by CHRIS D’ALESSANDRO
I have heard a lot of humorous stories concerning the ravens both in the aboriginal community and among the fraternity of outdoors people in Canada. The raven being one of the smartest animals we know of, it is natural to find this intelligence accompanied by humor.
I have on several occasions observed ravens traveling with wolf packs. They always fly in lazy circles that move in one direction; there will be typically three or four moving together ahead of the pack continually making a tremendous variety of strange sounds and inflections. The sounds are so many and so complicated that I am sure in my own self that it is a language that not only they understand but the predators understand also. It may sound far-fetched but what eventually convinced me is that I saw a number of ravens traveling in this fashion with three wolves. When the wolves stopped for a break the ravens landed among them and they all sat together for a few minutes enjoying the March sun collected by the small open ground they sat on. They had no fear of each other, and as they left resuming the same pattern of flight and sounds it was apparent that the ravens were spotting for the wolves, a true symbiotic partnership. I have also seen this pattern with magpies (close cousins) and coyotes, and also crows traveling with foxes, all working together to stay alive in the harsh environment of northern Canada.
I have read other interesting data someone collected. Some research was done with crows which are very close relatives to ravens; it seems that they are smart enough to count and keep count. For some reason these birds are fascinated by shiny objects of any kind, and they will collect them and store them in a secret stash. The research team had access to their nesting spot and they would routinely remove one out of 25 pennies one of the birds had stored. Every time the bird would come back to his stash he would immediately check out his treasure and finding one of his shiny pennies gone, would spend the rest of his day looking for it until recovered. Their eyesight is telescopic; as observers they are unequaled.
I think my own personal tale of raven humor would have to be from working in the north. As a bucker in the forest industry part of my responsibility was to go over the log decks and trim up any excess or rot. Sometimes I would leave my power saw idling on the deck while I measured a tree. I noticed that when it was really cold the vibration would travel the length of the tree and at the other end it was almost as loud as where the saw itself was.
One day I was working on a deck, my saw was idling, and I had my ear protection on over earplugs when I noticed a very subtle sound. It was the same as the sound the saw would make when sitting on the frozen deck. This unusual sound continued for minutes while I worked. Finally I stopped what I was doing and wondered what this somewhat familiar yet strange sound was. I took off my ear protection and could still faintly hear the sound but the saw was in my hands, not on the deck. I shut off the saw and looked around. Sitting in the branch of a cottonwood tree about 20 feet above me was brother raven and the noise was coming from him! He had been sitting there imitating the idling sound of the saw for quite a while and he continued even after I stopped. I laughed hard as I realized he didn’t have anything special to do that day so he came over to amuse himself and me with the low rumbling growl of an idling power saw. Who says animals don’t have souls? I will never buy that…