The average adult raven is about 2.5 pounds and it’s hard to tell adults from juveniles. The below video shows a power struggle between ravens at a food source. At the very beginning you can see a raven on the far left grab another raven’s tail feathers with his beak and pull him or her away from the food. Another seems to join in. (By the way, if the video is blurry find the settings in the bottom right hand corner of the player and change it to a higher resolution. Youtube automatically chooses a low setting so it will download faster.)
After reading Ravens in Winter, a book by Bernd Heinrich, I’m inclined to believe that the commotion going on in the video has to do with a power struggle (to gain access to the food) between the juvenile birds and the adults. According to Heinrich, adults are usually silent at carcasses (dead animals in the wild), and juveniles are very noisy. The juveniles “yell” at kills and make a commotion, possibly to attract more juveniles to the kill, in order to compete with the adults and gain access to the food.
Heinrich “proves” through observation and careful note-taking that ravens actively recruit other ravens to food piles. He speculates, after studying raven behavior for many years, that this recruitment is not necessarily altruistic, or done in order to get the favor back some day. Instead, it is probably related more to “gaining or maintaining access to the food than to sharing the wealth.”
Juveniles actively recruit, in order to overwhelm by sheer numbers, the adults at the carcass, so that the adults will give up defending the carcass, which they do when they are just too outnumbered.
So if we can extend this power struggle at carcasses in the field to city food (trash) then it’s possible the squawking raven in the video, the one being pulled from the food by his or her tail feathers, is likely a juvenile, being bossed around by the adults, who are not as vocal.
I strongly encourage any bird lover to read Ravens in Winter. This bird that I see nearly every day of my life is actually quite mysterious and Heinrich helps us understand their possible and likely motivations.
Thanks for reading! Happy New Year!
I made this little animation to show how this poor chickadee was being bothered by its beak deformity. Every so often it would rub its beak against the edge of the bird feeder like this. It appeared relatively healthy so it must have been able to eat satisfactorily, but apparently this deformity causes it to be obsessive about trying to scrape off the excess beak.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit the beautiful island of Hawaii you’ve probably visited Honolulu. And if you’ve visited Honolulu that means you’ve probably been to Waikiki. And if you’ve been to Waikiki that means you’ve seen the pigeons (a.k.a. rock doves).
Lovely birds, as special as any living creature, but not very popular with the tourists.
Hawaii is a common destination for Alaskans in the winter. With an almost total lack of sunshine from November to February we pledge to ourselves that this winter we are getting out! Hopefully it happens. And there is nary a more direct route to full-on sunshine then the quick five or so hours from Anchorage to Honolulu.
The pigeon on the very left is looking pretty mangy (click on the photo to see it larger). There are so many pigeons in Waikiki, with no natural predators anywhere in sight, that they over breed and become a danger to themselves and people. The photo on the right shows another pigeon from Waikiki, this one missing a foot and walking around a restaurant hunting for food scraps and somehow managing to avoid being clobbered.
So when I saw this posting by the Human Society about OvoControl, a contraceptive-laced food that property owners can feed pigeons, I was thrilled. It describes how the manager of The International Marketplace, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Waikiki, chose to take a chance on the product and saw a 60% reduction in pigeons after 12 months. (It costs $9 a day to feed/treat 100 pigeons.)
Talk about an ideal non-violent and humane solution! Maybe this will catch on in communities that are fed up with the overpopulation of this city-loving bird.
My friend and I drove into Homer, Alaska one evening in April of 2006. Our trip was fortunately timed – though not purposely – because we caught the eagles still in town. They were reaping the benefits of friendly human feeders before leaving for summer’s greener pastures.
As we drove down onto the Homer Spit eagles were perched on nearly every building. The sun’s long evening rays set them off and they were so still that we asked each other, are they real?? But as we drove down the spit to the Land’s End Hotel, we saw enough of them shuffle their feathers or blink their eyes to know they were totally and gorgeously real.
If I had only thought to take a photo… (Though at that time I used a plain point and shoot which would not have done justice to the moment.)
Over the next couple of days I took plenty of time to walk the beaches and absorb the feelings of a place that was (and still is) pretty much totally foreign to me. As a landlubber in Alaska I see plenty of wildlife, but usually not the same wildlife as near the coasts.
This was a common sight on the beaches, people leaving fish guts and carcases out for the eagles. Gulls and crows benefit too.
I never saw an eagle growing up (bald or not!) until about 10 years ago. Now I see them at least a couple of times a year in and around Fairbanks. It could be that as a child or young adult I wasn’t paying attention, but I’d be willing to bet that their population has grown throughout Alaska over the last couple of decades as it has generally in North America.
On the right you can see the mottled feather pattern of a 2 or 3 year old eagle. It takes 4 years for an eagle to get its adult plumage and wing length.
Valdez has quite a few bald eagles too, but I’ve never seen this many at a time anywhere but Homer. (Some day I’ll make it to Haines too for the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival and the Chilkat Preserve.) If you’re a bald eagle fan all three of these places should be on your list!