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Mountain Home Magazine

Suddenly There Came a Tapping

Apr 17, 2014 05:28PM

As summer has crept away, the resident ravens have resumed their morning flyovers. They must have been busy elsewhere for a time, or maybe they took a little vacation after getting the kids fledged. Ravens have a bad rap, don’t they, in part because of the quothing raven of Edgar Allen Poe fame, and in part, especially around Halloween time, because of the belief that they’re somehow involved in nefarious activities.

Early in the spring, a pair of ravens frequented the airspace over our house. The crows were out and about, too, but ravens have a different look about them. They’re larger, their wings are longer and narrower, and they have a longer, more serious-looking bill. They are the largest passerine (perching) birds in North America. They soar more than the crows do and, instead of the familiar “caw, caw,” ravens’ interesting but not particularly melodic repertoire of sounds includes a distinctive, throaty “brawwk.” When the little ones are learning to “talk,” the noises they make are quite entertaining. Anyway, a bit of time after the two ravens were engaged in some brilliant dips and swoops and other oh-it’s-springtime-again-baby-let’s-go-nest behaviors, the number of participants in the regular flyover decreased by one. And when one cruised past with talons clasped about a luckless rodent, the hypothesis was that there were new mouths to feed. Ravens are omnivores, enjoying not only grains, carrion, and bugs, but the eggs of other birds. They sometimes engage in cooperative or “tag-team” hunting and sometimes secret away caches of food. The parents, who are believed to mate for life, both care for the young birds.

Ravens belong to the corvid family, which includes crows, jays, jackdaws, rooks, and magpies as members. In the avian world, corvids are some of the most widespread and naturally occurring. They are highly social and intelligent. Ravens have one of the largest brains of any bird, and studies have shown them to have sophisticated problem-solving abilities. They communicate with one another inter-generationally, and have a good memory for faces, particularly human faces belonging to those who have done them wrong (check out the research that’s been done with folks wearing Dick Cheney masks—it’s quite amusing). Folks in the know about ravens, crows, and the like believe the birds are self-aware.

Legend does have it that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, the fortress and the British kingdom will fall, but that’s a lot of responsibility to put on a bird, albeit a smart one.