Hello to you too, Mr. Raven in the backyard. I'm not sure why he is looming around the branches of our super-tall Spruce trees. Maybe he is scoping out the after-Christmas gingerbread houses and rotten apples I just threw out. Around town, we refer to these birds as "dumpster chickens" because of their filthy way of life in the city. They are most commonly found at McDonald's, Burger King, or any other place that frequently dumps food remnants into a dumpster. Sometimes we call them "soul chickens" or "Spirit Birds" as well. That is because the Native Alaskans believe that at some point after death, the human soul enters a raven and can then guide and be with the tribe forever. What they then say happens when a raven dies, I'm not sure! It is that belief that has earned the raven a place on the State's protected species list as well. In any case, ravens in the city are fat, grossly dirty birds.
On the flip side, ravens are amazing creatures in the wild. They have mimicking capabilities. I have heard them "bark" at my dog, Tigerlily while we walked our trapline. Sometimes they whistle. Mostly tthough, their sound is just a throaty "caw" similar to a crow or a deep clucking. The most amazing time to hear them is when they have found a fresh animal kill. I don't quite understand what, other than God, directs them to kill sites, but they seem to appear as soon as an animal is killed. After they find the site, they just seem to multiply in the sky. From six to a dozen black birds, soaring high above the blood on the ground; circling and calling loudly. Calling: yes, calling to stir the other forest inhabitants. "Aww-Aww-'Freshly killed moose below,'" they say, hoping to reach the ears of a wolf pack or a hungry bear. They repeat this ritual for hours at times, scarcely ever swooping down to peck at the meat. Ravens prefer to have someone else do the dirty work. If they can call in a hungry carnivore to rip the hide and make a mess of the carcass, they will gladly wait. Then, and only then, does the ravens' feast begin.
It is a shame to see the raven in such a negative light around the cities. Instead of scavenging after bears and wolves, they scavenge after humans. They are pecking at the remnants of OUR meals, and living a very poor life due to that. I once asked a lady from the Alaska Bird Observatory about the lifespan of the raven. Though I don't remember her exact answer, I wasn't surprised to hear that city birds die much sooner than those in the wild. Not because they have a rougher life, but because they have high cholesterol, heart disease, and other nasty illnesses caused by their custom of eating our table scraps.
Well, consider yourself a little more educated on the most common bird in Alaska. And if you come to visit this Great Land, and you share a french-fry or hamburger with a raven, just remember, somewhere beyond the city lights, there are moose who dread the sound of the raven's cry. It means death to them, but life to a wolf and to the ravens there, who know nothing of our human filth.