7.11.2010

VelociRaven.

This is a somewhat macabre post. I know, I know. Hard to believe that Emo McGothy over here has a dark side. My point is, if you’re sensitive to things like animal predatory behavior, then maybe you should skip this one. Me? I guess that sometimes I like to start my week on the sick side. There are some nice photos of birds, though, so if you think you can stomach it, it might be worth your while. Still, consider yourself warned.



These are the culprits. Before I get to the ghoulish bit, let me say that I have a profound fondness for ravens. They’re clever and beautiful, and if you’ve ever interacted with ravens, you know that they have a strong sense of self and are quite funny. For instance, these two ravens have trust issues with peanuts. There’s a stump out by my barn, and I regularly leave peanuts out for the forest critters. This worries these two ravens to no end. From their perch in the tree, they have a long talk as they look down at the peanuts on the stump. After a while, one of them swoops down to scout things out while the other keeps watch. As the lookout shouts encouragement from the tree, the scout walks around and around the stump. I counted seventeen laps once. Seriously. Finally, the scout, mustering all of his courage, jumps up and strikes the top of the stump with his talons. He doesn’t take a peanut - rather, he repeatedly jumps up from different angles and knocks at the stump with his feet before taking cover and observing from a few feet away. If he determines it’s safe, he’ll call the lookout down so both can feast on the peanuts. Often, however, he’s so nervous about the whole thing that he and his partner will fly off without taking any peanuts at all.

Of course, I thought this behavior was hilarious, but it also made me really curious as to what had these ravens so uptight about my peanut offerings. One day, I mentioned the odd peanut dance to one of my neighbors and she started laughing. She told me that outdoor cannabis growers set rat traps around their weed patches and bait them with peanuts. Ravens have learned to strike at the traps in order to spring them and steal the peanuts.

See? Smart birds, right? And charming. Yeah, well, stick with me...



I’m not sure who the victims were in this tragedy. It could have been any of the forest sparrows or robins or finches who nest in the redwoods around my house. All I know is, this morning when I woke up, it sounded like Bird Armageddon out there. I walked outside just in time to see one of the ravens swoop right over my head with a baby chick in its beak - legs kicking, desperately cheeping away the last moments of its life. The other raven was still raiding the nest and cawing out in delight. Meanwhile, all of the other species of birds within a quarter-mile of my place were having a collective bird meltdown. Very grim. Especially considering that there’s some perfectly good peanuts on that stump over there.



I’ve been reading a lot lately about how birds and dinosaurs are related, which puts their grisly behavior in perspective. I mean, the similarities are striking - especially so now that scientists have concluded that some dinosaurs had feathers.



Birds are kind of like velociraptors in miniature. You can really see it in the claws. And in the eyes.



There they sit, on a bench, the portrait of innocence...



Or nonchalantly sipping nectar from your feeder...



When all the while they’re plotting against you with that T-Rex brain of theirs. It makes me wonder what it would have been like when gigantic, winged creatures dominated the skies, flying from tree to tree raiding the nests of other prehistoric creatures. Maybe even prehistoric monkey creatures.



Because let me tell you, after watching those ravens raid that nest, I honestly believe that this mallard would eat you if he could. Which will doubtlessly be my nightmare for tonight - sitting helplessly in a nest awaiting my fate at the beak of a giant mallard who has already gulped down half of my siblings.



Yet I don’t think nature is cruel. Rather, I think nature is indifferent. For example, most of the time I wander through life completely unaware of the havoc and destruction I visit upon the heads of not only smaller creatures, but perhaps even upon the heads of entire universes to which I am the greater (and completely oblivious) host. Is this havoc intentional? Malicious? No. How can it be malicious if I’m destroying existences I cannot possibly be conscious of? Yet there it is, happening every second of every day. And if I proceed through my days completely indifferent to the tragedies I cause, it’s not that hard for me to imagine that whosoever serves as a host to my own itty, bitty universe proceeds through his or her life completely indifferent to me and my tragedies.



I pondered a little over what it means to react to something as if it’s a trap, even when it’s not. Maybe the lesson is that it’s a good idea to be suspicious of good fortune, especially when such good fortune is offered without any apparent catch. To the ravens, I guess that the sparrow babies are simply a safer meal than those suspicious-looking peanuts on the stump. After all, those things are really freaky.



5 comments:

  1. Interesting observations and conclusions. Birds are fascinating.
    By pure chance, I just blogged on the difference between Crows and Ravens before stopping by here to visit.

    Somewhere, the opening music for the "Twilight Zone" is playing...

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  2. Most mornings I observe the beautiful dance of Hummingbirds fighting for their fair chance at the feeder. Then I see their vicious attacks and thank whatever above that hummingbirds aren't human size.

    We'd be extinct. XO

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  3. XO back, beautiful! Yes, extinct. You are 100% correct. I, too, watch hummingbirds dart at each other around the feeder. I tell them, listen, birds, if the feeder runs out, isn't it always instantly filled? Don't you have a benevolent goddess that keeps you in a constant supply of sugar water? Yes. Then why all the fighting? But do they listen? No. Have you ever seen hummingbirds have sex, by the way? Also very aggressive. What's with those little guys, anyway? You are wonderful to comment!

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  4. PS: Thanks, Ron! It was so nice to see you here, and that plane of your son's is really coming along!

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