NATURE’s Ravens explores how these all-black creatures acquired their dual and contradictory images — as birds of both life and death.
Long recognized as one of the most intelligent birds, the raven also has a less than savory image throughout history as a scavenger that does not discriminate between humans and animals.
Ingenious and versatile, ravens are members of the crow family, which includes jays and magpies. They are found everywhere in the northern hemisphere and adapt to very different terrain, from deserts to mountains — a feat requiring high intelligence.
They learn to find food even in the harshest conditions, such as the dead of winter in Yellowstone National Park. As scavengers, ravens know how and when to take advantage of other animals to help them cadge a meal they couldn’t otherwise reach. In Yellowstone, bison that don’t survive the harsh winter attract coyotes, whose sharp teeth and strong jaws rip open the tough, frozen hides — making the meat accessible to watchful ravens. They also have been seen following wild wolf packs to a kill; some stories even have ravens flying ahead of the wolves to lead them to prey.
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Online content for Ravens was originally published December 2001.