Raven Researchers Bernd Heinrich and John Marzluff

IMG_1618Perhaps the two most well respected raven researchers are Bernd Heinrich and John Marzluff. Heinrich is a biologist and professor at the University of Vermont,and has been studying ravens since the  1980s in the woods of Maine. He has documented his findings in two well known titles, Ravens in the Snow and Mind of
the Raven.

Wildlife biologist John Marzluff is a professor at the University of Washington.  Along with Heinrich, he set up a raven aviary in Maine in the area Heinrich had been working in.  The results of the study were published in Dog Days,Raven Nights, and document the impressive intelligence of these birds and the social behavior that has insured their evolutionary success.

Marzluff is best known for his study about crow fledglings that revealed their memory skills,an important attribute for problem solving in any species. Marzluff and his students attached GPS trackers to fledglings in a nest on campus in order to track their whereabouts after they left the nest. The mother and father crows were not happy about this invasion of their nest and cawed loudly at them, even flying at them. It became apparent that the crows were recognizing their faces. As Marzluff and his students walked around campus, the crow parents would dive down at them, cawing excitedly. Marzluff and the students couldn’t walk on campus without attracting these angry birds. However, once Marzluff and his students wore masks over their faces to hide their identity, the birds no longer bothered them.  Pretty smart birds!

When Marzluff’s book Dogs, Days, Raven Nights was published, he was interviewed by his publisher Yale University Press about his views on ravens since the time of his study many years ago in Maine.“ (Ravens have always been)…. intriguing and always interesting to me, but I saw them only as a wild animal that very occasionally interacted with humans.  Now (after my studies)  I see them as fully interactive with and influential on humans.   I now see ravens and people as completely intertwined; as we affect them so do they affect us.  We are in no insignificant part who we are because of our species’ co-evolution with the raven.”

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Friend or Foe? Crows Never Forget a Face, It Seems – NYTimes.com

Raven is Largest Song Bird in the World

Raven Munching Walnuts

Raven Munching Walnuts

Ravens have a large range of vocalizations or calls; at least 30 different calls with many distinct variations have been documented. They are the largest songbirds in the world. Each bird uses different calls in length, strength, and pitch. Best known is the deep “quork, quork” call, with the males’ call stronger than the females. Ravens that are mates share calls in common to help identify their territory, and to keep track of each other when they are separated. They match their calls with postures and gestures to increase their meaning. The raven in the photo lives at the Grand Canyon and knows that if he “quorks” repeatedly the tourists will soon provide him with some of their food.
The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology Macauley Library provides an opportunity to listen to 150,000 animal sounds on their website.  Among those available are the Common Raven, and you you can listen to them if you visit the website. You can also hear the  the “thrump, thrump” of wings beating as the ravens fly off.  Note that the calls vary depending on the location of the birds in the United States and Canada.  The commentary for each call explains the exact location and other helpful information.

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Cornell labs  All about the Common Raven

Raven Book

The Un-Common Raven Book Cover

The Un-Common Raven Book Cover

A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet researcher Emily Cory, and friend to Shade the raven. Because of my relationship with Emily, I wrote a children’s book, Shade; a story about a very smart raven, describing the work Emily has done in training Shade and documenting her intelligence.  I became Shade’s friend too, and highly value this opportunity to interact with wildlife. I realized I wanted to know more about these clever birds and share it with others.
The Un-Common Raven: one smart bird is a description of one species of raven, the Common Raven, and is based on the considerable research being done about these amazing birds, especially the groundbreaking studies of Bernd Heinrich and John Marzluff.
The book shows the home territories in North America where Common Ravens live, their physical characteristics, feeding habits, family life.  Do ravens really play with other ravens?  And just how smart are these birds?  I also discuss the special relationship that has developed over the years between humans and ravens.
Undoubtedly, the most exciting and enjoyable aspect of this book are the photos. They were taken by local Sedona, Arizona, resident Loren Haury.  Loren chose the photos from his extensive collection of raven photos, and they bring the text to life for readers.
As John Marzluff stated, “(The Un-Common Raven: one smart bird) is….An
engaging introduction to one of the world’s most fascinating and influential birds.”
I think you will be amazed as you learn about the Common Raven. My life has been enriched from my association with these wizards of the bird world.

They are truly uncommon.

Submit Your Own Raven Story

Submit your favorite raven story and have your story published here.

Raven eating ice cream on the South Rim

Raven eating ice cream on the South Rim


This raven lives at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. During tourist season he hangs out around the rim by Bright Angel Lodge to beg for food. In the first photo, a tourist gave him a cup of ice cream that he dipped
his beak into until it was gone.





Raven Munching Walnuts

Raven Munching Walnuts


The next day, his plaintive cry convinced me to share my walnuts with him!  He ate a few and then carried the rest off to share with a mate or cache for a snack at a later time.






Do Not Feed The Wildlife sign

Do Not Feed The Wildlife


Nearby is a sign that clearly states ” DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE.”

Ravens and Crow–what’s the difference?

3 Raven Fledgings

3 Raven Fledglings

How can you tell a raven from a crow?
While crows and ravens share many physical characteristics, they also have obvious differences such as size and wingspan that allow us to tell them apart.

Raven VS Crow
Common Ravens Crows
Weigh 2-3 1 pound or less
Tails are long and wedge-shaped Tails are shorter and rounded
Wingspan is 4-5 feet Wingspan is 2-3 feet
Wings rustle in flight No wing sounds
Totally black mouth beak eyes feet Beaks are lighter colored
Shaggy hair on throat Smooth throat
Long thick beaks Shorter thinner beaks
Ravens soar in flight Crows flap their wings
Call is deep quork  quork Call is weaker caw caw

Watch a PBS nature episode on Crows
A Murder of Crows ~ Full Episode | Nature | PBS