Photo of a raven in mid-call with beak wide open and a good view of inside the raven's mouth and throat.

Sometimes it seems like cheating for a self-described “urban nature enthusiast” to follow the urge to get out of the city — to leave the daily crow-banter behind for a few hours and talk to the ravens.

But, every so often, a bit of raven chat is just what’s needed, so off we go.

Quite often, hours of hiking yield zero in the way of raven communication — only the whoosh of wing-displaced air as they sail indifferently by.

Photo of a raven flying in the distance against snow-covered trees

Of late, I’ve been trying my hand (or epiglottis) at raven calling.

My dream: those aloof fly-by ravens will be so intrigued by my eloquent commentary, my fluent greetings, my show-stopping non sequiturs, they’ll do a mid-air U-turn to get to know this fascinating earth-bound conversationalist.

Results, predictably, have been mixed.

But yesterday, on our hike up on Black Mountain, I heard a raven fly over, performed my “come-hither” squawk and, a few minutes later, two ravens landed near us.

Photo of two ravens standing on a mountain rock. One raven is calling with beak open.

Buoyed by my possible success, I attempted a more close-up conversation.

Below are some of the looks I got in response to my conversational gambits.

Curious, bemused …

Close-up photograph of a raven with a bemused expression, staring at the photographer who is trying to make raven sounds.

A mix of horror and astonishment …

Very close up photograph of a raven with a bemused expression, staring at the photographer who is trying to make raven sounds.

Concern. Is the poor thing hurt?

Close up of a raven's face, showing a certain degree of concern.

Another observable reaction to my vocalizations was claw biting. I’m unclear as to whether this was a form of anxious nail-biting (what is she trying to do to us?) or just boredom (when will she stop?) … or none of the above.

Photograph of a raven inspecting one of his own claws

There were some responses from the ravens but there clearly remains a vast gulf of incomprehension between us.  Much more practice is needed.

Photograph of a raven, facing the camera and in mid-call with beak open and wings out.

More hiking. More squawking.

You may wonder what my walking companions get up to while I’m trying out my raven phraseology.

Geordie puts himself into a state of doggy self-hypnosis until this boring phase is over and we can get going again.

Photo of Geordie the black and white dog standing with eyes closed in the winter sunshine.

Phillip, fittingly, takes the time to keep up with his Duolingo Spanish commitments on his phone.  Where, I ask, is the Duolingo Raven module?

Which leads me to wonder: is anyone out there studying what different raven calls mean?

I know that a group in the UK were studying this topic a few years ago as they asked me to submit some of my videos to help with their research, but I’ve never been able to find out what their conclusions were. I’ve been corresponding with a bird rescue volunteer on Vancouver Island who’s trying to compile a guide for volunteers on raven calls but can’t find any comprehensive information either.

Does anyone know if there is, anywhere, a study on the types of raven calls and what they might mean?

Duolingo, are you listening?

Photo of a raven standing on a rock with North Shore mountains in the background. The raven has fluffy and very shiny feathers.

For more posts on the wonder of raven calls:




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17 thoughts on “Ravenspeak

  1. This is me as well! The local ravens will sometimes circle back, but they always give me a look as if to say “what the heck are you trying to say?!”

  2. Great Photos! I love Corvids myself and thought I would offer you my list of CORVID Sounds research; it’s just a quick list with a summary or quick description. Let me know if it helps! (copy & paste links; otherwise I will list & schedule on my own blog for tomorrow: WestCoastAcadian.ca)

    Apr. 16, 2020 – The definitive guide for distinguishing American crows & common ravens. https://corvidresearch.blog/tag/raven-calls/

    The definitive guide for distinguishing American crows & common ravens:
    For two birds that are surprisingly far apart on the family tree, American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and common ravens (Corvus corax) can be awfully hard to distinguish, especially if you rarely see both together. But with the right tools and a little practice you can most certainly develop the skill. Fortunately, there are many different types of clues you can use to tell one from the other, so feel free to use the links to skip around to what interests you.

    Feb. 9, 2023 – Making sense of raven talk by Ned Rozell. https://www.uaf.edu/news/making-sense-of-raven-talk.php

    Be careful what you say, ravens. Doug Wacker is listening to you. Wacker studies animal behavior at the University of Washington Bothell. Since August 2022, he has been in Fairbanks, following ravens. When he hears them vocalizing, Wacker points at the big, black birds with a microphone attached to a plastic dish that resembles a giant contact lens.

    Nov. 1, 2001 – Common Raven Sounds. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/sounds#

    This is the Common Raven page for the All About Birds Guide by the Cornell Lab. They have a sounds page for multiple species.

    Boeckle M, Szipl G, Bugnyar T. Who wants food? Individual characteristics in raven yells. Anim Behav. 2012 Nov;84(5):1123-1130. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.08.011. PMID: 23162139; PMCID: PMC3482666. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482666/

    Discriminating between different individuals is considered as prerequisite for any forms of social knowledge. In birds, discriminating between conspecifics based on individual characteristics has been tested mainly in the auditory domain with territorial calls and songs for neighbour and kin discrimination but little is known about discriminating between signallers in food calls. Ravens utilize a large set of calls and show individually distinctive call repertoires. Moreover, they show advanced social tactics during foraging, suggesting that they are capable of dealing with conspecifics on an individual basis. When confronted with food that is difficult to access, ravens produce particular calls (‘haa’, yells); these calls attract other ravens and, thus, have been hypothesized to serve as ‘functionally referential signals’. We here examined whether ravens are able to differentiate between individuals on the basis of these food calls. We first analysed individual differences in call parameters, using 424 food calls recorded from 18 individually marked wild ravens in the Austrian Alps. We then tested 18 captive ravens for recognition of individual differences in food calls with playbacks, using a habituation-dishabituation design. We found evidence that food calls show individual call characteristics in fundamental frequency and intensity-related measurements providing ravens with the opportunity to respond according to these individually distinct features. Furthermore, ravens discriminated between unfamiliar ravens in the habituation-dishabituation experiment, indicating that they may discern individual differences. Our results suggest that raven food calls are individually distinct and that the birds may be capable of differentiating between food-calling individuals.

    Oct. 18, 2014 – Caw vs. Kraa: meaning in the calls of crows and ravens, by GrrlScientist. https://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2014/oct/18/caw-vs-kraa-meaning-in-the-calls-of-crows-and-ravens

    This short video, by the Cornell Lab of O, discusses the differences between and potential meanings of the sounds made by crows and ravens.

    Oct. 1, 2021 – Sounds and Vocal Behavior https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/comrav/cur/sounds

    Large repertoire of at least 20 distinct calls of known function, 79 call types distinguished spectrographically, many mimicked sounds, and numerous utterances of unknown meaning. At least some calls are learnt socially from mates, and especially from nearby (within 12 km) birds of same sex.

    Heij, Cornelis & Verboom, Willem. (2022). Bird vocalizations: Common raven (Corvus corax). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/361925309_Bird_vocalizations_Common_raven_Corvus_corax

    The Common raven (Corvus corax) is a rather vocal bird, producing somewhat ‘unpleasant’, harsh ‘kraaaah’ vocalizations, as well as a number of social sounds, for instance a kind of grunting. This study describes two of these vocalization types: 1) a ‘grunting’ vocalization produced by a raven pair, presumably a kind of social interaction; 2) calls (‘screams’) of the ravens when they communicated with the Carrion crows (Covus corone) in the trees around their cage. Duration of individual grunts varied considerably, between 100 and 750 ms. Mean repetition rate of the grunts was one grunt per 1.4 s. The shape of the frequency spectrum was rather flat between 0.8 and 1.7 kHz, but the spectrum of some grunts reached frequencies to above 22 kHz. Screams consisted of a series of pulses with a harmonic pattern, reaching to above 22 kHz. However, maximum sound energy was in a range around (a mean of) 1214 Hz. Mean duration of the screams was rather stable (227 ms) and the mean pulse repetition rate in a scream was 45.9 pulses/s.

  3. This made me laugh after a really tough couple of weeks. I just love this so much. What absolute fun to have a conversation with the ravens up the hill. It has inspired me to try to get up there with my own doggo sometime soon… Thank you so much for this!

  4. June, I sent a message to my friend, Scott McNeff, a lifelong falconer and this was his response, “I can’t claim any expertise about them [ravens]. They’re amazing birds and I’m always watching them and listening to them but I don’t think I have anything to offer that she hasn’t already read. Actually, speaking of reading, Bernd Heinrich’s book, “Mind of the Raven” was pretty awesome.”

  5. Laughed outloud at the Geordie “self-hypnosis’ waiting comment and photo…. TOO funny! Great post, June. And even more gorgeous raven photos! Thanks for sharing that most funny breakdown of your attempts at communing with the ravens, and your most patient – and understanding – parties accompanying you on these forays! 🙂

  6. Love all your posts, June, as well as the photos and the humour you so generously share. I’m endlessly captivated and entertained! No clue how to communicate with Ravens (well, sometimes humans too) but hopefully somebody, somewhere will join you in unravelling the mystery!

  7. Love the attempts and looks! I can’t help whistling back or talking ‘at’ all animals much to the horror of them and neighbours alike!

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