A Study and Story of the Common Raven- Corvus corax
by Bryce W. Robinson
While working in the desert this past week, I came upon a roost tower for some fifty or so Common Raven. As the sun rose, the ravens set out to find themselves food and mischief. I was to conduct nest checks of a few Verdin nests to verify their activity. This requires the sit and watch approach, so sit and watch I did. While watching, I noticed a large flock of ravens in the sky at a distance to the south. It was a fairly breezy morning, and as the wind rolled across the undulating dry washes of the desert, it created rip curls of wind waves. If you have never noticed a raven play, just watch the next bird you see. The highly intelligent creatures are constantly performing acrobatic aerial maneuvers. They play. The large flock of ravens I noticed were surfing a ridge with apparent prime wind waves. The birds were mainly paired up in twos, dancing and chasing one another. Occasionally a third bird was thrown into the mix. Partners were switched, and games were played as the ravens enjoyed the morning winds. I was taken aback by the sight. A gregarious gathering of an early morning social surfing event where birds undoubtedly played and strengthened family bonds. Intelligence begets incredible behavior.
After the spectacle of the morning surf, I went along my way. While a coworker Jeff and I drove the roads to other nests, we watched for migrants and special birds. We always enjoy the morning birding we are paid to do. As we came upon an active Raven nest on an existing transmission tower, Jeff noticed a bird falling to the ground. I did not see the falling raven, but we rushed to the tower to investigate. We came upon a young raven, not nearly old enough to fledge the nest. It laid on its back rowing its feet. It was obviously severely injured. We checked the bird out and found it bleeding from its mouth, with a puncture wound on its neck. I felt that the bird had most likely broken its neck or back in the fall. It could not control its movements. The sorry young creature was about to exit a life it had only just begun. A tragic and terrible affair, but natural nonetheless.
Jeff had noticed a commotion in the nest before the bird had fallen. He describes what he saw as an adult bird flapping in the nest, what he thought to be the bird attacking the nestling. When we arrived at the nest the adult bird had left as another adult bird came to chase it away. We do not know if the nestling was attacked by this bird, and was shoved from the nest. Our interpretation is not always fact. Multiple scenarios could have been the cause for the fallen bird, including a confusion and rush for food brought by the parent, resulting in an uncoordinated young bird making a mistake and finding itself one hundred feet below the nest taking its last breaths. Peculiar behavior that I only wish I had witnessed in full. Putting pieces of the puzzle together is more difficult when a few are missing. The day provided two dramatic raven observations, one incredible, one tragic.
I took some time today to illustrate the Common Raven. I love the look of blind contour drawings, and I thought the raven would work well as a subject for this exercise. I like what came of it, as both wire-like illustrations capture the bird in poses typical of raven character.
I also had some fun with a pen drawing of the bird. I love pen, and felt like a quick sketch would be a cool exercise. I want people to realize that although common, and often seen as a nuisance, there is a reason this bird is so successful and numerous. It is a highly intelligent creature, deserving respect from all. I encourage all to take some time and watch these dark birds as they make their way around our world, having fun and enjoying life.
Bryce, I enjoyed your commentary on the Common Raven very much – enough so that I read it twice. You put into words how I instinctively feel about them after watching their intelligent play so many, many times. Photographically they are one of my nemesis birds because they are so difficult to photograph well – that deep black plumage is a huge challenge.
I bet. Here’s to some good fortune next time you find an opportunity at the bird. Thanks for the kind words Ron.