That Wily Trickster

Ravens flying over my head is one of my favourite things. You can hear the swooping of the wings and feel the gust of air pushing downwards.

I came to admire them shortly after coming here. When I first arrived, I would hear these wonderful, interesting bird noises and, to my surprise, when I looked up, expecting to see a different type of bird, it was always the raven.

One noise in particular gets me every time. It sounds like a water sound or like a throaty gurgle.

I swear they are saying “Paco” sometimes too. This makes me envision they speak Spanish.

My friend Willow told me a story about a raven sitting outside of the kindergarten door at Robert Service School. He was in the gutter looking down the drain pipe, making clicking noises and a purring sound.

When it echoed back up the pipe, the bird would ruffle its feathers, take a couple steps and tilt his head, with one eye staring back down the drain, and do it all over again.

She said this lasted about 15 minutes.

Amusingly, I have spent time watching them torment dogs, working in teams to distract the dog from its food while they eat some or simply pester for fun.

Ravens are known for their intellect. In his book, Mind of the Raven, biologist Bernd Heinrich describes a series of experiments he did with ravens.

He dangled pieces of hard salami from strings to see if the birds could figure out how to pull it up from their perch—the only way to get the food—rather than flying at it or trying to sever the string.

Although Heinrich hypothesized the ravens would not get the meat by pulling it up on the string, after minor fumbling, they learned the behavior. Heinrich concluded that this showed the birds have problem-solving skills.

In the winter I remember seeing the ravens on the street lamps. Then I heard they were tripping the sensors during daylight so the lights came on and provided them with warmth. Pretty darn clever.

As I am writing this I am at Moosehide in Dawson and a raven has landed here in the cook shack. They are quite revered and honoured amongst the First Nations people, seeing them as sly pranksters and playful spirits.

Spending time at Moosehide in Dawson, on Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) First Nations land, I have heard stories of ravens appearing dead on a lawn, when actually they are sunbathing tummy up and with their wings spread out. They will later stir and ruffle their feathers, turning right side up.

A few fun facts I have learned are that ravens can live up to 40 years in the wild and 70 years in captivity, and a pack of ravens is called an “unkindness”.

And, it is sweet to know that they mate for life. (Awww!)

Rebecca Hogarth has been a resident of Dawson City since 2007. She feels the energy of the Yukon and the encouraging people within allow her to shine in so many ways.

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