Raving About Ravens
"...what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'"
Edgar Allen Poe
Sometimes only the occasional forager is in the skies.
Caw, Caw, Caw or rather the more guttural Croak Croak Croak that Poe describes. Corvids, that is. Forget the sweet songbird or the majestic raptors. It is time to appreciate the deep throated commoner, those so ubiquitous we take them for granted. The Corvid family fits the bill. Ravens and American Crows, and a few of their cousins. Though the two species carry a grudge against each other year round, more commonly, the crow gangs up and mobs the Raven. The Raven, typically, a passerine of the forest are seen, increasingly now, in the foothills and parkland regions, especially around areas where urban litter can provide a treat.
Through the years of human coexistence with Ravens, humanity has been both fascinated and suspicious of these highly intelligent creatures. In Poe’s words “I marvelled this ungainly fowl” and “his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming”. From Biblical times to the Tower of London, Ravens have been the subject of indigenous mythology, Middle Age legends, gypsy folklore and modern prose. Poe accepts the mysterious visitor is a thing of God but can’t discern whether the Raven is a prophet or the devil.
Bright, opportunistic, omnivorous (that means they eat a lot of different stuff) we are disgusted at their ability to forage in our garbage and amazed at their superior intelligence and extraordinary skills, memory, tool-making and recently, even reading (icons). They seem to know the effective range of guns, the difference between an armed and unarmed person, and that they’re safe and approachable in areas such as human communities, where guns can’t be. This takes the condescending label “birdbrain” to a whole new level. It was reported earlier this year that the US military considered using crows to track down Osama bin Laden. Now that would have elevated the status of Corvids out of the dump! So, the next time you see a Corvid, take a minute to admire their uncanny ability to cope in the natural world. Mind the litter now.
For more on birds and birding, see also: