Bird Watcher's General Store

Ravens
07/03/20


The search for Common Ravens:

In May of 2002, I wrote a column in which I explained to “Connie” that Cape Cod has plenty of crows, but no ravens. It is thought we did have ravens in the 1600s, but then those wacky Pilgrims, and their even wackier descendants wiped, them all out. As a result, Cape Cod, and all of Massachusetts, went decades without a single nesting raven. Then, in the 1970s, a few pairs of ravens decided all was forgiven and were rumored to be breeding again in The Berkshires. This was good news and in my column I told Connie (again, it was 2002) that our state raven population was slowly increasing, and in 100 years we might even see them here on Cape Cod. Well, it’s been a fast 100 years, because ravens are back nesting on the Cape and it’s very exciting…just keep the Pilgrims away from them this time.

The first raven I ever saw was in a remote area of Canada. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined that these legendary birds would one day be moving to Cape Cod. But in 2012, to everyone’s surprise, a pair was seen building a nest on the Cape Cod Canal power plant. This discovery caused much excitement with birders, but the local American Crows weren’t nearly as thrilled. Crows hate ravens. To many folks the two birds look the same, but ravens are huge, weighing twice as much as crows. In addition, they don’t “caw.” Ravens “croak,” and they are loud, louder than crows, which is saying something.

A few years after the Canal discovery, two more nests were found; one near the Truro dump and still another in an industrial area of Harwich. Before I continue, I should point out that Cape Cod is one of the most picturesque locations in the world, yet the ravens built their homes on a power plant, in an industrial park and in a town dump. Maybe these birds should consider switching real estate agents. Seriously.

As far I know, there has been no confirmed raven nest in my town of Orleans. (Apparently, our dump isn’t good enough for them.) Then, last spring, while hiking in the town watershed, I heard their distinctive croaking call. There was a raven in Orleans! Fast forward to this spring, when I predicted that ravens would be nesting in town and told my wife that we were going to be the first to find the nest. (You should have seen the look of excitement on her face…not.) For most of April and May we hiked all over the watershed and not only didn’t we find a nest, but we didn’t see or even hear a single raven. I was disappointed, but was still sure I was right. My wife, on the other hand, had totally lost interest and didn’t want to hear another word about those darn ravens. (She’s such a quitter.) Just as I, too, was having second thoughts, I got an email from a customer who had seen ravens near the water tower. The hunt was back on.

The following day, I arrived at the watershed early (and, alone). I quickly came upon a murder of six crows. As we all know, crows can be plenty rowdy, but these birds were super chill as they watched me walk past. Then, in the distance and in the direction of the water tower, I heard the croak of a raven, and the crows heard it, too. Remember when I mentioned that crows hate ravens? Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but the crows certainly hadn’t. In a nanosecond they went from serene to flying maniacs, taking to the air like pilots scrambling jet fighters, screaming as they went. I figured the crows would likely chase the raven away, so I drove home and went back to bed.

The next morning I arrived even earlier and apparently the crows were still asleep, because I didn’t see a single one. About halfway down the trail I heard ravens, at least two, maybe more. All I had to do was follow their calls and I would find them. There was just one problem; I only have one good ear. Sounds always seem to be coming from whatever direction the good ear is facing. Without my wife pointing the right way, I didn’t know which way to go. So, and because no one was looking, I decided to spin in circles as I walked, looking like a ballerina with binoculars. My hope was that the spinning would help me figure out where the calls were coming from, and my plan actually worked. I found the ravens…and it was a family of them. Yay!

As soon as the mother saw me she took off, but the two kids could not have cared less and actually put on a show. They flew around investigating everything, from scraps of paper to clumps of dirt, but their favorite items were pinecones. The two siblings landed in a dead pitch pine and immediately began fighting over the cones. There was lots of squawking and grappling, like puppies with a dog toy. If one bird had a pinecone, the other one wanted it and the battle was on. Eventually, they took a break from the game and began nuzzling each other…once again like puppies. Aww! I could have watched them forever, but their mother had a different idea. She ultimately flew overhead, and thinking she might have had some food, the young ravens took off after her, squawking all the way. Pinecones are fun, but it was now breakfast time.

For the first time in centuries, Common Ravens are breeding again in Orleans. Even though I didn’t locate the actual nest, there’ s no doubt there is one. And while there isn’t a reward for making this first discovery, it was rewarding enough getting to see the babies in action. Plus, I can tell my wife that I was right all along. Let’s not forget about that.




Artwork by Catherine Clark


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