Cochise County Birds: The Common Raven

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One Million Views 013Despite the title, there’s nothing common about the so-called common raven.  Corvus Corax  is remarkable, whether living in Cochise County, Arizona, or turning up in Montana, South Dakota, or Colorado–all places I’ve lived and become acquainted with the big black birds.

And brother, are they ever black.  There’s a reason the term “raven haired beauty” is a part of our language.

The photos immediately above and immediately below this text were taken just yesterday, February 7, 2013, in Sierra Vista, Arizona.  The fluffed-up head feathers make them look like an entirely different species than we usually see.  It was, in fact, these pictures that prompted me to get off the dime and write up a page about ravens instead of continuing to procrastiinate.

But the tale of my complex connection with -RA!- (as my wife has long referred to the raven), goes back to one fine summer day in the mountains of western Montana in the year 1958.

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I was 14 years of age that summer, riding alone up Tie Gulch and across the headland to Nelson Springs before turning back.  This was summer range for our cattle herd.  Whenever one or more of us had the time and an itch to hit the saddle, that’s where we went.

Nothing seemed amiss with the few cows I came across.  They were mostly grazing peacefully, calves at their sides.  On my return journey, just coming out into a relatively open area below a ridge top, a raven pair caught my attention.  Golden eagles hunted that country, yet strangely enough I took them for granted.  The ravens were…different.  It’s not that they did anything out of the ordinary; they simply took off from their perch on an old, lightning-riven pine snag and started criss-crossing the sky, keeping an eye on the wildflower-filled slope  for anything that looked edible.

No, it wasn’t what they did.  It’s what they were. 

Down lower, we had plenty of magpies, crows, the occasional hoot owl…but no ravens.  This was my first real enounter with the Dark Lords of the Air, and I felt…something.  A connection, deep and true.

Why, I couldn’t tell you to this day.  The connection is still there, though, and after six divorces, I ended up with a woman whose bond with the species is even more powerful than my own.

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Most of the photos on this page were taken along or near the dirt road leading from our off grid Border Fort to the highway in southern Cochise County.  The scientists consider these guys to be kind of like giant songbirds or perching birds, and the  picture of the raven atop a yucca plant shows why–the black beauty is most certainly just a-perching away there….

Pam, my 7th and current wife, raised her kids in this county.  She and I met in a Tonopah, Nevada, laundromat in 1996 and have been pretty much hooked at the hip ever since.

I mention this as part of the backstory for the raven.

Prior to our hooking up, my redhead had been homeless for more than two years, five feet and 92 pounds of pure survivor.  While she was out there ducking Ranger Rick, holding body and Soul together any honest way she could, she was unwillingly out of touch with her beloved youngest child.  But–perhaps in part because of her quarter-Choctaw bloodline–she chose to believe the two of them could still communicate through, you got it, the ravens.

Whenever she heard their “-RA!-“ croak in the wild, she felt that was Zachary, speaking to her.  “HI, RA!”  She would call out, and often -RA!- would reply.  It helped her keep her sanity until she was able, later on, to make up for lost time with her boy.  It must have worked, too; Zach is a hardworking married man and father of two, these days, living just three miles down the road from our own place.

Raven as mental health counselor.  Bet you never heard that one before.

Curiously, there seem to be quite a few people who have trouble distinguishing between the common raven and the common crow.  If they could see the two side by side, the differences would be fairly obvious, but it’s not like they flock together.  Or murder together, since the proper term is “a murder of crows”.  Ravens get less drastic but more numerous group tags:  A “constable,” a “conspiracy”, or an “unkindness” of ravens.

Hm.

Without going into all the technical stuff, here’s a bit of a comparison in photo form.

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CROW. This one happened to be fantailing in for a bit of dumpster diving behind a fast food restaurant.

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RAVEN, cruising above a back road fence line.

Uh…they do look a bit alike, don’t they?  Except for the fact that the raven has a burlier beak and about as much neck as your average pro wrestler, namely thick and to the point.

Let’s try another comparison.

CROW, enjoying a perch atop that same dumpster.

CROW, enjoying a perch atop that same dumpster.

 

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RAVEN, perched atop a yucca plant.

Okay, that works.  See the differences now?  Even if you happened to have a giant crow and a midget raven side by side, it’s clear the raven has (a) a blockier form overall, with (b) a shorter, thicker neck, (c) a somewhat stubbier beak, etc.

Of course there’s always the audio.  The crow says -Caw!- while the raven croaks -RA!-. 

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