In the north – and near north – one of the most common urban birds is the raven. Unlike metropolitan areas in the south where crows, starlings, sparrows and gulls are the common scavenging birds, in northern cities and towns, the bird most likely to be found hanging around fast food restaurants and malls is the raven; often big flocks of them.
Ravens, like all Corvids, are smart birds. They can figure things out and have learned to live in and among humans.
People have long recognized that ravens are not the typical bird brain like many of our feathered friends. The ancient Greeks viewed ravens in a positive light – in one tale, the Greek God Apollo took the form of a raven in a battle against the Titans for jurisdiction over the world. Europeans, though, often associated the raven with “war, death and departed spirits”. In North America, many if not most Aboriginal tribes had a special place in their culture for the raven. There’s even a charitable organization called “R.A.V.E.N.”, which stands for Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs. One of its missions is to provide “financial resources to assist Aboriginal Nations within Canada in lawfully forcing industrial development to be reconciled with their traditional ways of life”.
On the west coast, the raven is a totem. Amongst the Haida, the raven is known as ‘the Trickster’, and it’s a moniker many today who watch the antics of ravens can easily relate to.
As one might expect from a creature referred to as a ‘Trickster’, ravens are mischievous and, as I mentioned, very smart. Here in Kenora, they know that plastic bags are full of garbage, and actively search for them at the roadside during garbage pick-up days. Any plastic bag left in the back of a pick-up truck will quickly be shredded by ravens scrounging for a meal. Ravens learned to recognize Lillian’s truck, which often had road-kill and other carcasses in it to feed other birds and animals she was looking after (she’s a wildlife rehabber), and would follow her around town. Within minutes of stopping and leaving the truck, they’d be in the back, looking for a meal.
They also recognize hunters, and I often see them following me around when I’m deer or moose hunting. A study in Wisconsin proved they learned to recognize a rifle shot likely meant a deer gut pile, and would show up shortly after shots were fired.
I wrote a column for Ontario Out of Doors magazine once titled ‘The Raven Called’, recounting an experience when I was moose hunting on how a small flock of three ravens pointed out to me where a moose was browsing. Believe me, that’s exactly what happened; there is absolutely no doubt in my mind.
They certainly are interesting to watch and listen to. They make all sorts of weird noises, whether they are flying around, feeding, walking about or simply perched. They are known to mimic sounds they hear in their surroundings, so they don’t make the same calls everywhere.
Ravens live a long time; many survive into their teens and some are known to have survived more than 20 years. They start breeding when they are from 2-4 years old, often start nesting when snow is still on the ground and usually lay from 3-7 eggs. Both parents participate in raising young.
In Ontario, ravens, unlike crows and most other black birds, cannot be hunted and are protected by law.