Birds of the Western Slope April 6, 2016

By Evelyn Horn

Birds of the Western Slope April 6, 2016 | Evelyn Horn, Birds of the Western Slope,

Photo ©Chuq Von Rospach, Cornell Lab Raven


There's a bird shadow across our driveway ... fairly large, so a hawk or a raven. And now there's the bird, landing in the west cottonwood tree. It settles in and the yellowing leaves flutter down.

We've had a pair of ravens in our trees, so I wait for a second bird and here it is, coming in from across the field. I note the wedge-shaped tail (the similar crow's tail is simply round). Now the second bird settles in beside the first one, and I recall a new word that I came across last week, "monomorphic." It means that both sexes have similar plumage in contrast to "dimorphic" birds when the sexes have different plumage, like the ducks ("mono" means "one" while "di" means two").

There's a large object out in the pasture across the road ... a bird? Now it moves and I can see that it is indeed a bird. All black and quite large.

Raven? Yes.

It lifts off and appears to be carrying something. Oops! Dropped it, but my bird doesn't go back to pick it up. Apparently not important, so I'd guess that my bird isn't hungry. And there's a second bird ... where did it come from! Now they soar together over the field. Now they speed away to the north ... now to the east. Down to the ground and then up again, always keeping close together. It looks like fun! Most creatures hide from the wind, but during our Nevada years we watched ravens soaring and dipping and diving in the wind and we agreed that they were playing. This surely looks like play! And we cherish every moment.

These 24-inch-long birds, properly Corvus corax, are members of the Corvid family which includes all of the jays, raven and crow (at about 17 inches long), our magpies, and Clark's nutcracker (a resident of our high country). They are known for their extraordinary intelligence, and a brief check on the Internet yields fascinating information, including their use of gestures! And they occur in myths and legends as well as in Edgar Allen Poe's "Nevermore" bird.

Tonight's crane count is about 200 birds. So our total to date is 8,770.