By Vern and Lori Gieger
No, I'm not talking tequila, but like the legendary tequila this critter has more than a few legends of its own. The cuervo is better known to us in English as the raven. Ravens are a common sight in countries around the globe, surviving in many different climates. They range from islands in the northern Arctic to deserts of North Africa, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coasts of North America. They can be found in England, Australia, Mexico and many other countries. Preferences vary with species, but most prefer wooded areas, especially along the coast and in the mountains.
They are the subject of many a myth, legend, poem and movie. One will even find several references to ravens in the Bible. Ravens tend to be shrouded in mystery, associated with evil, darkness and death. But not always, Native American culture held them in high esteem, as creators of life on earth. Evidence also suggests that others such as the Eskimos held them in high regard as well.
To this day the ravens residing at the Tower of London regularly have their wings clipped. Why? Legend has it, if the ravens were to leave the Tower, the crown will fall and the British Empire with it, so to prevent this catastrophe their wings are routinely clipped.
The raven is an imposing bird, the largest member of the crow family, weighing in at about three pounds. Beautiful black highly glossed plumage shows iridescent greens, blues, and purples, shining like a black dewdrop in the light. Ravens can have a wing span of four feet, and overall body length two feet plus. A skilful flyer, adept at diving, flying upside down, turning somersaults and other tricks. They dive and roll like a black thunderbolt across the sky as they speed along with liquid, gliding strokes. The raven is the paragon of the air.
Ravens can be just as comical on the ground as they are graceful in the air. They’re known for their inventive and often mischievous ways, playful personalities, and raucous calls. Stories are numerous citing examples of the birds playing catch with twigs, sliding down icy slops on their bellies, snipping clothespins off lines, watching the clean laundry fall to the ground, and antagonizing much larger animals by antics such as tail-pulling and dive-bombing.
Ravens are considered grand tricksters and opportunistic thieves. But, they also have a more somber side; researchers have observed "funerals" in which several ravens silently surround a departed flock member for a long period, only to depart without a single sound beyond the flutter of wings. Their intelligence is believed to be at least equal to monkeys.
Ravens are adaptable, intelligent, and able to learn, remember, and use insight to solve problems. They may use unique methods to obtain food, such as pulling up the lines of ice fishermen and rolling walnuts under car wheels or dropping them from great heights. They also have an extensive vocabulary, imitating other animal sounds, the sound of the wind and even human speech.
Ravens are omnivores; they will eat anything which is edible and some things which aren’t. Safe to say they are easily pleased, they will eat anything from road kill to raisins. In times of need they will even hunt small lizards and mammals.
Ravens nest high in trees, on cliffs and even on power-line poles, usually 30 feet or more above the ground. The nest is made of twigs and sticks, and lined with animal hair and grass. The female lays four to eight light bluish spotted eggs in early spring; both parents feed and care for the young which stay in the nest until they are fully fledged. Ravens form lifelong bonds with their mate and annually return to the same nest. In the wild their lifespan can vary greatly; in captivity they may live 30-40 years.
You needn’t be a fan of ravens to admire them. Henry Ward Beecher, an eminent 19th-century American naturalist, once said that if human beings wore wings and feathers, very few would be clever enough to be ravens.