Skinner: That bird knows something – Aspen Daily News


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The ravens perch on the peak of my green metal roof, puffing themselves up for warmth or maybe just to look as big as they feel. Four or five at a time, they take to the roof and watch over. Over everything.
Sometimes the same group, an “unkindness” of ravens, are in the snow-covered dirt road out front, unmoving until the dog comes up to them. Ravens sometimes boot the babies out of the nest early, thus the designation of unkindness. Murder of crows. Unkindness of raven.
There are few places in the world where the raven does not lurk. From the high slopes of Carbondale to the desert canyons of the San Juan to the Bundeshaus where several pairs set up nests in close proximity to falcons, the whole spectacle was enjoyed by the townspeople of Bern, Switzerland.
I think they are pretty smart birds, and I don’t really mind the scary mysticism behind the corvid. Athabascan Indians believed that in the time before man, raven was white but was killed by his jealous black-raven brother. It’s been downhill from there.
In 1845, poet Edgar Allen Poe penned “The Raven,” which is one of the most famous poems ever written. The bird knocks at the window until the protagonist opens it to see what was there. The raven enters and assumes a perch on a bust above the door. The raven talks and says, “nevermore!” every time it opens its beak.
In 1975, musician Alan Parsons claimed the musical mystery of the dark bird with an album called “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” featuring a song called, “The Raven.”
 
Thus quoth the raven, nevermore
And still the raven remains in my room
No matter how much I implore
No words can soothe him
No prayer remove him
And I must hear for evermore
Quoth the raven, nevermore
Thus quoth the raven
Nevermore
 
Ravens pair up, and I can see them standing close to one another. There once was a pair of ravens living on the San Juan River. I would encounter them many years in a row at a particular campsite. We had an Easter-egg hunt and the couple was right on the ground just a few feet away. Bobbing, dodging, ruffling and making a wide variety of raven sounds. If we were sitting down, they’d come real close, looking for a treat. I set up my video camera on a tripod and put some juicy blueberries on the sand in front of the camera. Neither would approach the berries as if to say, “I don’t perform” — or, “This is a trick.”
I talk to the ravens. According to the excellent book, “Mind of the Raven” by Bernd Heinrich, “By a combination of voice, patterns of feather erection, and body posture, ravens communicate so clearly that an experienced observer can identify anger, affection, hunger, curiosity, playfulness, fright boldness and (rarely) depression.”
Depressed ravens? That is a highly evolved species.
When I talk to ravens, I caw, cluck and clack — and to my astonishment, they often play along and talk back. They are capable of making a lot of different sounds, and I almost always learn something new when I talk to ravens. Sometimes a raven seems to be singing to himself. Just like me.
They fly. Even in sideways winds, the raven is up there before the other birds. They rise to the occasion, riding the wind without flapping a wing, diving like an eagle, black delta shapes contrasted by the white sky. I even saw a raven flying upside down above the mysterious Native American dwellings at Mesa Verde. They show off, but they have the chops to back it up.
How smart are they? When I look around, I see that they are smarter than most. They’ve learned to work with other species and make and use tools like the smartest monkeys. The raven on my roof puffs up, and I notice a glint of mischief in that black eye. That bird knows something.
 
Steve Skinner likes wolf-birds. Reach him at moogzuki@gmail.com.
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