Ravens At Play

Watching ravens is always wonderful.

Watching them play has an element of the magical.

I feel really lucky  to have witnessed them playing in snow on several occasions. The lovely moment captured in the photo at the top of this post is a still from my 2019 video of ravens playing with snowballs in which one of them seems to be holding a perfectly heart-shaped snowball at about the 9 second mark.

While I’m usually out there to take photographic portraits, sometimes it seems as if moving pictures are needed to capture the moment — hence my rather amateur attempts at emergency videography. My focus is never quite 100% stable, there is often the sounds of blowing wind, or me breathing after holding my breath in order to stay still (no tripod.) Occasionally there will be a dramatic camera move. This is not an attempt at artistry on my part. It’s the dog, who is often attached to me, deciding that something elsewhere urgently needs his attention.

As we reach the end of the Snow Raven season for this spring, I thought I’d share some of my latest videos and also some of my (unscientific) theories about raven play.

First of all, sometimes people don’t really believe they’re playing at all. It’s true that part of the reason birds will roll in snow is to take a kind of bath, but I do think it’s clear that they’re also messing around and teasing each other in the process. Others have suggested that perhaps the ravens are digging around in the snow because they’re starving. In this context I know that can’t be the case, because they’re at a ski hill and if they were peckish, I know they’d be smart enough to just hop over to the nearest parking lot trash bin, or simply steal an unwary snowboarder’s sandwich.

Based on watching the ravens playing with snowballs in 2019 (see Raven Games) I can tell that the ravens in the latest video (below) are actually “mining” for suitably beak-sized ball of snow to play with. At the weather warms in March the clumping snow seams to create just the right conditions for these pre-made snowballs. Eventually one raven finds the perfect lump of snow and flies off with his buddy in hot pursuit.

The other magical thing — it’s foggy and kind of mysterious — and just listen to the other worldly raven calls coming from the forest behind the play zone.

I’ve noted that this kind of raven play often seems to happen later in the day, and mostly on days with really poor visibility. The early morning time is more about the serious business of finding food and holding motivational raven meetings. Sunny days seem to invite more soaring fun   — chasing each other, eagles or hawks, high in the sky or performing lazy, breath-taking arial acrobatics on the thermal lift of warm air rising.

But the later hours of a snow-stormy or foggy day seem to invite fun on the ground — the equivalent of a cozy snow day at home doing puzzles, perhaps. I usually see several groups playing at once. While there are only one or two ravens in my videos, it’s because I’m only focussing on  a single raven or pair of ravens — but there are usually other small gatherings and some solo ravens doing similarly goofy things in the area. And there is often a back-up band of ravens experimenting with making ethereal sound in the trees nearby.

The couple shown below are taking a break on the sidelines, with other playing ravens flying over.

One of them finally found a snowball (see top photo) and immediately flew off with it, hotly pursued by the other.

One last question I ask myself — why is watching ravens at play so darn enchanting?
At first I thought it might just be me, but the response every time I post a video of this kind is overwhelming. The snow-rolling ravens I filmed in February have been all around the world a few times by now. See below to for when they were weaving their spell on the home page of the Weather Network. The Weather Network!

How they got there I have no idea, but obviously they were popular.

So why is that? I think it’s partly because being goofy in the snow is, for people who don’t already know ravens well, very much out of character. Somehow you can’t imaging Poe’s dour raven visitor* mucking about with snowballs and doing face plants in the snow.

I think the other reason is that play on the part of any species — just they sheer reckless joy of it — is something that we could all watch a lot of these days. I know from comments on the video that many people wistfully tag friends, remarking that they look forward to similar carefree times together in a more relaxed, silly and sociable human future. It’s nice to see ravens as harbingers of joy rather than ill omen.

 

NOTE: If you feel pressing need to zone out of the endless zoom meetings and analysis of Covid curves and waves, I’ve put a collection of some of my favourite raven and crow videos all together on my hithero rarely used  YouTube page and on my web site

* See my post Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-U for a tongue in cheek analysis of the famous poem.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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.

Bonus Raven

Not having made it up the mountains this week, I wasn’t expecting to hear that heart- lifting and immediately recognizable raven call.

And yet, wandering out to the alley with the recycling and no expectations — there it was. Unmistakable. And loud.

It was so loud because it was on the Hydro pole right beside me! Dropped recycling and pelted back to the house for the camera, just in time to catch a quick shot of a crow (undoubtedly Marvin or Mavis) dive bombing the visitor.

The raven flew off to the most unlikely of destinations — the construction site where they’re building the artificial turf sports facility for the private school at the end of the street. Naturally, I followed.

The upcoming video isn’t as pastorally playful as the one I took a couple of weeks ago of them enjoying fun in the mountain snow, but I think it’s just as interesting a display of how a raven brain ticks. Our resourceful corvid friend had a bundle of something in his/her beak. I couldn’t really tell what it was, but it seemed precious. Perhaps bones. Watch how carefully that treasure is cached under whatever material is available — in this case, great lumps of grey road crush.

My favourite part is the ultra-casual “nothing to see here” saunter away afterwards.

Adding extra excitement, the flag person for the construction site yelled at me and told me I wasn’t allowed to take photos! Huh? Not wanting to get into the dubious legality of that statement, I just pointed out the raven and continued filming. Luckily for all concerned, they decided to just let the crazy corvid lady alone.

After a short site inspection, taking in the piles of gravel and some of the heavy machinery, the raven tried out the acoustics. Even before all the extra concrete was poured for the sports facility, this area was occasionally appreciated by visiting ravens for its echo chamber qualities. (See: Special Days, 2018) Yesterday’s calls , shown in the following video, reminded the crows to renew their official protests.

After a brief stop in nearby tree and being re-mobbed by crows (mostly likely Marvin and Mavis again) our visitor decided to move on.

I often wonder if the ravens we sometimes we see in our neighbourhood have just popped down from the local mountains. Vancouver seems very close from there, all spread out below, and not too many powerful wing flaps away for a raven with an urge for some urban excitement. Anyway, it makes me happy to know that, even if we don’t see them every day, they’re close.

I’m always, always straining my ears for that call.

 

 

For more ravens in the city, see:

On raven intelligence studies:

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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 Therapy Part Two

About a year ago I posted the first Raven Therapy story. The world had just shifted in ways that, at that point, we couldn’t really grasp. All I knew was that I needed therapeutic ravens, and that other people might need them too.

Formal raven couple, convinced that this trail has been groomed just for them

I turns out that, in the months since then, there were long periods when it was impossible to get up into the mountains and hang out with ravens — trails being closed to avoid crowding … or trails open, but too crowded to feel safe. On rare and happy occasions a raven or two would grace our neighbourhood.

As we mark the Covid anniversary (even with glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel) I definitely needed a booster dose of raven therapy. Perhaps you do too.

Resisting the covid with the corvid.

These are photos and videos from a couple of recent early morning trips to the local mountains.

Just in case you’re in a rush and don’t have time to read all of this at once, here’s the most potent shot of raven therapy first.

Ravens playing in the snow. In my humble opinion, there are few things more joyful.

If you have time to stay around, I’ll be sharing a few looks at the details of raven beauty and some more observations on their amazing behaviour. A veritable raven therapy spa experience!

Like crows in snow, I love photographing ravens in that pure white backdrop — especially on a nice cloudy day where all the details are revealed.

Raven catching just the softest rays of early morning sunshine

 

The intricate armour of a raven’s feet

Raven feet and feathers

Raven strut

 

Raven’s Leap — another excellent pub name!

Hearing a little more of the complicated raven vocabulary is always a thrill (see also Learning to Speak Raven.)

A snippet of raven conversation …

And a general “here I am” raven call …

Perhaps the most joyful sight was this behaviour between a raven pair.

Raven joins her mate

 

He feeds her. This is preparation behaviour for nesting season, where the female will beg for food from the male to trigger that instinct in him to keep her fed later in the season while she’s sitting on the eggs.

Just after this happened, I saw this rather funny exchange.

Raven couple standing together

 

A slight head movement …

 

Beaks touch …

The moment turns into a full examination of his beak for possible hidden snacks — say aaaah

 

 

 

For more raven therapy:

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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.

Boring Walks Part 2

Chasing after a distant raven call can be a bit of a mug’s game as, nine times out of ten, the raven is long gone by the time you catch up with the sound.

Yesterday morning, however, my raven luck was overflowing. I followed the calls to a street really close to our house and found not one, but FOUR ravens. 

One pair was calling in a large cedar tree, only a couple of blocks from our house.

Across the street another raven pair were calling from a house roof, setting off a cacophony of crow cawing and dog barking.

I should mention that Geordie,  a calm veteran of many a corvid encounter, was not one of the barkers. He was more worried that we were never going to get home.

I ended up following the roof ravens as they moved from one house to another for the next half hour or so. Sorry Geordie.

The wet and windy weather was playing havoc with that majestic look the ravens usually maintain.

At one point the raven pair landed on the roof of some friends. As the raven was calling and I was taking photos from the alleyway, my friend’s head popped out of her attic window to ask, “Is there a raven on my roof?” and I was able to answer, “No, there are TWO ravens on your roof!” We decided that, if a pair of magpies is a “Two for Joy” situation, then two ravens must be a great omen.

The absolute highlight of my morning was watching the two wet roof ravens engage in some allopreening and also the affectionate beak play that I captured as a still moment in my new Raven Kiss image.

At that point I felt that my urban nature enthusiasm batteries were charged to the point of overflow. Simultaneously, my camera battery was drained, so it was finally (to Geordie’s relief) time to head home.

Sometimes it seems as if the world of nature knows just what I need. All I have to do is get outside, even if my jaded inner voice is asking “why bother?” … and just go see.

Sometimes it’s something I’ve seen a hundred times before — in just a slightly different light.

Sometimes it’s a show stopping surprise.

Either way, it’s always worth dragging my boots on. The dog generally agrees.

 

See also: Boring Walks Part 1

You might also enjoy The Gift

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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 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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FREE set of 4 raven gift tags with orders
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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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

 

logo with crow