples heads.

So I followed her suggestion and put on a hat, well so much for hats, as Edgar decided he much prefer to follow my feet and kept pecking at my feet. Lenore however pretty much just stayed on her high perch and watched curiously from above. I fell in love with them, and from then on I was hooked. Once while hanging out at Ocean beach in San Francisco a raven started following me, funny because I had no food on me. The raven was talking to me as well, so I began to study their myths and legends. Here in Alaska Raven's are depicted in many a tale, and for the most part Raven is actively a trickster, yet in most of the Southesastern Alaskan tales of both the Haida and Tlingit people they are also seen as a Creator. In the stories Raven creates other animals as well as stealing the moon and sun. One story which is of

Here is a Story taken from the Book by John Smelcher, The Raven and the totem. The majority of the stories are from the Southeastern legends, however this one is of Inuit Origin from the Arctic

Alot of the stories tell of how Raven was once white and through different scenarios ending becomming the black bird she is today. This story enchanted me because I could imagine this actually happening with Raven's silly antics.

Once Raven was very white like the snow on the tundra and so was Owl. One day, while sitting on a rock looking for rabbits, Raven flew down and landed beside the white owl.
They had known each other for a very long time and were always challenging one another to see which was the strongest. Raven sat down on the rock next to his old friend.
“Let's wrestle, said Raven.
“I do not want to fight with you today, “” answered Owl.
“But Raven still would not listen and started to wrestle with the unwilling owl.
They rolled around the ground and when owl saw a mud puddle he pushed raven into it. The black mud covered his entire body. No white remained at all! Raven was very mad because he was so muddy and owl pushed him in
“Friend Owl,” said the mischievous bird, “give me a hand so that I can get of this mud hole.”
But the white owl was wise to Raven's tricks and deceits.
“No.” he said. “You are the one who started the fight. I said that I didn't want to wrestle today.”
Raven thought for a minute and then said,
“friend, if you help me out I will give you half of my possessions.”
So Owl reached down and pulled Raven out of the thick, black mud. Raven was still covered from head to foot and he was no longer white like the snow.
As soon as he was out, the black bird shook his feathers and mud flew all over the place e. Some of it splattered on Ow;'s white feathers, leaving him spotted with small black specks.
To this day raven's are entirely back and Owls are spotted.

the above story is from the book the Raven and the Owl, an inuit Tale in Alaska.

Six years ago I spent a little over a year working as an Avian Keeper for Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka Alaska. Our mission was to rehabilitate injured Raptors and release them back into the wild. When I started I was elated to find out that they did have a resident Raven. The center did not discriminate and took all types of birds that were injured, even very small songbirds. Anyway, I ended up being the primary keeper for Gilly, our resident Raven. She had been admitted to the center as a young fledgling after suffering from a gunshot wound, which permanently severed her left wing from the humerous down. Despite her disability she was amazing, and because of their high intelligence and not being with her life mate they can display boredom behaviors resulting in feather plucking and other self destructive behaviors. I spent a couple of hours a day doing enrichment work with her to help keep her stimulated. Some of this involved food games, throwing food in the air for her to catch, hiding food in various toy's and other hideouts in the enclosure. She never seized to amaze me with her antics. Once I got her sharing her cached food with a wild boyfriend. Apparently a Raven that had been at the center that they paired her with had escaped after a volunteer did not shut the enclosure properly. He was named Romeo and paid Gilly regular visits. It was pretty amazing watching her pass some old piece of what appeared to be Salmon through the enclosure, and I was pretty taken with the fact she was sharing her abundance with him. The other delightful thing was I use to give her treats of meal worms in which I wrapped in empty toilet paper rolls inside paper towels. She had a ball taring up the paper towel and devouring the meal worms practically in one swallow. On one occasion I wrapped a mouse separately and placed in the opposite end. I could see the gleam in her eyes and excitement at her treat. She very carefully unwrapped the mouse, then to my amazement she jumped off her perch and walked it over to her water pan then proceeded to wash it off before eating it. I couldn't believe it that she washed her food, what a clever and meticulous gal. Anyway, I adored her and loved listening to her various throat vocals and calls. Ravens have a variety of calls over 40, from what sounds like beels goes offing to loud gurgles, they are very charming for sure. My respect and admiration for this clever and wise bird goes beyond the norm. I hope this little story charms you and brightens your day with the humor and opportunistic persistence of this extremely smart bird.


100 Tall Trees said...

Love your posting. I once saw a seagull flying and playing in the waves of the ocean as they rolled onto the beach on Orcas Island. Then the gull shape-shifted into a raven and flew off into the woods. I know no one will believe me, but this is my truth.

Merri said...

Ravens are THE BEST!
My favorite Raven stories are how Raven stole the sun, and how Raven let the people out of their clam shell.
- The Equestrian Vagabond

salvationship said...

In Juneau, my uncle and I were watching two ravens take dog food out of the dog dish and I wondered out loud if, when there was only a few pieces left they would bother coming back, and if they both did, would one stand there looking dumb as the other took the last of it. My uncle said, "whatever they do, you are underestimating them." As the moment arrived both ravens glided in and I mocked them. The first one landed, took the last of the food, the second one flew in, dropped a chicken breast bone with meat into the dish and both flew away. The dog got up and ate the chicken. Never underestimate a bird that knows math, value and equity.