When the first snow this year arrived in Tagish we glanced out of the living-room window to see Poe, the young wild Raven who broke his wing during the summer, frisking in the yard. He clutched a piece of cardboard in his feet and rolled back and forth on his back like a dog, got up, ran and flapped trying to catch snowflakes, then again threw himself on his back to roll in the icy, white blanket. He did this all afternoon in our backyard, having a blast in his very first snow. He rolled pinecones in the snow to make snowballs and stacked the snowballs in a pile on a folding chair. He also likes to sit on one of his favorite perches to spot certain snowflakes falling out of the sky, which he then follows with his head and pecks out of the air when it is close enough. When he gets cold, wet and tired he uses his old perches (We had built these for him while his wing was healing) to get up into the tree branches where he sits and cackles. Every morning he perches high in a tree and gives a series of single shrill ‘caws’, which are contact calls (Mom had read this in “Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds” by Bernd Heinrich).
Sometimes we see Poe with a female Raven in the yard; they travel everywhere playing and pecking at bugs and bits of the food that we toss out for Poe each morning. Sometimes Poe chases her away from his food, but it is never very serious. According to “Mind of the Raven”, a trait of male Ravens that identifies their sex is that they will fan out their ‘skirt’ in a display of dominance, while females give a call that males do not. It is a high-pitched call resembling the water-dripping sound that you often hear Ravens do as they fly over. Poe is definitely a male because he displayed his skirt when a strange Raven came to check out our yard. Poe has made the yard his territory, and defends it fiercely from intruders. Though Poe can’t fly, he effectively chases the intruders by running after them and pecking if they try to get too close. Often they will sit up high where Poe can’t reach them (such as a post), in which case Poe struts back and forth with all of his head feathers fluffed out and his skirt fanned.
As winter crept into our yard we started giving him high-fat food, such as bison liver, dinner leftovers mixed with fat that we save, as well as treats like eggs. When we put an egg outside for him he gets very excited. After a careful examination he pecks it, then picks up the egg and runs away holding it above his head while propelling himself forward with his wings. When he reaches what he feels is a safe spot he promptly cracks it open and starts sipping the yolk. It is difficult for him to find enough to eat during the winter season because he cannot fly to food sources like other Ravens can, so in providing him with food he is able to build up the fat stores that are so important to over-wintering birds. After Halloween ended we put one of our smaller pumpkins outside to see how he would like it. He quickly tore it to pieces and scattered them around the yard. When spring comes, we are going to have a mess to rake up!
Now that there is a Raven frequenting our yard and food being put out regularly, we have, or should I say Poe has, four Magpies haunting his footsteps. They arrive every morning when we put out food and use a cleverly devised strategy to take the food. One lures Poe away from the food, and while Poe is chasing the one Magpie the other three quickly gather up the food and fly away with it. When Poe realizes what is happening, he chases another one and the cycle starts again. However, though they try to take away some of his food (as do the three Gray Jays that visit our yard) they also benefit him. They give him tons of exercise. The second benefit is that though the Magpies take Poe’s food, they also help him to protect it. One day Mom watched the Magpies chasing a large Martin away from the food and through the brush. The Martin has been in the yard since (we have seen its tracks), but he has not been able to go near Poe’s food. Though we never give Poe more food than he can eat at once to prevent food lying around, we still do get the occasional critter in the yard sniffing around, such as a Coyote.
Early one morning during the fall when Mom went outside with pieces of liver for Poe, he was waiting nearby in the yard. She started tossing pieces of the liver to him, and while she was doing this a big, gray owl glided over her head and dove down to the ground in front of Poe to where the food was. Poe was not scared; he jumped and spread his wings, cawing at the owl. The owl swerved up and around Poe, then turned around and started chasing him through the trees. It happened so quickly that it took Mom a moment to realize what was happening, and when she did she threw the bowl she was holding at the owl. The owl took off into the forest. Poe had run up onto his perch. We have no clue if the owl was trying to attack Poe or if it had mistaken the rolling pieces of meat on the ground for mice. Then, about five minutes later, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over and landed on a tree top just a short ways away from where Poe was in the tree. The hawk really scared Poe; he started cawing frantically, and after a couple of minutes we heard a pair of Ravens down the lake answering. The hawk kept glancing behind him, not wanting to leave, but the two Ravens, Poe’s parents, arrived and chased the hawk away. After things had settled down, Poe was too nervous to come down and eat. He would not come out of his tree for a few days and would not come near any of us. He would keep glancing nervously into the sky and tucked himself deeper in the branches.
To anyone who is interested in the lives and behavior of Ravens, I would highly recommend that you read the book “Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds”, by Bernd Heinrich. My brother Vince bought the book for my Mom for her birthday and she found it highly informative. Almost everything that you have ever wondered about Ravens are discussed in this book. Thanks to this book, we understand Poe much better than we did when we first met him. Check it out at this website: http://www.amazon.ca.