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Bird of the Week: Raven

I wake up early in the morning to the sounds of croaking and knocking calls of a pair of ravens sitting on the railing of our deck.  These ravens has become our alarm clock. My partner jumps out of bed, grabs some food for them,  runs out and places it on the railing a few feet from the raven. I think these birds have bonded with my partner. Not something I really approve of— for me wild birds should be wild and shouldn’t trust humans.

Though I must say, there is no human on earth that loves birds or any four legged animal for that matter more than my partner. I have seen him stop the car on a road numerous time to retrieve a salamander or even a snake from the busy road and safely put it in the grass or rocks where no automobile can squash it. We all applaud him for this act of bravery… he is our hero in this respect.

But letting a wild animal bond with you is not a good idea. People are just not dependable when it comes to wildlife. We go on vacations and then what does the poor bird do? My partner says feeding the raven is no different than feeding the other birds at the bird feeder. They too look forward to my morning ritual of filling the feeder with birdseed. I disagree. I have no single bird or pair sitting at my bedroom window calling me to feed them. I fill my feeder in the morning and than let the birds fend for themselves the rest of the day. It is useless for me to keep on squabbling about this, my partner has his blinders on, not budging with this issue. I am reminded by it now by the small ink drawing I did of this proud bird. I posted it above to share will you.

The Common Raven, Corvus corax, is part of the corvid family along with crows, magpies and jays. Common Ravens are omnivorous, highly opportunistic and extremely intelligent birds. Actually they are among the smartest of all birds which makes them dangerous predators. Considered scavengers, they usually work in pairs, with one bird distracting a nesting bird while the other waits to grab an egg or chick as soon as it’s uncovered.  They not only develop relationships with people but also with other animals. They have been detected calling wolves to the site of dead animals. The wolves can tear open the carcass to eat but there is always scraps left over, more accessible now to the birds.

Ravens are the stuff legends are made of. The Native people of the Pacific Northwest consider ravens intelligent and mysterious but utter scoundrels that brought fire to people by stealing it from the sun. When the world lived in darkness, the ravens, who always existed, were fed up with bumping into things all the time and heard singing in the sky. The song was about a series of boxes housed inside boxes in even more boxes and hidden deep inside was light. The raven used all his wits and with cunning persistence was able to steal the light from the sun and brighten the world.  Native people also believe that these bird would steal salmon only to drop them in rivers to breed throughout the world. 

In Norse mythology there is a story of a pair of ravens that were named Hugin and Muninn, which means thought and memory in Old Norse language .  They flew all over the world to gather information for the pagan god, Odin, who is related to healing, royalty, knowledge, battle, death, sorcery and even poetry. 

Another famous legend in England said their were many ravens living in the Tower of London. They were symbols of prophecy and it was believed that they could predict the outcome of battles and if they ever left, the entire British Empire would fall. The Tower was once home to the King’s Observatory. It was said that an astronomer, John Flamsteed, complained about the ravens in the Tower. He was unable to see anything in the sky because the ravens were blocking his telescope.  King Charles would not challenge the fate of the myth so he moved the Observatory to Greenwich. The ravens remained in the tower.

In the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions the raven was the first animal to be released from Noah’s Ark. “So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth.”

In general, cultural depiction of the raven in Western tradition is that of a bad omen. The negative symbolism comes from the association of the color black  to death and the bird eating carrion. The Germans say the bird carries the souls of the damned.  In Sweden, ravens are seen as the ghosts of murdered people. But on a more positive note, the raven is the national bird of Bhutan, and the kings of Bhutan would wear a raven crown. It’s also the official bird of the Yukon territory in Canada. 

“Play” is a sign of intelligence. So it’s not surprising to learn that young ravens are among the most playful birds. For pure fun they have been seen to slide down snowbanks and it’s not uncommon to see them make their own toys by breaking twigs just to play and tease other young ravens. They will also tumble on air currents and  have outwitted scientists by completing puzzles, such as putting the correct shape in the correct hole in games. They mimic trainers and try to outsmart them. A very crafty bird in deed.

So when you see a raven flying, hear his call, be certain, he is as aware of you, as you are of this bird…

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

” ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;

Only this, and nothing more.” 

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)