American Crows have seemed to monopolize the Corvus niche in the park — large, intelligent, sooty birds with croaky voices. That is, until this pair of Common Ravens (Corvus corax) came along and showed them who’s boss. The raven is about half again as big as the crow, and its voice sounds like a crow with a sore throat.
Photographer Phil Rowntree caught them perched on the same man-made outlook that served a White-tailed Kite earlier.
The ravens are highly intelligent birds. The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about them:
The Common Raven is an acrobatic flier, often doing rolls and somersaults in the air. One bird was seen flying upside down for more than a half-mile. Young birds are fond of playing games with sticks, repeatedly dropping them, then diving to catch them in midair.
Breeding pairs of Common Ravens hold territories and try to exclude all other ravens throughout the year. In winter, young ravens finding a carcass will call other ravens to the prize. They apparently do this to overwhelm the local territory owners by force of numbers to gain access to the food.
Common Ravens are smart, which makes them dangerous predators. They sometimes work in pairs to raid seabird colonies, with one bird distracting an incubating adult and the other waiting to grab an egg or chick as soon as it’s uncovered. They’ve been seen waiting in trees as ewes give birth, then attacking the newborn lambs.
They also use their intellect to put together cause and effect. A study in Wyoming discovered that during hunting season, the sound of a gunshot draws ravens in to investigate a presumed carcass, whereas the birds ignore sounds that are just as loud but harmless, such as an airhorn or a car door slamming.
People the world over sense a certain kind of personality in ravens. Edgar Allan Poe clearly found them a little creepy. The captive ravens at the Tower of London are beloved and perhaps a little feared: legend has it that if they ever leave the tower, the British Empire will crumble. Native people of the Pacific Northwest regard the raven as an incurable trickster, bringing fire to people by stealing it from the sun, and stealing salmon only to drop them in rivers all over the world.
Increasing raven populations threaten some vulnerable species including desert tortoises, Marbled Murrelets, and Least Terns. Ravens can cause trouble for people too. They’ve been implicated in causing power outages by contaminating insulators on power lines, fouling satellite dishes at the Goldstone Deep Space Site, peeling radar absorbent material off buildings at the Chinal Lake Naval Weapons center, pecking holes in airplane wings, stealing golf balls, opening campers’ tents, and raiding cars left open at parks.
Common Ravens can mimic the calls of other bird species. When raised in captivity, they can even imitate human words; one Common Raven raised from birth was taught to mimic the word “nevermore.”
The oldest known wild Common Raven was at least 22 years, 7 months old. It was banded and found in Nova Scotia.
Phil also caught this shot of a raven standing its ground when a pair of crows approached. The crows thought better of it and retreated.