I’m not sure who selects the reading assignments for kids in elementary school, but the person is definitely misguided. Reading was never something I was particularly interested in to start with. Add a dose of Shakespeare to my summer reading list and I am a goner.
Nothing put me to sleep faster than Shakespeare. That stuff was obviously written as a feeble attempt to cure insomnia, and he succeeded. The words he used were far from my comprehension. Words like “verily” left me hanging on the edge.
Then one day, Mrs. Erickson, my sixth-grade teacher, decided we would now read poetry. I was less than enthralled, but felt I needed more daytime sleep. That soon changed when she gave me my first poem to read.
As you probably have guessed, the poem was “The Raven,” by Edgar Allen Poe. I enjoyed the poem so much that I read many more of Poe’s poems and stories. Without knowing it, I fell into that teacher's plan and have read hundreds of classics over the years, and still do today. Ruark and Hemmingway are among my favorite classic authors.
The raven has long been used in symbolism and carries many spiritual meanings. In Greek mythology, ravens are associated with Apollo, the god of prophecy. They were a symbol of bad luck and used as god’s messengers in the mortal world.
The Viking god, Odin, had two ravens named Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). Odin would send these birds to fly around the world every day and report back to him as to what they saw.
Native American lore describes the raven as a creature of metamorphosis, and symbolizes change and transformation. In other cultures, ravens are portrayed as a symbol of death.
Ravens and crows are near impossible to tell apart in the field. Both are members of the Corvus genus, and can be found on all the continents except Antarctica and South America. There are more than 40 species in the family that have been identified.
The easiest way to separate ravens from crows is to have them visible together, as they often are. The raven is much larger, about one-third, than the crow. Ravens also sport a large wedge-shaped tail. A raven can soar for long times on an air current and an observer can see through their wing feathers when they fly.
Even when you can’t see the birds, the calls they make will separate the two birds. Crows make the traditional caw-caw sound, as any outdoor person can attest to. The woods wake up in the mornings to the crow calls.
Ravens on the other hand, make a very deep and reverberating croaking or gronk-gronk sound. Occasionally, a raven will imitate a crow’s caw sound, but even then, it is so deep that it is fairly easy to distinguish from a real crow.
A raven can have a body length up to 2-feet and a wingspan of 4-feet, making them appear very large in flight. A mature adult can weigh around 3 pounds. Color wise, a raven is completely black, including his eyes, legs and beak.
In flight, ravens are graceful and buoyant, as they soar and glide through the air with very few wing flaps. On the ground, they strut around and bound forward with a series of two-footed hops.
You can see ravens all the way up to the tree line, as well as the desert, sagebrush, alpine tundra and the grasslands. Generally a loner, but sometimes seen in pairs, ravens are not social like crows. The exception would be around the landfill, where many can be seen at once looking for food.
When it comes to intelligence, a raven ranks near the top with dolphins and chimpanzees. In the wild, ravens have been known to push rocks on people to keep them from climbing to their nests, and stolen fish by pulling a fisherman’s line from an ice hole.
If a raven knows another raven is watching it hide its food, it will pretend to put food in one place while really hiding it in another. As smart as ravens are, this trick seldom works.
In captivity, ravens can actually learn to talk, oftentimes better than parrots. They can also mimic other noises such as car engines, and animal or other bird noises. In the wild, ravens can imitate wolves or foxes to attract them to a carcass that the raven is not capable of breaking open. When the wolf or fox is finished eating, the raven feasts on the leftovers. That is pretty smart, considering I have trouble with childproof lids.
An Austrian study found that ravens make very sophisticated non-vocal signals to each other. They actually use gestures to communicate. The study found that a raven would use its beak to point out an object to another bird, similar to what we do with our fingers to point.
These researchers also found that a raven will hold up an object to get another bird’s attention. This is the first time researchers have observed naturally occurring gestures in any animal other than primates.
Ravens are scavengers with a large diet that includes fish, meat, carrion, seeds, fruit, and garbage. They are not above tricking an animal out of their food. One raven will distract the other animal, while another raven will steal the food.
Mating for life, ravens live in pairs and usually in a fixed territory. When the young reach adolescence, they leave the nest and join a gang. These flocks of young birds will live and eat together until they mate and pair off.
In the wild, a raven may live 15 to 17 years. Some birds in captivity have lived beyond 40 years of age.
In the wild, ravens are not friends to farmers or ranchers who raise livestock. Ravens will peck at the eyes of lambs and calves for food, and can be a real nuisance. The state of Colorado has policy and regulations for dealing with nuisance birds and should be consulted if you have a problem with them. The Federal Migratory Bird Act protects ravens throughout the United States.
I still have no idea what use the word “verily” has in American literature, but I really learned the word “nevermore.” Thank you Mrs. Erickson for bringing me the Classics.
Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and avid hunter who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a director for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email email@example.com.
For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email firstname.lastname@example.org.