Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… hopefully, the last spring snowstorm has come and gone, we had at least twelve inches of snow last week. Snow doesn’t bother me, but being without electricity isn’t much fun especially when it last thirty hours or more. The unexpected snow brought to mind of a number of memories of other spring storms. Our first winter in the North Country when the snow, more than two hundred accumulated inches, from November through May, finally melted I was a very happy gardener. On May 10th, which happened to be Mother’s Day we awoke to find eighteen inches of new snow, which finally disappeared within a few days.

Another late snowstorm comes to mind, this one left me perplexed for quite some time. After the storm had passed I couldn’t wait to be able to get outside, this snowstorm also occurred on the last of April. The temperatures were rising quickly following the snowstorm and melting was occurring rapidly. As I walked along our country road I noticed something very peculiar, in a melting snowbank. There was a large pile of meat, which appeared to be a pound or more of beef, cut in pieces for making beef stew. What or who could have left it?

Several weeks later I learned who the culprit was and it wasn’t a human being it was actually a bird that cached the meat. And it wasn’t beef stew meat it was actually whitetail deer meat. Not far from where I encountered the meat on the melting snowbank, a neighbor had pulled a deer carcass out of the road where it had been hit by a car. He noticed that several bald eagles and a number of other birds were trying to feed on the remains. He was concerned that the feeding bald eagles would also become roadkill and used his snowmobile to pull the remains into his corn lot.

In addition to the feeding bald eagles, there were numerous crows and ravens that would take turns trying to get a share of the deer meat. Every now and then a raven would have a turn when the eagles were distracted. As it turns out the raven would then take its portion and cache it in the snowbank on our road. It had accumulated a substantial amount of deer meat without knowing that the snow would begin to melt within the next twenty-four hours.

This new knowledge about who had cached the meat also led me to learn more about these fascinating birds the Common or Northern Raven (Corvus corax.) Most of us are familiar with the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhychos) which is seventeen to twenty-one inches tall. The raven is quite a bit larger and may be twenty-one to twenty-seven inches tall. Like the crow, the raven is entirely black and has a massive thick bill while the crow has a strong, but not massive bill. While in flight the raven’s tail appears wedge-shaped compared to a crow’s square or slightly rounded tail. You have probably heard the caw-cawing sound of a crow, but the hoarse guttural sound of a raven is definitely different. The sound of a raven might be compared to a crow with acute laryngitis.

The first time I actually saw a raven was from the hiking trail at the top of the gorge in Whetstone Gulf State Park, in Lewis County. The ravens were nesting on the ledges and as we approach the rim of the gorge many ravens began to react verbally and with great aerial vigor. After a few quick photos, I left them, but could still hear their admonishments.

Ravens are members of the Order Passeriformes, or perching birds, which is known for the configuration of their toes (three pointing forward and one pointing backward) that allow them to perch on a tree or suitable object. These fascinating and clever birds are omnivores and feed on carrion and carrion insects such as maggots and carrion beetles. Additionally, ravens will consume other insects, grains, berries, and fruits as well as small mammals, nesting, and occasionally garbage. They have been observed in fields following the plows and quickly eating the insects which have been disturbed. They are also opportunists and have been known to harass turkey vultures which will vomit as a means of self-defense. After the turkey vulture regurgitates its food the raven will quickly devour the previously eaten food. Ravens are even notorious for annoying domestic animals in order to steal food from them. Working in pairs they have been seen distracting a nesting bird, once the bird leaves the nest to chase the attacker the other raven will grab the now unattended egg or nestling. These actions may explain the interesting name given to a flock of ravens, which is “Unkindness” or a “Conspiracy”.

The cleverness of ravens may be seen in many different ways including their ability to mimic sounds and even human speech. When wary of a predator at a carrion site the ravens will patiently wait until crows or jays have approached first; if it appears safe then the ravens will chase the smaller birds away and begin feeding. Their aerial acrobatics are important in their courting behavior as well as their ability to procure food. Once they are paired the ravens will then most likely remain mated for life and will use the same nesting site. Their nest is made of large sticks and twigs and has a deep bowl shape center. The bowl is filled with soft material such as deer hair or even sheep or alpaca fibers. Cliff ledges are a preferred nesting site. Three to seven pale bluish-green speckled with brown streaking eggs are laid and incubated by the female. Incubation is generally eighteen to twenty-one days. After hatching both the male and female will feed the nestlings; which will fledge between thirty-five to forty-two days. The fledglings may stay with the adults for six months or more and possibly one may stay with the adults to help with the next brood.

So the mysterious “meat in the snowbank” began my quest to find out more about amazing ravens. I hope that you find them interesting too.

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, for about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.

In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016 she has been writing a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at