Ravens in the Grand Canyon

The Audubon Society considers the Grand Canyon National Park a “Raptor Corridor” and a “Globally Important Bird Area.” There are a lot of good reasons for that.       

The Grand Canyon is visited each year by over 350 species of bird, the vast majority are merely passing through, migrating. Other birds, such as the condor, are not visible in the region during the coldest months. The Raven, however is in residence year-round, making their presence known. Upon closer inspection, they might be the most intriguing bird of all.

The birds gather frequently along the rim of the Grand Canyon and were on display at the south rim between the Bright Angel trail-head and Hermit’s Rest trail, fending off much larger hawks from invading their nests. The ravens flew in random angles at the predator, taking it off course, diverting it from the nest.

Ravens get a bad rap. Literally they have become synonymous with bad omens and ominous futures. Given their diet, natural dark plumage, and the shadowy nocturnal images, it is logical speculation. Still, folklore and literature have been unfair, if not unkind, to this extremely intelligent bird.

As scavengers, a raven’s diet consists of carrion, leftovers, roadkill. They are intelligent enough to have the patience to wait for an animal to do itself in, either by its own inability to fathom automobile traffic (in Canada they have been recorded chasing rabbits onto newly constructed highways to make dinner), or in the wild, pushing rocks onto climbers to protect their nests, or getting fish by pulling a fishermen’s unattended line out of ice holes. They also use tools in the form of sharp twigs or wire, and plant them to snare or impale larvae. If a raven knows another raven is watching, it hide its food, and will pretend to put the food in one place while really hiding it in another.

When held in captivity, ravens can learn to imitate human speech better than parrots. They mimic noises; car engines, flushing toilets, animal sounds and other bird-calls.

Ravens have imitated wolves or foxes, attracting them to carcasses the raven is not capable of penetrating. When the wolf finishes eating, the raven gets the leftovers. The raven definitely deserve a place alongside chimps and dolphins regarding intelligence.

Ravens and crows are often mistaken for each other, but there are several ways to learn to tell them apart.

RAVENSCROWS
Mostly travel in pairsMostly travel in large groups
Longer middle tail feathersTail feathers all the same length
Croak and screamCaw and purr
Shaggy throat feathersSmooth throat feathers
Listen to a ravenListen to a crow

Visit the Audubon’s Raven vs Crow page for even more information, including videos and pictures.

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