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Just Outside My Door 09/13/12

September 19, 2012
By ELAINE G. COLE - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

It's my pleasure to bring greetings to you all once again. Hopefully you have been enjoying the continuation of summer-like temperatures thus far this month. It won't be long until autumn will arrive, at least according to the calendar. However, I'm looking forward to seeing all the beauty just outside my door as the new season makes its debut. Meanwhile I'll spend these last days of summer being outside as often as I can, storing up summer memories to ponder next winter.

No doubt one of those memories will be about the various species of birds visiting our feeders. One which has never came near them, and never will, is the raven. I never thought much about them because I thought they were carrion and neither pretty or nice. Recently however, I read an article in my September-October "Bird Watcher's Digest" by Durrae Johanek which presented an entirely different picture of that common bird.

According to Johanek, ravens often out number crows in areas where they are found. We often see them around here, as they gorge on a road-kill. A Cornell Lab of Ornithology bulletin states ravens are entirely black from the top of their head to the legs, eyes and their call is not melodious, it's far from it. Johanek says it sounds like "ronk or whup." I think the tone is grimly. Nevertheless, a raven is a beautiful bird especially when one watches it sour overhead looking for road-kill or performing up there trying to get the attention of a possible mate.

The raven is not just large, it's massive, with a think neck, shaggy throat feathers and a bowie knife of a beak, according to the Cornell Lab.

In flight they have long wedge-shaped tails. They are more slender than crows and have longer, narrower wings and larger, thinner "fingers" at the wingtips.

Crows are social, but ravens are not a lot like that. Usually one sees them alone souring or maybe in pairs except when they have found a road-kill. Other relatives however, learn about the kill and join their friend. It is thought that possibly the one raven communicates its luck with others so they can all have a party together.

One dark superstition about ravens was their tapping on a window foretold death. It also has been said they use to be white, but were turned black when they sinned by eating the corpses on a battlefield.

On the other hand, Johanek said the "Pacific Northwest Native American tribes knew of the raven's intelligence and put it on totems. They considered ravens were prophets as well as tricksters, maybe from their habit of stealing shiny trinkets on bits of food."

Probably some of the bad things said about ravens is because of their looks. They certainly are not as colorful as many other birds.

Those large black birds have up to six fledglings each year. Their nests are made of sticks lined with animal hair and are located in trees or in some places on cliffs.

The ravens have some bad habits, too. They greedily devour the eggs from a nest if it's not guarded. They will also sometimes even eat young birds from a nest. As I've often said, all of the animals, birds, insects, etc., created by God are subject to the law of averages. Therefore I am going to look more closely at a raven especially when I see one souring so beautifully in the sky.

Johanek has much more information about ravens in her article. The Digest is available on the internet, in book stores and possibly at a local library.

There is also a book available at entitled "Ravens in Winter" by Bernd Heinrch. One report on his book stated that Heinrch spent four winters in the woods of Maine and Vermont, hauling eight tons of dead animals to bait stations in the midst of howling blizzards. All in the name of fun. Actually, it was in studying the life and science of ravens.



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