Thursday, 1 March 2012

Raven Predators

The evidence was in the snow. Dark feathers scattered in the driveway under the window from where I looked.  Running outside, I followed the trail of feathers to spilled tree buds on the ground. Around the corner on the side of the garage was the predator - a raven feasting on a ruffed grouse. The large black bird flew away at my approach. The grouse's throat had been torn open to expose the tree buds it'd been eating. It's breast had been plucked bare, and was cold and soft. Not yet frozen.

Had the raven killed the grouse? I'd never heard of ravens actually killing something. Didn't they eat only carnage?  I disposed of the grouse carcass and feathers.

In the past two weeks, six ruffed grouse had returned each day to feed on the buds in the willow trees in my front yard. From beneath the low spreading branches of the large white spruce in the neighbor's yard, the birds crept out on the snow, flapped up to the fence, and walked along the round metal pole until they reached the first willow. After flying up to a heavy branch, the birds walked along this bridge that bent close to the next willow. Another flap and hop and the grouse would spread out in the big willow tree to feast on the buds. Branches bent as the heavy birds reached the thinner tips.

The grouse had appeared as usual in the late morning of the raven attack. In the afternoon, after I cleaned up the evidence, I went out to the willows to replenish the black oil sunflower seed in the bird feeders. Beside the snow trail through the lawn to the willows, I found more evidence - a hole in the snow the size of a grouse and imprints of raven feathers in the snow around the hole. I eyed the distance of the hole from the willow branches. If a raven had flown in from the street and attacked a grouse feeding out on a branch, the target would have landed in this area. Darn... wish I'd seen it!

After telling friends about the raven attack, I heard stories of ravens attacking live animals. Common observations were of ravens picking songbirds out of the sky. One friend had seen a cat surrounded by ravens in the street.  Then, I remembered an incident when I lived in Old Crow, Yukon. On a chilly fall day, I stood on the riverbank high above the frozen Porcupine River and watched four ravens peck continuously at a seagull they had surrounded on the ice. The large black birds jumped closer. The seagull flapped its wings, yet, no sound came from the birds.

An old man stopped to watch with me. The seagull was weakening under the attack. The elder and I walked on to let mother nature take her course.

1 comment:

  1. How thrilling and how grounding it must be to have nature 'taking its course' on your own yard. I enjoyed the story very much. Thank you.