Well, maybe another time, as it’s a very long list.
This time I just want to talk about the the specific ways in which raven couples remind me of me and my husband.
The first time the similarity struck me was a few years ago. A raven pair walked along together, chatting quietly, before one of them (this would be me, in the analogy) got distracted by a piece of foliage and started skipping off in an entirely different direction. I actually made a small print of this image for my husband for Valentines Day that year and it sits in a frame in our bedroom.
It’s a reminder of the time when I was first becoming obsessed with crows and ravens and we were walking together along a wind-lashed beach in Washington. We were strolling along, talking about something or other when I was drawn, like iron filings to a magnet, by a crow playing in the surf. Phillip walked on, continuing our interesting conversation for quite a while before realizing he was yelling over the wind at himself.
Luckily he is very understanding about moments like these (which are ongoing.) Also about the waiting in freezing temperatures while I take “one more photograph.”
The more I watch raven couples the more they remind me of the small and very practical things that go into a long term relationship.
I would submit that the strongest building blocks of all personal relationships, romantic or otherwise, are not so much grand gestures, roses and chocolates, as countless little acts of kindness, rambling ongoing conversations, comfortable silences, silly recurring jokes, finishing each others’ sentences, pointless squabbles … followed by more jokes and more acts of small kindness.
Ravens chat to each other a lot when things are quiet. They also groom each others’ feathers. This is known as allo-preening and is important in two ways:
physically, it keeps their feathers in good conditions and controls parasites;
bird-anthropologically (birdthropologically?) it builds trust between the two birds, strengthening love and family ties. As ravens (and crows) generally mate for life, this is an important and long term process.
I’ve noticed ravens often play “beak games” which look like a combination of kissing and food stealing. It mostly seems to be the female putting her beak inside the male’s, as if looking for food, even when no food is in play.
I wonder if it’s partly the female reminding the male that there are times of the year when he will need to feed her. During nesting season, when she’s stuck on the nest incubating the eggs, she’ll have to rely on him to remember to keep her fed.
I haven’t seen crows play these beak games, but their equivalent seems to be that, at the beginning of nesting season, female crows mimic the begging calls and postures of a fledgling in order to get the males into Nest Dash mode.
Anyway, like most of the raven couple behaviour, it looks like fun — but with a practical component.
When I take photographs of raven pairs, I’m always thinking of them being in a big family album.
A mix of formal portraits …
… and those candid snapshots that make up a lifetime together.
So, as we approach another Valentine’s Day, I’m not saying don’t buy your loved one roses and/or chocolates … but just think how surprised they’d be if you thoughtfully offered to check their hair for parasites as well!
I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today. Nothing too serious — just a sudden tweak to the back sustained, somewhat ironically, while tying the laces on my exercise shoes.
As I’m currently housebound, it’s time to access the memory vault of recent raven encounters.
Corvid-like, I cache these recollections like an emergency rainy day fund, or a jar of home-canned apricot jam set aside for a hopelessly dark and wet morning some time in January.
In peering into the raven pantry I hope to cheer myself (and you too, if you need it) with a reminder of all the raven beauty out there. The fact that it’s certainly going on right now, even if no human is watching, is always a source of comfort to me.
Here are some highlights from three recent trips to the back country.
Raven Reminiscence 1 — Dog Mountain
Near the end of August, with the diminishing of heat and crowds, and the completion (more or less) of major home renovations, we ventured out for the first hike of the summer. The short trip up to Dog Mountain was made tricky by the latticework of wet and slippery roots everywhere. The view at the top was just becoming veiled in cloud with nary a raven in sight.
A group of walkers had wandered off, leaving their lunches and backpacks unattended at the viewpoint. Rooky mistake — and yet the bags were left unmolested, leading me to believe there couldn’t possibly be any ravens on the mountain that day.
Still, it was lovely to be up there and I was resigning myself to a raven-free expedition (it happens) when, out of the blowing mist …
And where there is one raven, there is usually a mate
Summer’s End Raven
Raven Reminiscence 2 — Lillooet Lake
Right at the end of August we visited friends who live on Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton. So much space, and the distant sounds of ravens.
On one particular early morning walk along the lake shore we heard some raven calls I’d never experienced before.
A solo raven sat in tree by the lake making a few general “Here I am. Where are you?” calls to his mate, along with some gentle “water dripping from a bamboo pipe” sounds. There were small birds skimming across the surface of the lake too and we noticed that the raven began to turn his considerable vocal talents to mimicking their cheeping calls.
Moments later some distant dog barking inspired this next bit of impersonation …
Next, we see the raven couple enjoying a quiet moment in their enviable back yard. Raven real estate listings would include “Miles of lake, hundreds of kilometres of forest, towering cliffs for soaring, few people, birds of all kinds to imitate …”
Raven pair at Lillooet Lake
Raven Reminiscence 3 — Black Mountain
The third, and most recent, experience actually involved some amateur raven conjuring.
We’d hiked up to the Black Mountain area of Cypress Bowl. It was a beautify morning with not another human to be seen. The view was breath taking, the weather was perfect.
Geordie in his happy place …
Taking it all in, I said “This is so perfect. Only one thing could make it better . . . ”
I don’t need to tell you who landed with a dignified “quork” before I finished the sentence.
Only one single feather out of place, in spite of a light breeze.
Raven obligingly posing in front of the landmark Two Sisters peaks — also known as The Lions.
We walked around the whole area for a couple of hours and every once in a while we’d see our wish-summoned ravens in the distance. As usual, there was a pair of them.
The most surprising raven thing of the summer happened when we took a last break at Cabin Lake before hiking back from Black Mountain to the parking lot.
Our raven showed up once again. Popped up, in fact …
There was a bit of a raven promenade along the boardwalk …
One of them confidently took up a post on top of a park sign.
That still wasn’t the amazing thing.
Nor was it the fact that the raven stayed there, quite unperturbed, as several hikers walked along the boardwalk inches away from him.
No, the amazing thing was that the humans didn’t seem to even notice him!!
How can anyone walk right by such a commanding bird, so close and at eye level, and not even cast a glance their way — or at least offer a respectful greeting???
My mind was a bit boggled, but then again, perhaps those people were obsessed by lichen, wholly consumed by cloud formations, or just fitness-fixated and on to the next peak.
We all have our foibles, I guess.
But I would always, always advise taking a moment to greet a raven.
Sometimes they’ll even greet you back!
And, speaking of backs, time to go get the heat pad on mine after this little delve into the repository of raven recollection. If I start feeling really low I may have to revert to watching my “ravens playing in snow” videos on repeat.