POLK COUNTY, Minn. – The first time I heard the term “Raven” was as a high school senior in southern Missouri, when in senior literature class, we read “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe. We had crows in that part of the world but no ravens. Poe, being from the Northeast, likely would have experienced the same species as we have locally.
- Robins pal around on autumn afternoons
- Harris’ sparrows have North Dakota connections
- Don’t count on the birds for weather forecasts
In his famous poem, the story has it that a raven was pecking on his door, and when he opened the door, the bird promptly flew to his mantle and perched. It supposedly uttered, “Nevermore,” which Poe used to end verses of his classic poem. I would love to know how Poe came to choose the raven as the star of that writing and that supposed quote, but he was a passionate and somewhat weird dude, so who knows. Ravens are quite intelligent and have a wide repertoire of vocalizations; usually a variation of “croaks.”
My first exposure to ravens occurred in 1963 while hunting in Ontario, where they would be flying through the bush and “croaking.” Same thing in 1965 on the Alaskan tundra.
I moved to Crookston in 1969 and probably saw my first raven in 1971 on a Christmas Bird Count at Itasca State Park. I wouldn’t see my first one near Crookston until about 1985 or so. Now, they are a common occurrence locally, and I even saw one foraging in the Crookston Hugo’s parking lot last winter!
Apparently, there has been a westward range expansion in recent years in our area. Looking back over Crookston Christmas Bird Counts, the first was observed by Tom Feiro in 1983; other sightings were in 1995, 1997, 2007 and then continuously since 2011.
I think of ravens as somewhat wary birds, at least around my home southeast of Crookston. They commonly feed on roadkill carrion. On occasion, I’ve observed them flying parallel to a roadway in winter, apparently looking for roadkill. I once traced one searching a stretch of road for a minimum of 4 miles on my way to work at the University of Minnesota. And while they commonly are attracted to road-killed deer dragged in by our swamp, they keep a distance from the house. I got a surprise one recent morning, though, when one was feeding in our crabapple tree 15 feet from our living room window. I happened to have my camera handy and snapped a photo. Our crabapple tree is popular with crows, sharp-tailed grouse, greater prairie chickens, robins and an occasional bear, but the raven was new.
Ravens can be confused with the common crow but are about 20% larger, have a larger bill, and a rounded tail; a crow’s tail, by comparison, is more squared-off in shape.
Curiously, ravens occasionally soar like a hawk and fan their rounded tails, sometimes flying quite high in the air, perhaps searching for food. They tend to occur in pairs rather than flocks and “croak” rather than “caw.”
But I have yet to hear a raven say, “Nevermore!”