Ravens and their close relatives, crows, are compelling birds: they are jet black with traces of dark blue in strong sunlight, and their calls are eerie. Making them even more interesting is the news from Oxford, England in early August 2002 that a female New Caledonian crow has been able to make her own tool for gathering food. Females of all species should cheer on this resourceful bird who was given two wires, one straight and one curved, by researchers. Researchers hoped that she would choose the curved one to access some food inside a tube. She did, but a nearby male bird promptly stole the wire from her. Undeterred, she took the straight wire and bent it herself! She was able to bend wires in 9 out of 10 trials, often using different methods to accomplish the bending.
Click here for CNN's story on the intelligent female crow. To view stunning photographs of many members of the crow family, including ravens, crows, magpies, and jays, and to learn more about their intelligence, order the book Bird Brains by Candace Savage.
Sadly, I have just been alerted by a posting on nature.net that crows have been dying of the West Nile Virus. My husband and I observed a crow in the summer of 2002 in Dublin, CA (about an hour east of San Francisco in Zone 9) that seemed ill. Its feathers were scraggly and seemed to be covered in some sort of white powder. I sincerely hope that the West Nile virus has not spread here.
Ravens are much larger than crows and have thicker bills. They are common in the Mojave Desert of California and Nevada. I photographed this raven near a Joshua tree (two of my favorite symbols juxtaposed) in the Mojave National Desert Preserve about 20 miles outside Baker, CA.
Due to their dark color, eerie cries, and habit of eating carrion, ravens and crows have been associated with death and evil. However, to me, they are a symbol of intelligence and a sign to me to pay attention the path I have chosen at any particular moment. At several key turning points in my life, I have come across ravens or crows behaving oddly, prompting me to think about the decisions I should make.
Candace Savage, in her book, Bird Brains, notes that "In Ireland, the phrase 'raven's knowledge' speaks of an oracular ability to see and know everything." Crows and ravens, like cats, are said to be able to see past, present, and future as if time were not linear but circular.