Corvids play

Everything plays. Playing helps with motor and sensory skills as well as social behavior. It relieves stress. It teaches the young many important things needed for survival through the process of trial and error while they can still afford to make mistakes. It keeps relationships healthy. Social play helps children gain friends. Social play helps young lovers meet and flirt. Social play teaches us how to behave according to our social norms. It can give us solid practice on our role in society. Birds are no different than us. They play, although not all birds use social play. But young birds play more than fully grown birds. Bird play is often spontaneous and free-spirited. And corvids engage in all manners of play, including social play. It is easy to recognize a child playing. It can be just as easy to recognize a bird playing.

For example, when corvids play they often soar together on air currents, swoop down only to rise again over and over. It resembles a flying game of tag. Corvids also use ordinary objects as toys. They will often drop twigs, stones, leaves, or even their food midair and then catch them before they fall completely. Much like juggling or tossing a ball into the air. “One Hooded Crow repeated this performance dozens of times, catching his ‘toy’ after it had dropped about 36 feet (11 meters)”. ((Podulka, Sandy, Ronald W. Rohrbaugh, Jr., and Rick Bonney, Editors. Handbook of Bird Biology. 2nd edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004.)) He must have been one heck of a juggler. I can almost seem him as a human, throwing things up in the air and catching them in his mouth.

The following antics, corvid play was described in the Handbook of Bird Biology by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Ravens have been observed taking turns sliding on their tails, feet first, down a snow bank as well as repeatedly sliding down smooth pieces of wood in their cages. Ravens have been seen playing with dogs, taking turns chasing it around a tree. One captive raven was observed tossing a rubber ball, pebbles, or snail shells into the air and catching them repeatedly. This same bird would often lay on its back and shift various playthings (toys) between its beak and its claws much like many children do with their toys. Other birds fell forward from a perch like an acrobat, in order to hang upside down by their feet, wings outstretched, then let go one foot at a time. While upside down, they would carry pieces of food, or shift items from beak to feet. One, while holding onto a branch with his feet, learned to propel himself around and around the perch by flapping his wings, like a gymnast on uneven parallel bars in a sort of ‘loop-the-loop. The same captive ravens also played balancing games: carefully walking out as far as possible to the end of a tiny branch until it bent downward, turning them upside down; or trying to stand on a stick or bone held in the feet, while balancing it on top of and parallel to a perch made from a thick, wooden dowel.

When given time and the resources birds will play. The corvids do. Perhaps it is the corvids extensive use of playing, allowing themselves and their young to learn and develop through playing that allows them to thrive when other bird populations are declining at an alarming rate.

Sources referenced

Podulka, Sandy, Ronald W. Rohrbaugh, Jr., and Rick Bonney, Editors. Handbook of Bird Biology. 2nd edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004.

Biggest and Smallest Corvids

Most people do not know that there are over 120 species of corvid family of birds—including many jays, choughs and treepies—not just crows, ravens and magpies. Well, I was not certain where to begin with this fascinating family of birds so I decided to start with telling you the biggest and the smallest amongst them.

The largest corvids are the Common Raven (Corvus corax) and the Thick-billed Raven (Corvus crassirostris), both of which regularly exceed 1400 grams (3 lbs) and 65 cm (26 inches). ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvidae))

I will do thorough posts about these specific birds in the next couple of days. For now I will share a picture of each.

Dwarf Jay
Dwarf Jay


Common Raven
Common Raven


Thick-billed Raven
Thick-billed Raven

Common Ravens and Egg


Common Ravens and Egg

Originally uploaded by poecile05

This is the second raven baby/egg photograph and post. Thanks to the photographer, poecile05, for sharing this on flickr and allowing us to blog it.

If you read yesterday’s post, you know how much a baby raven can and must consume. I shared with you a small part of a book I read, “Mind of the Raven” by Bernd Heinrich.

The high maintenance baby ravens don’t stop with just a need for attention and an enormous amount of food. They also require some special attention to see to their “bathroom” needs, if you will. You may recall from yesterday’s post that nestlings eat A LOT of food. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Yep! That is right. Almost every amount that goes into the baby ravens must come out. Since they can’t lift themselves up to hang over the side of the nest for at least a couple of weeks, their parents must take care of this expediently. Remember, if they eat six woodfrogs and two mice IN ONE FEEDING, then you can imagine how much waste that much food produces after EACH and EVERY FEEDING! They would quite literally be drowning in a bowl (their nest) full of their own liquid dung (also known as ‘mutes’).

In order to prevent this from happening, the parents scoop up the “mute” with their beaks as it is coming out and dumps it over the side of the nest. They are the equivalent of live pooper-scoopers. Not so fun, not so simple. Imagine how much time this takes and then recall how much food they need. You can see clearly how much time parenting takes in a raven’s life.

We are lucky as humans that we only need to go to the local grocery store to obtain food for our young. Imagine the raven’s life…

Common Raven Nestling and Egg

I found this photograph on flickr as well (my new favorite place to find great corvid pictures!) and I had to share it. Look at them! They are soooooooo cute. They look like baby dinosaurs.

While I have your attention, let me share a little story about baby ravens with you. I discovered this stuff while reading “Mind of the Raven” by Bernd Heinrich. In case you are debating on whether you should check it out, you definitely should. Back to my point…

When ravens are babies, also known as nestlings, they require an enormous amount of food and parental care. Ravens need a lot of protein to grow healthy and strong. In his book, “Mind of the Raven“, Heinrich tells us what he fed six nestlings at about five weeks of age:

Day One: One woodchuck and one snowshoe hare

Day Two: Three red squirrels, one chipmunk, six frogs, eight chicken eggs (crunched up shells and all)

Day Three: Two gray squirrels, five frogs, six eggs, six mice

Day Four: One hindquarter of a Holstein calf

That is ALOT of food! OMG!

He goes on to describe how a few days later EACH of the nestlings could eat six woodfrogs and two mice IN ONE FEEDING! And then they’d be ready in an hour or two to eat the same amount! This is outrageous. Now, I feel infinitely guilty for only feeding them two pieces of bread. Goodness!

Young Ravens needs A LOT of care, food, and attention. Our hats go off to the raven parents. And we highly suggest you DO NOT take baby ravens as domestic pets unless you have an enormous amount of time, energy and determination and the resources needed to provide the adequate diet needed for them.

I will write more about nestlings and fledglings in future posts, keep your eye out for them!

Common Raven

Originally uploaded by quasimodo4502

What a beautiful bird this is, isn’t it? He looks like he has a helmet, almost, doesn’t he? This was taken by Quasimodo4502 at Golden Gate Park. You can see the original photograph on Flickr. =)

I decided since it is Halloween, I would tell you a bit about the raven. =)

Did you know the “common raven” is the most widely distributed corvid of all? It is all over the Northern hemisphere. Like me, they prefer to stay away from places too hot. =)

They are omnivorous…meaning they will eat just about anything. This helps them survive and thrive. They are intelligent birds and beautiful. This is why they are so popular. There are poems about them, songs, stories, folklore, and obviously a lot of art.

If you’d like to draw one, paint one or photograph one and share it… we will post it. =)

Let us know (See below).

Let me end this with the very famous, very loved “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.

The raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
«Tis some visitor», I muttered, «tapping at my chamber door:
Only this and nothing more».

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor,
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
«Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
This it is and nothing more».

Presently my soul grew stronger: hesitating then no longer,
«Sir», said I, «or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping.
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you». – Here I opened wide the door –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
Put the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only world there spoken was the whispered word, «Lenore!»
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, «Lenore!»
This, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, somewhat louder than before.
«Surely», said I, «surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore, –
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore,
«Tis the wind, and nothing more».

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he, not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then, this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
By the grave and stem decorum of the countenance it wore,
«Though the crest be shorn and shaven, thou», I said, «art sure no craven,
Ghastly, grim, and ancient Raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the night’s Plutonian shore!»
Quoth the Raven, «Nevermore».

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door –
With such name as «Nevermore».

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered, not a feather then he fluttered;
Till I scarcely more than muttered, «Other friends have flown before!
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before!»
Then the bird said, «Nevermore.»

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
«Doubtless» said I, «what it utters is its only stock and store;
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Following fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of «Never – nevermore !»

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door}
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird oi yore
Meant in croaking «Nevermore».

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’cr –
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
«Wretch,» I cried, «thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!»
Quoth the Raven, «Nevermore».

«Prophet!» said I, «thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore?
Is there – is there balm in Gilead ? – tell me – tell me, I implore I»
Qucth the Raven, «Nevermore».

«Prophet!» said I, «thing of evil – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
By that heaven that bends above us, by that God we both adore,
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore!»
Quoth the Raven, «Nevermore».

«Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!» I shrieked upstarting.
«Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!»
Quoth the Raven, «Nevermore».

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

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I Never Met a Raven I Didn’t Like

Ok, so who couldn’t love this little guy? And how could I NOT share it? What a great photograph. Thanks again to the Robinsegg (on flickr) for this most excellent photograph capturing clearly the interesting personality and charm Ravens possess.

What do you think he is thinking? Cheese? Perhaps. Or maybe he is thinking, “When you finish taking my photograph, would you mind terribly going and fetching me some McDonald’s?”

Profile in Curiosity


Profile in Curiosity

Originally uploaded by Robinsegg

Another great photo by Robinsegg. Aren’t they beautiful birds?

I am learning firsthand how picky they are about what they eat as well. It is a common (yet wrong) assumption that all birds like set foods and that most birds of the same species will like the same kinds of foods.

Corvids really are individuals. They each like something different. We’ve been testing with The Crow Show exactly what they like to eat and each of them has a different preference. Peanuts are next to try. I’ll let you know how it turns out.