Remarkable ravens/Brian Hess

During the winter the majority of our local bird population migrates south to warmer climate and a better food supply. A few species of birds stick it out and brave the winter here in the Upper Peninsula. If you have a feeder out, you are probably familiar with many of the birds that stick it out such as chickadees, blue jays, and nut hatches. A few people, me included, have even seen robins this year. One bird that sticks around and probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the Common Raven.

The Common Raven, or Corvus corax in Latin, occupies a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere. In Michigan they range throughout the Upper Peninsula and into the northern Lower Peninsula. It appears that they prefer mountainous, hilly, or coastal areas. Many of the plains and south central states do not have them. They are mainly black in color, weigh up to 4 pounds, and have a wingspan that can reach more than 50 inches. Their lifespan in the wild can reach 20 years. In captivity they have been known to grow considerably older.

Ravens deserve some attention due the variety of calls and noises they are capable of making. Some of the most bizarre sounds I’ve heard while sitting out ice fishing or hunting have come from ravens. There have been over 15 distinct vocalizations recorded that ravens use for social interaction. From grunts and grating sounds to musical notes, they have it covered. Ravens have even been known to mimic other sounds, including the human voice. Besides their calls they also snap their bills and can make sounds by passing air over their wings while in flight.

Another reason for their deserving of attention is their intelligence. They have one of the largest brains of any species of bird. It is believed that they are able to relay information to one another regarding past events or locations of items over long distances. This ability of information exchange is only believed to exist in a few creatures, the others being humans, ants, and bees.

In order to entertain themselves they have been observed using items as toys or decorations. There is even a video floating around online of a raven using something as a sled to slide down a snow covered rooftop. After doing some research it is evident that this activity is not that uncommon.

Often times when they have an abundance of food they will cache it for later use. Apparently other ravens watch for this in order to steal the cache. In order to protect their food, they may make fake caches then travel long a distance from the food source to make their real cache.

Right now our local adult ravens have established their territory and are beginning to nest. Their nests are usually located in tall trees or on cliff ledges. The nest is constructed of a stick foundation and reinforced with mud or other material, then lined with softer materials such as hair or feathers. The pair is believed to mate for life. Once the eggs have been laid, ravens are known to be fiercely protective. They have been known to dive at people who get to close to their nest and have been seen dropping rocks on potential threats.