Matt Davis_Raven.jpg

Ravens love to play and make toys, mate for life, use gestures and have cognitive abilities on par with chimps.

We have two daily visitors to our feeding stations in Lamy. So frequent are their visits that we have named the friendly duo, Mac and Ravon. Each morning they glide in right after Karen has called them to their favorite breakfast of seed, nuts and suet. If she is a little late in setting the table, they glide overhead making a prominent “swish, swish” sound calling to her with distinctive, deep reverberating croaking or “gronk-gronk.”

I love these intelligent birds that have cognitive ability on par with chimps. They exude confidence, as they strut around and occasionally bound forward with two-footed hops.

They are common in our open habitat (uncommon in populated urban areas) and are acrobatic fliers, often doing rolls, somersaults and sometimes flying upside down. They have four-foot wingspans and are graceful in flight, interspersing soaring, gliding and easy, slow wing flaps. They play in flight, dropping objects and catching them in midair.

By now you know I am describing ravens. No, not crows who are half the size of a raven and don’t have distinctive shaggy throat feathers and large beaks.

While I love ravens, many people the world over find them to be a little creepy. Edgar Allen Poe certainly did. Tourists watch them at the Tower of London, but Brits fear if the ravens ever leave the tower, the British Empire will surely crumble. No surprise that a group of ravens is called an “unkindness,” “conspiracy” or a “treachery.”

They also do weird things with ants. They take ants in their beaks and rub them on their feathers or even sometimes sit on top of an anthill and let them crawl in their feathers. Maybe the ant’s secretion is somehow beneficial to the raven, or maybe it might just feel good.

Ravens have at least seven different calls and can mimic the calls of other bird species such as geese, jays and crows. When raised in captivity, they can even imitate human words. Perhaps “nevermore.”

Ravens love to play and have been observed using snow-covered roofs as slides and rolling down snowy hills. Ravens make toys, using sticks, golf balls, pinecones to play with each other or by themselves. Very rare among animals.

Ravens also use gestures to communicate. Ravens point with their beaks to indicate an object to another bird. We humans do the same with our fingers.

Ravon and Mac have mated for life (10 to 15 years life expectancy). They sing to each other and preen each other’s feathers. They are protective of their territory and try to exclude all other ravens throughout the year. Mac brings some sticks to the nest, but Ravon does most of the nest building. The whole process takes around 9 days. The finished, uneven product can be 5 feet across and 2 feet high. Their clutch size is three to seven eggs, green, olive or blue and often mottled with dark greenish, olive or purplish brown. They have only one brood per year. The eggs’ incubation period is around three weeks with a nestling period of around five weeks.

While many bird species are unfortunately declining, raven numbers are generally stable or rising in western North America. We are graced with their presence in New Mexico.

Ken Bunkowski and his son, Matt, are co-owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and look forward to sharing the joy that birds bring into their lives.

Popular in the Community