Learning More About Ravens

July 1, 2002

To learn more about ravens, you might first dive into a field guide—Audubon, Golden, Peterson, Sibley, among others. In addition to a clear, concise description of your bird in question, most field guides will point to distinguishing features (in the raven’s case, its large size, Roman-nosed beak, diamond-shaped tail, and gliding in flight, etc); range and habitat (ravens live in boreal and mountain forests, desert, tundra, coastal cliffs); and calls (ravens have an unusually varied repertoire, including crukks, brrronks, and toks).

The Corvid Connection, an unusual wildlife non-profit organization in Contra Costa County, has obtained federal and state permits to keep permanently injured live crows and ravens for educational programs for all ages and for research. Merlin, a male raven, and two extremely intelligent crows—Miwok and Gadget—are the current residents. To contact the Corvid Connection, email corvidconnection@aol.com.

Bernd Heinrich has done many interesting studies with ravens, and his books have been recommended as classics:

Mind of the Raven, 1999, Harper Collins, New York, 380 pp.

Ravens in Winter, 1989, Simon and Schuster, New York. 601pp.

Another good book on crows and ravens is The American Crow and the Common Raven, 1991, ( the W.L. Moody Jr Natural History Series, No 10) by Lawrence Kilham, and is also available in paperback.

Seeking web ravens? Check out these sites on your scavenger hunt:

More than 2,500 illustrations by noted ornithological artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes can be seen at this Cornell University website. Search for raven, and you can see twelve beautiful studies and sketches.

William Boarman has posted a piece about ravens in the southwestern United States. Boarman reviews the data on increasing raven populations and discusses the trouble this may spell for other species (i.e. desert tortoises in the Mojave, as well as San Clemente Island loggerhead shrikes, California least terns found along the coast) and chuckwallas, an iguana found in southwestern deserts.)

The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, founded in 1981 to advance bird conservation in the San Francisco Bay region, has produced a graph (see below) displaying the results of four Christmas Bird Count circles, organized by local Audubon chapters from 1960 through 1997. The numbers back up theanecdotal reports of local birders that raven populations in the Bay Area have been increasing in recent decades. The graph above displays the records of the counts in Oakland, Palao Alto, San Jose, and at Crystal Springs Reservoir on the Peninsula.

What makes the ravens in California and neighboring states so special? According to evolutionary biologist Kevin Omland, it’s their genes. Mitochondrial DNA of ravens from California and nearby states varies by about 5% from other ravens throughout the world, implying that they haven’t interbred for more than 2 million years. And we thought they all looked the same!

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has an excellent online guide to the natural history of ravens and crows, and describes the nest life of ravens studied in Pennsylvania.

Peek into the nests of your favorite birds and who knows what you might see: perhaps a dad tenderly vomiting some food for a bald pink baby. Vickie Dziadosz has constructed a truly remarkable website at the University of Pittsburgh. You can link to web cams focused on the nests of 48 different kinds of birds around the world. From blue penguins in New Zealand to resplendent quetzals in Costa Rica, you can view a live video feed or watch as photographs update regularly (usually every minute or so).

Race cars may have NASCAR, but ravens have ASCAR (American Society of Crows and Ravens). ASCAR describes itself as an “international disorganization” of people who share an interest in ravens and crows (as well as a wacky sense of humor). At www.ascaronline.org, you can click on the Online Bibliography link to find lists of books about ravens and their relatives—smart bird brains, ravens in folklore and mythology, raven poetry, even kids’ books about ravens. You’ll also find coffee mugs with a murder of crows, or raven t-shirts for your favorite raven-lover.

What will a raven do when offered donuts? When researcher Bernd Heinrich used this dilemma to test the bird’s intelligence, the raven poked its head through the hole in one, and grabbed the second donut in its beak, eNature.com reports. To learn more fun facts, go to eNature.com, search for raven, and follow the links to “Black Beauty.” There, you can listen to a raven quorking, tocking, and mumbling, or even send an web raven e-card to a friend.

See Raven featured in a Tlingit story about the beginning of the world. This is part of a vast, award-winning site on world civilizations constructed by Washington State University. Of particular note is an extensive collection of links to current research, especially for non-western cultures.

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