Uncommonly Friendly

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Yesterday while out driving around I was fortunate to get this image of a Common Raven.

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Ravens are, for me, extremely difficult to photograph.  Unless the lighting is just right their black and very glossy plumage is difficult to capture.  They are also extremely wary.  They seem to have an uncanny ability to wait until the instant before the photographer is ready to make a photo and then, to ruin the attempt by flying.

I’m a big fan of these birds.  They are among the most intelligent of non-human species.  Researchers have determined that ravens are capable of logical thinking.  They can solve problems by reasoning out a solution without resort to trial and error.  These birds also seem to have phenomenal memories for individuals and events.  Indeed, their ability to remember may surpass that of humans.

I’ve watched ravens’ behavior for a number of years and I’m puzzled by something I’ve seen.  In autumn, large flocks of ravens gather in agricultural country northwest of Tucson to forage.  This is an area of huge fields and pecan groves.  The ravens seek out freshly plowed fields in which to forage, searching for insects and rodents unearthed by the farmers’ plows.  They also like to feed on pecan nuts that fall to the ground from the trees in the groves.  Now, here’s the mystery.  Frequently, the ravens’ flocks include some Crested Caracara.  These falcon-like birds clearly associate with the ravens.  The ravens tolerate the Caracara and will forage amiably, side by side with the other species.

Here’s an image of a Caracara that I also made yesterday.  The Caracara was right in with dozens of ravens.

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Why would ravens willingly associate with a bird that is of a totally different species? This isn’t typical raven behavior.  I’ve watched ravens attack birds of other species on numerous occasions.  Ravens will, for example, make life a living hell for Red-tailed Hawks.  So, why do they tolerate the Caracara?  Indeed, they do more than tolerate these birds, they fly with them and forage with them as if they are the best of friends.  There must be something in it for the ravens, something that they benefit from, that isn’t immediately apparent.  What is it that the Caracara do for the ravens that the ravens cannot do for themselves?

I don’t know the answer.  I suspect, however, that this association is no coincidence.  Ravens are too smart for that.  Quite possibly, the ravens are associating with the Caracara because they gain something out of the relationship.  Perhaps the ravens rely on Caracara to find some sort of food that the ravens are unable to locate on their own?  I just don’t know.  Well, it’s good, I think, that life contains a few mysteries.  It makes things more interesting that way.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture preferred setting, ISO 500.  The image of the raven shot at f6.3 @ 1/2000.  The image of the Caracara shot at f6.3 @ 1/1250.

2 responses to “Uncommonly Friendly”

  1. Paule Hjertaas says :

    he must have seen the same flock

  2. tkiiatmindspringcom says :

    If you find out why these birds flock together, please let us know.

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