Common Raven — Who’s Being Watched?

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Yesterday morning I was on my way home from Agua Caliente Park on Tucson’s far east side when I noticed a raven sitting on top of a utility pole.  The raven was sitting quietly and, for once, there were no wires between me and the bird.  So, I decided to take a few photos of it.  I stopped the car and poked my camera’s lens out of the driver’s side window.  I looked up at the bird through my viewfinder and realized that the raven was staring at me with evident interest.

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The raven made no attempt to fly away.  It just sat there, very quietly, looking back at me.  In fact, as I sat there and took a few pictures it intensified its stare.  It definitely was very interested in me and what I was doing.

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It was a bit disconcerting.  Normally, I’m the one who’s doing the close observing when I encounter wildlife.  Most creatures that I encounter don’t stare back (coyotes, bobcats, and rattlesnakes being the exception).  And, birds, including ravens, generally take flight the moment they come under close observation.  What was going on with this bird?

Start with the fact that ravens are among the most intelligent of the wildlife that I encounter.  Not just the most intelligent bird — ravens are supremely intelligent.  Ravens are capable of deductive reasoning, meaning they can solve puzzles just from contemplation and observation and without trial and error.  They have superb memories.  So, this bird probably was staring at me for a reason.  What could that be?

Well, 99 times out of a hundred, when I encounter a raven out in the field there’s a second one sitting a few or a few dozen yards away.  It’s almost invariable, ravens travel in pairs.  Ravens are loyal to their mates and once mated, they become a team.  This raven,  however, was alone.  There was no other bird within eyesight.

And, there’s an explanation for that.  This is raven nesting season.  In the past week or two I’ve seen ravens sitting on nests more than once.  My guess is that this raven was acting as a sentinel and somewhere nearby, probably concealed in a high tree, its mate was sitting on a nest.  The raven was interested in me precisely because I’d stopped to look at it.  At this time the bird is almost certainly guarding its mate and any intruder is going to get the once-over as a potential threat.  When I stopped my car under that pole I almost certainly aroused the raven’s suspicions and it wasn’t about to let me cause any problems for it and its mate.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO+1.4X Extender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/3200.

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