Raven Kisses

Corvids don’t really kiss like humans … but they do show affection for each other in a number of ways. In the case of the pair above — they were touching beaks in a very affectionate way for quite a while.

I think this behaviour would come under the umbrella of corvid allopreening which usually involves a crow or raven gently (more or less) combing through their partner’s feathers. This solicitous behaviour strengthens the pair bond between them, and helps to keep those very important feathers in tip top condition. I’ve also read an article about ravens using allopreening to restore harmony after some sort of dispute — Ravens Kiss and Make Up After a Brawl (New Scientist.)

On our last snowshoeing trip a couple of weeks ago we saw this pair of ravens …

Watching them was especially therapeutic as it was the day after the storming of the US Capitol building. Such loving care made me want to cry.

Just seeing ravens in general was the equivalent of a Club Med vacation!

In spite of the wet snow.

Geordie also had an excellent day

A rather censorious Steller’s Jay

I may add some new images from the last trip to my Raven Portraits gallery, but for now, Raven Kiss is available now … in time for Valentine’s Day (hint.)

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raven Anecdote

Earlier this week I wrote about a new study into the impressive range of raven intelligence. Lots of people wrote to me or commented on Raven Reasoning with their own first hand stories of raven cleverness.

So now I’m inspired to tell my favourite raven story …

The ravens of Mount Seymour are well known for their lunch and snack stealing prowess. On almost every hiking or snowshoeing trip there we’ve witnessed a skilful heist of one sort or another, with prizes ranging from sandwiches to chocolate bars to full party-sized bags of chips.

But this one incident stands out.

It was winter and we’d snowshoed to a poplar destination where people always rest to take in the view out over Vancouver and eat their lunch.

We’d eaten ours and were about to head back down, but we stopped to talk to a group of six people who were still eating. A pair of ravens were nonchalantly strolling about nearby.

One of the men in the group fixed the ravens with a stern gaze and recounted how they’d stolen his sandwich on the last trip. “Never again,” he asserted. With a flourish, he took the remaining half of his sandwich and pushed it well into the depths of the backpack lying close beside him.

As we were chatting I had one eye on a raven (as I always do) and was just halfway through uttering the phrase, “I think this raven is casing the joint,” when …

In a move too quick for human eye to follow, the raven darted right through the middle of this large group of raven-suspicious humans, unhesitatingly plunged his head far into the man’s backpack, and flew off with his prize. There may have been a raven cackle as he disappeared into the distance.

The skill and daring took our collective breath away. Once we recovered the power of speech, most of us (excluding the theft victim) declared it pretty hilarious. And definitely very impressive.

The reason I’d been about to say my bit about “casing the joint” was I’d noticed his raven eyes darting back and forth, measuring the distance between the people, gauging how distracted we were by the conversation and the view and, all the time, remembering exactly which compartment of the backpack contained the sandwich.

We really didn’t stand a chance.

I can’t count the times I’ve been impressed by raven shrewdness, but that was one of the funniest.

Another incident: raven solves a banana problem, see following photos.

This is going to be delicious, but it’s hard to carry like this …

The theme tune of a banana company’s ad campaign from my childhood comes to mind, “Un-zip a banana!”

That’s better!

Play is a well known indicator of intelligence and social sophistication in a species so, for further proof that ravens are geniuses …

I’ve posted these ravens playing snowball videos before but I didn’t think you’d mind seeing them again. I could watch them over and over, particularly if I need cheering up!

Lastly, a rousing rendition of Joy to the World, raven style …

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Raven Reasoning

A meticulous study recently published by scientists in Leipzig, Germany, concludes that the intelligence of ravens rivals that of the great apes.

Other studies have come to similar conclusions, but this one was especially exhaustive, employing a complex combination of tests designed to measure various aspects of intelligence.

They found, among other things, that  four month old ravens have already developed the impressive skill and knowledge of adults, making them incredibly quick learners.



It’s an interesting study in many respects — another step away from older science  that assessed all species using, what we are now beginning to see, are very limited human criteria. It was long thought that birds, because of the small size of their brains relative to those of primates, couldn’t possibly be that smart.

Birds and mammals have been travelling down divergent evolutionary paths for lo these hundreds of millions of years. It’s now becoming evident that the mammal/bird development routes may well have ultimately led them to comparable destinations, intelligence-wise. While bird brains are indeed much smaller that our primate ones, it turns out that the many kinds of intelligence are far too complicated to be simply measured in weight and volume.

The German study is also interesting in that it questions the limitation of how valid our human assessment of other species’ intelligence can really be. We inevitably filter the results of our experiments through our particular type of intelligence. The ravens perform the tasks set by the human scientists, but how would humans perform in a test set for us by ravens?

Indeed, it has often occurred to me that I’m proving to be a rather disappointing subject for the ongoing experiment being conducted by our local corvids.

I often see myself reflected in crows and ravens. Not just literally …

… but also in the way I tend to see my own feelings and thoughts reflected back at me. Because I’m not  bound by scientific rigour, and because I spend so much thinking about them and watching them, I often lapse into formulating little human-corvid parallels.

Corvids remind me of humans in so many ways — from how we both look sad on wet days to how we care for those we love.

It brings me joy to see these familiar things reflected back at me — but at the same time I realize I really have no idea of what they’re truly thinking and feeling.

They are a deep mystery and that is, in itself, marvellous.

 

 

Read about the research mentioned at the beginning of this post in Scientific American or read the full report here.

You can also see, hear and read about more raven amazements in some of my earlier blog posts.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Raven Games

I was worried that I wasn’t going to get well soon enough to go up on the mountains again this winter. Luckily, it’s been snowing like crazy up there (as well as in the city!) and I finally started to feel better earlier this week.

Yesterday we headed up to Mount Seymour for a short outing.

Nothing too ambitious,  just a nice stroll in the winter wonderland.

The silence in the snow-baffled woods … the traditional peanut butter sandwich at the Dog Mountain lookout … and fresh, fresh air, were all very therapeutic.

But he most joyful thing of all was seeing the ravens playing.

I’ve never seen them have fun with snowballs before, but conditions yesterday were extremely snowball friendly. In fact, I developed a ball of it under one of my feet at the end of our walk. I tried to knock it off with my walking pole, but it was so persistent that part of it was still stuck the underside of my boot when we got home. This snow just INSISTED on being made into snowballs, and the ravens were happy to oblige.

As you can see from the video below, they were quite committed to this game. They reminded me very much of puppies playing.

Gloating when you’ve got the snowball is an important part of the game.

If you lie on the snowball, that makes it hard for your opponent to get it, rather like rugby.

Flying away with the snowball is the final solution.

Let the good times roll!

Just to emphasize how puppy-like the ravens were, here are Geordie and Luke wrestling this morning.

Compare the fun and strategy to these two ravens …

 

In my trips to the mountains in the winter, I’ve seen the ravens playing in the snow many times — rolling in it, playing with found objects — but I’ve never seen them having so much fun with snowballs. It wasn’t just this one pair either — I could see other groups further away engaged in the same game.

A few minutes later they all flew away to pursue other winter pastimes, so I felt very lucky to have watched this, and keen to share the fun with you!

More raven stories, photographs and video:

Raven Tutor

Learning to Speak Raven

Special Days (with ravens and mountain bluebirds)

Ghost Raven

Learning to Speak Raven

How I’d love to stumble across and old English/Raven dictionary in a thrift shop.

Or be able to take a Conversational Raven online course.

My husband is currently refreshing his Spanish skills using such an app. I can imagine him repeating Spanish phrases in one corner of the house, and me practicing my “knocking call” in another …

As it is, I have just been piecing things together from books and blogs, and from my own limited observations over the years. Lately there have been a group of ravens in our very own neighbourhood, so it’s a thrill to see and hear them on the daily walks with the dog.

Here are a few bits and pieces of video and photography to share with you some of the interesting things I’ve noticed. I’m not, of course, a scientist — so I’m mostly casting about in the dark about the significance of what I see. I’m always thrilled to hear from people who properly study these matters who can fill in the many blanks.

Before we go any further, there are a lot of videos in this post. As they won’t show up in an email, make sure to click on the BLOG POST itself to be able to see them OK.

This is the most common call that I hear ravens make.

It almost seems like an “I’m here. Where are you?” sort of call. The raven in the video above was filmed only a few metres from our house in the tall trees around one of the local schools. The raven seemed to make that call,  listen for a distant answering call, and then call again.

Of course, the local crows are not pleased about the newcomers to the ‘hood and spend a lot of time and energy mobbing their larger corvid cousins, trying to get them to “move on.”

That raven call has amazing carrying power. I can hear it from what seems like miles away — over the city noises of traffic, construction, conversation and angry crows. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m always listening for it, or because it’s at just the right frequency to cut through.

Of course, in the quiet of the mountains it’s easier to hear more subtle raven calls. My favourite one is a kind of “knocking” call that sounds like water dripping into a still pool.  Recently I was lucky enough to be out snowshoeing on Mount Seymour and witness the call being made at close quarters.

This raven hung around for a while, making this fabulous sound. Long enough for me to notice that when he or she made it, all of those magnificent throat feathers stick out like an Elizabethan ruff.

It made me wonder … do ravens have that fabulous feather cravat  just to add visual splendour to that particular call … or do they make that sound just as an excuse to show off their feathery abundance?  Always more questions than answers …

Ruff flaunting raven in mid “knocking” call.

More wondering. Do their feathers stick out like that because they have to somehow puff out their throat and make it taut to create such a hollow, musical sound? It does sound like some sort of percussion instrument.

The raven below, spotted on Mount Washington, is making a slightly different call, more of a hollow wooden sound. You may have to turn the sound up, as s/he was quite far away.

Feather preening, in between performances.

The raven in the next video is making yet another call. I call it the “wow” sound.

My raven vocalist friend.

In the Raven's Eye

Me, reflected in the raven’s eye. I love this image because I spend so much time watching, and thinking about, crows and ravens that it seems appropriate for me to be “caught” there.

Some playful muttering and off-camera raven commentary in this video.

Finally our raven pals got tired of being our house band and took off for other adventures.

This last video is a couple of years old, taken near the ski hill parking lot at Cypress Mountain.

This is one of my favourite snippets of raven film. It’s not very good, technically. I took it from a distance with a lot of car park noise in the background and, as usual, no tripod. But I watch it quite often and it always makes me smile. It reminds me of a scene from a Jane Austen novel. The raven couples are doing the rounds at the ball. Social rituals are observed, silent judgements are made, gossip and meaningful looks are exchanged. Meanwhile, at the top of the frame, one young single raven, oblivious to the formalities, plays in the snow.

As you see, I’m still a million miles away from that Raven to English translation program, but it’s a lot of fun to work towards it.

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Black and White World

Raven Departure

 

I love colour. I really do love colour.

But there is something very beautiful in a landscape stripped down to shades of black and white.

Stark and simple.

Here’s a little photo essay on a lovely world almost devoid of colour.

 

Calligraphy in the water at Hastings Sanctuary

Calligraphy in the water at Hastings Sanctuary

 

Pair of ravens at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl

Pair of ravens at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl

 

Snow, trees and sky. Mount Washington, Vancouver Island.

Snow, trees and sky. Mount Washington, Vancouver Island.

 

Raven call

Raven call

Raven reverse.

Raven callback.

 

Garry oaks on Hornby Island

Garry oaks on Hornby Island

 

Raven tracks

 

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Fluffy raven at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl, West Vancouver

 

Winter Tree

Tree skeleton

 

Raven acrobat. This is tricky, especially in a brisk wind.

Don’t try this at home.

 

Winter skyline with raven.

Winter skyline with raven.

 

George says hello in black and white.

George says hello in black and white.

 

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Ghost Raven

Whenever I go up into the mountains I’m hoping to see ravens.

They are actually part of my fitness program. If I ever feel like just sitting all day at the computer, I remind myself that if I don’t keep my knees in working order, I won’t be able to get up those mountains and therefore will not see those ravens.

So, ravens = fitness incentive.

On Saturday it was raining in Vancouver and you’d swear that the North Shore Mountains were non-existent.

But, as my father-in-law used to say, “If you don’t do things in the rain in Vancouver, you won’t do anything at all”.

So, we put the snowshoes in the car and headed up to Mount Seymour.

About halfway up the mountain a thick mist descended. By the time we reached the parking lot it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

The chances of a raven sighting seemed pretty remote, given that I could hardly see my feet to put my snowshoes on.

But, just as we got kitted up and ready to head to the trail, I spotted an ethereal silhouette ahead of us.

A ghostly figure in the fog and snow.

A ghostly figure in the fog and snow.

I was pretty sure that this would be our only raven sighting for the day.

We headed off through the woods, stopping for a snack and break at First Lake. Just as we headed off again, I saw our ethereal raven land on the top of a tree by the lake and give a few mist-muffled calls.

Phillip at First Lake

Phillip at First Lake

We carried on to Dog Mountain. Normally this spot affords the most awe-inspiring panoramic views of Vancouver. On this day it offered a blank whitescape and a biting wind. After a couple of quick photos of the non-view, we prepared to retreat into the trees away from the gale.

The non-existent view from Dog Mountain on Saturday. You can just faintly see the raven flying just above the small tree in the centre left.

The non-existent view from Dog Mountain on Saturday. You can just faintly see the raven flying above the small tree in the centre left.

And suddenly, there he was. Like magic, our ghost raven became corporeal for a few moments. He landed on the snow beside us.

It was really gusty out there.

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The upswept punk look

The upswept punk look

I whipped off my mitts, dragged out the camera and was able to take a few shots of him before he turned around and wandered offstage again, back into the realm of mist and mystery.

Taking Leave

 

Magic.

More than enough motivation to keep my knees fit enough for further mountain expeditions.

For new raven portraits, visit my website.

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