Building Trust with Ravens

Baby steps. I’m learning that’s what it takes to get ravens to trust me.

I’m good with that.

I’m growing inordinately fond of the raven pair that have been enjoying the voles Conall catches, along with the occasional marrow bone I toss over the fence after the boys are done with them. I find these ravens intriguing, entertaining, and now, a welcome part of the family.

Finn disagrees, but we’ll compromise.

Even when neither Conall nor I have anything to offer the ravens, they regularly fly low over my house, morning and evening, calling, checking. A constant presence.

Ravens – like crows, eagles, owls – have keen eyesight. Not as sharp as eagles, but better than humans. Probably better than dogs, even.

All birds of prey have excellent long-distance vision, but eagles stand out. They can see clearly about eight times as far as humans can, allowing them to spot and focus in on a rabbit or other animal at a distance of about two miles. While we can see a candle flame at that distance, a small animal camouflaged in its surroundings would be hidden from us.

All About Eyes

It’s a little unsettling, knowing you’re being so closely observed as they fly overhead.

Sitting at my home office desk/computer, my north-facing window looking out across my field to the forest where the ravens roost, I watch for their now-daily flybys. Providing the voles these past months has already changed their routine. They often fly from the forest straight at my window, low over my house. I’m sure they see me, watching them. I’ve taken to waving to them.

I hope they find that entertaining.

Several days ago, Conall caught a vole by digging deep through the snow in the yard. As I noted in this post, it was his first catch in a long while. We left the vole atop the snow, inside the yard, in the usual area on the north side where I can watch from my office window. I’m always hoping to get photos of one or both ravens retrieving these offerings. This time, though, the ravens waited until the next morning, when the boys and I were out running in the forest, to claim our offering. I’m pretty sure they’ve learned that if the white vehicle drives away early in the morning, things will be quiet around the house for a few hours. No annoyingly barky Aussie.

A day later, in an effort to gain even more trust, I pitched two pieces of apple well beyond the fence on the north side for the ravens. The pieces sat atop the crusty snow all afternoon and evening. It snowed a couple inches that night and the next morning, so I wasn’t able to see the apple pieces. I wondered if the ravens found them; I didn’t want to attract a fox or coyote. By afternoon that next day, with a bit of sunlight on the snow, I was able to see raven foot prints where the apple pieces had been. Success!

The next day – March 22nd – was a critter-full day.

It was 33F and snowing at daybreak so the boys and I huddled inside that morning. Too wet. Just as well, because I managed to snag an open appointment for my first Covid-19 vaccination. Whew!

On the drive home after getting my jab, wet snow still falling, traffic on the highway came to a stop for a deer crossing. A common scene in our resort town where hunting isn’t allowed and people look out for their wellbeing. The deer know they’re safe in town, at least from rifles. Trust.

deer crossing road

By mid-afternoon the weather cleared briefly, so the boys and I enjoyed a walk in the valley.

dogs, snow, fences

Near our turnaround point I saw a bunch of ravens, maybe a dozen, huddled near each other on the snow berm and the fence posts sticking up through the snow.

Ravens flying away, raptor perched on adjacent fence post.

We kept approaching, spooking most of the ravens into flying off. I figured there was some sort of road kill in the snow berm and didn’t want the boys to get into it, so we turned back, but only after I snapped a photo of the pretty storm clouds beyond. Later, editing and cropping photos, I saw the real reason for the unkindness (the name for a group of ravens): an eagle (or hawk) perched on a post of an adjoining fence. Apparently the ravens took umbrage at its presence and were trying to convince it to move out of what they considered their territory.

Wildlife drama. Always present and ongoing, but often outside our (clueless) awareness.

Back home, the snow started flying again. I sat at my computer, editing photos, the boys snoozing on the floor behind me. Suddenly, one of my pair of ravens (I’ve come to think of them as “my”) did an unusually close flyby, coming from the side (out of my vision) and flaring right in front of my window, just 10-15 feet away, looking right at me before banking north over the yard fence and landing in the field beyond, where s/he was joined by its partner.

I got chills, making eye contact with the raven. So close! I felt certain it was trying to communicate something to me.

Ravens in field, right after the close flyby.

The flyby was so close that Conall, behind me, noticed and was startled, watching in surprise before jumping up, alerting Finn and leading a merry chase out through the dog door into the yard. Finn proceeded to bark at the ravens. Conall woo-wooed a couple times but mostly just watched them as they walked atop the snow in the field, not too concerned.

This morning brought another raven surprise, something new and unexpected.

Yesterday evening I gave the boys marrow bones. When they were done, as usual I tossed them into the field, on the west side of my lot, between my house and that of my closest neighbor. (After pitching marrow bones there for years, I now refer to that area as the bone yard.) The ravens, having quickly learned that marrow bones appear there periodically, often land on the snow-covered field to investigate. If Finn sees them and barks, spooking them, they fly away, landing on the neighbor’s house or garage roof to reconnoiter from a safe distance.

Just after sunup this morning, that’s the scenario that played out. Ravens noticed new marrow bones on the snow and landed to feed on what little marrow remained. Conall heard them (his hearing and awareness, from inside the house, is amazing), and both dogs ran outside. Finn barked, causing the ravens to retreat. Order restored (in Finn’s mind, anyway), the boys came back inside, settled down, and I continued working at my computer.

Ten minutes later, the boys were back outside, Finn barking loudly, the bark he uses for the ravens, but not coming from quite the right place in the yard. Getting up to investigate, I saw both dogs were facing and focused on the driveway to the south, not the field to the west.

Thinking maybe a package was being delivered, I stepped outside, went to the fence at that edge of the yard and looked, but didn’t see anyone.

Both dogs kept looking intently in the direction of the driveway.

My next thought was maybe a neighbor’s dog was breaching the perimeter, but I didn’t see any movement from their lot. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a raven flying toward the neighbor’s house with something big and white in its mouth.

What the…?

I watched it land on the peak of the neighbor’s house roof, their favored perch. It was too far away for me to see what it held in its beak.

I looked at my driveway again. And noticed bits of white stuff that hadn’t been there the day before.

Ah ha! Suddenly I understood!

Bits of dog fur on the driveway’s gravel.

Yesterday afternoon I had swept the deck of most of the shed dog fluff that had stuck to the snow all winter. Once the snow melts, the fluff is left behind. I have two very fluffy dogs, so there’s a lot of fluff. I swept and collected most of it into a bag, but some blew away on the breeze, across the snow-covered yard.

Fluffy dogs on the deck, a bit of their shed winter fluff still clinging to the last remnants of snow.

Apparently as the evening and night wore on and the wind increased, the fluff got blown all the way across the driveway, getting stuck on the gravel.

And the raven thought it would make a wonderful lining for a nest.

Quite the beak full of old dog fur that raven had! The boys had noticed it gathering fluff and Finn wasn’t happy.

But me? It’s hard to describe how happy this makes me!

Years ago, living outside Seattle, while at a park one spring day I raked the undercoat of my female Malamutes. As I raked, big tufts of Malamute fluff took to the air currents, dispersing across the grass field. (The annual shed of Malamute undercoat can literally fill two or more plastic grocery bags. It’s amazing. And soft.) Almost instantly, small birds swooped down, picked up the fur, and flew away. That’s when I realized that, at least for some birds, dog fur makes a nice nest lining.

I had no idea that my raven pair might like Conall’s fur lining their nest.

You should wait, ravens, I thought. That stuff you grabbed was old and dirty. Give me a couple weeks and I’ll rake the clean stuff out for you to gather. Your chicks will thank you.

Yet another offering Conall and I can give “my” raven pair. Or maybe I should say “our” raven pair.

Once the snow in the yard is gone, I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for pretty or shiny objects appearing in the yard. Ravens are known to offer such thanks to people they like.

We’re making baby steps of familiarity and trust.

I’m loving it.

Feature photo: watching ravens in the “bone yard” through the kitchen window, with a magpie watching. March 3, 2021.

15 thoughts on “Building Trust with Ravens”

  1. I love the idea of the dogs’ fur lining their nest. It’s great to feel you have a friend in these birds. Just today on our afternoon walk one of the crows landed about a metre away and proceeded to make a soft noise that I interpreted as it wanting something. A handful of peanuts and it seemed happy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so tempted to start leaving my ravens peanuts as encouragement, as you do your crows. But a part of me – the part that knows I plan to move away soon – wonders if that’s ethical, since I can’t know if the next inhabitants of my house will welcome raven visits. I worry about setting them up for disappointment or harm. I do know that, wherever I end up, I will quickly seek out new raven/crow friends!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We have forest ravens here in Tasmania and they are very intelligent. I haven’t managed to coax them near my deck but I built enough trust in some currawongs over many months and eventually was able to hand feed them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a novice, and learning, but it seems offering food (peanuts?) regularly goes a long way toward building trust. Is that what you’ve done with the currawongs? I’m conflicted about “my” ravens because I plan to move soon, so I’m leery of habituating them to me too much since I’ve no idea whether whoever buys my house will continue welcoming them (although I’ll suggest they do).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I fed the Currawongs small pieces of soft dry dog food (like Good-O’s), they seemed to like it. I would place them on my deck railing and move away, then gradually move closer so they got used to me. I don’t feed them anymore for the same reason, though I don’t plan on selling, I don’t want them to rely on me for food, but an occasional treat for them still in winter perhaps if they come looking.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s a delicate balance, maintaining their wildness while offering some food in the hope of bringing them a bit closer to admire and learn more about them. Good on you for respecting that balance. Plus, they’re wonderful photographic subjects for you!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Thanks, they are very similar have piercing yellow eyes instead of white, and white circles on their wings. They also have a huge vocal range with lots of different calls compared to the ravens, one call sounds like a soft “hello” which is really cute!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Birds are recycling. Haha! Your post reminds me how it was like with our cats when we moved in a year ago. Animals are awesome. And also, I am happy to know you have received your vaccine already. Do you need a second one?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, animals – all of them – are awesome! Endlessly entertaining.

      My second shot is scheduled for 4/20, one month after the first (the Moderna vaccine). Then, two weeks after that, I should be as protected as I can be. Hope you guys can get your shots soon. It’s such a relief after the past year, coupled with a dose of hope for life returning to something resembling normal.

      Liked by 1 person

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