After encountering a half dozen ravens hopping along in the wash that runs through our driveway (these are big feathered friends, folks – think medium-sized dog), I decided to don my Nancy Drew hat. These black-cloaked birds had been squatting for two days already… What were they doing? Why had they taken over my permanent raven residents’ residence?
Slowly, slowy, I steered the quad to my stakeout position. I cut the engine immediately upon arrival so I didn’t disturb the hundreds more of these critters Velcroed to the nearby railroad trestle. I raised my camera, quietly unsnapping the lens cover.
The ravens scattered, decorating the sky, flecks of pepper against salt-colored clouds. I muttered under my breath. My photo op was gone, but I quickly realized that I was privy to an even greater treat: an aerial and auditory spectacle.
Why not enjoy the show, I thought? So I assumed the supine position (uncomfortably) on the quad seat, head pointed toward the sky, feet wrapped around handlebars. When I wasn’t snapping shots, I closed my eyes and listened. Ahh, the unmistakable whisk of air that occurs only when wings slap the sky. Methodic, mesmerizing, hypnotic.
Then I started to see that the ravens were forming beautiful patterns before my eyes. And often, two would cling side by side in synchronized pairs, their wings beating the same rhythm. And they’d talk, their throaty clicks a highly evolved form of communication.
I was, indeed, enchanted. Given that ravens are one of the most frequently written-about birds in world literature, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The video below illustrates their aerodynamic acrobatics. Listen to them call out to one another (and watch them pair off).
Still playing the role of Nancy Drew, I uncovered another feathery fact: this giant grouping of ravens – traveling in massive flocks – was actually the Chihuahuan raven, on its way to Mexico for the winter. Our permanent residents are Common Ravens; they share the trestle with no one year-round and avoid flocks. They also generally stay put, using the same nest for years. Amazingly, they seemed to be gracious hosts, sharing their trestle with the Chihuahuans and staying behind when their cousins headed south.
Satisfied with the mystery I’d solved, I retired my Nancy Drew hat. Then I settled down to re-read Poe’s The Raven.
For Writers, Readers: An article by Rebekah Neelin indicates that, in literature, ravens often fall into three symbolic categories:
- Evil spirit/harbinger of death
- Prophetic or wise spirit
What do you think when you see a raven? Evil spirit? Thief? Genius? Do you think Halloween? Do you get a chill, or find them entertaining and social?
My Birds of Arizona Field Guide says that ravens are considered to be the smartest of all birds, which my blogger friend Julia Munroe Martin confirmed when she wrote a fascinating post about the intelligent crows (more cousins of the raven) that recognize her and her husband during their walks!
What stories have you read in which ravens – or other birds – set the tone in a particular scene? Have you thought of incorporating birds as symbols? Which birds might you choose? Why? How might they lend depth to you story?