Cooperative Common Ravens
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Common Ravens are more difficult to photograph than most species. There are two reasons for that: first, these birds are highly intelligent and extremely wary; and second, their dark and very glossy plumage shows up poorly under most lighting. Given these difficulties, I’m always delighted when I have the rare opportunity to take some nice photos of these birds.
Recently, I encountered two ravens at separate locations who were in a cooperative mood. I can’t account for their cooperativeness but I’m certainly not complaining.
Common Ravens are the largest members of the family of birds that includes crows and jays. They are huge in comparison to the other members of that family. One of these birds, weighing about 2 1/2 pounds, is more than double the weight of an American Crow. The most striking feature about ravens is their immense beaks. A raven’s beak easily exceeds two inches in length. It is a formidable tool and also a weapon. The beak serves its owner as a dagger, a pair of pliers, a forceps, and a crowbar.
Ravens’ other notable physical attribute is their glossy dark plumage. In most light it shows up as black but in some light there is a purplish sheen to it. Ravens’ feathers are extremely stiff. Those very stiff feathers enhance their ability to fly. In flight, ravens are quite noisy. One can often hear the whooshing sound that the air makes as it passes through those stiff feathers. Ravens are absolutely superb fliers, capable of soaring with almost any species and of jaw dropping aerial maneuvers. They can dive, loop, and fly upside down without difficulty.
Ravens have long legs that make them agile while on the ground. They can easily walk but they often hop, bounding from one location to the next. Ravens are among the most versatile of avian species. They are jacks of all trades and masters of most of them. They eat almost anything organic, ranging from fruits and other plant matter to road kill and anything that they can capture. Ravens raid other species’ nests and they are capable of seizing live prey ranging from lizards and small snakes to rodents.
Their intelligence is legendary. Most species can learn by trial and error and some are much better at it than others. Ravens certainly can solve problems through trial and error but their intellectual skills go way beyond that. Unlike almost any other species save humans and a few other primates, ravens are capable of inductive reasoning. That is to say, a raven can solve a problem by studying a situation, thinking about it, and using its powers of reasoning to devise a solution.
I’ve occasionally come across ravens who make a specialty out of loitering at rest areas on highways or at scenic overlooks in national parks. They often act clownishly, putting on displays that clearly are intended to attract humans’ attention and to induce people into throwing food scraps to them. These birds have studied humans and have determined exactly what behavior elicits the most favorable response.
Ravens use an extraordinary array of vocalizations to communicate. As I photographed the bird shown above, it uttered a soft chuckling call, a sound that it made over and over. There was a small flock of ravens just a few yards from this raven, and I have no doubt that it was telling them something about me.
At times these birds are social. In winter, they may form flocks of dozens of their species. Sometimes, they allow “guests,” such as Crested Caracaras, to join their flocks. I’m certain that they have a reason for this tolerance. Perhaps the Caracaras have superior senses for locating food such as road kill. At other times, ravens show up in pairs. These birds mate for life and raven pairs are inseparable. If you see a Common Raven in the wild, its mate is almost certainly nearby.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f10. The first and fourth images shot at 1/400, the second, third and fifth images shot at 1/1000.