Monday 23 April 2018

In Praise of Ravens

Raven page from the excellent Collins BTO Guide To British Birds
A rush of air. I looked up. A raven. Flying low some fifty metres away. The bird turned effortlessly and flew back past me, having a good look. Ravens are curious birds and know that people often leave tasty scraps of food. Later I heard it's harsh 'crark' cutting through the windy air, one of the thrilling sounds of the mountains.

I was on the vast plateau of the Moine Mhor in the Cairngorms just two days ago when I encountered that raven. I returned home to learn that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had issued a licence for a five-year mass cull of ravens in an area of Perthshire noted for wildlife crime. This is appalling and has led to an outcry, as it should. It's been covered thoroughly by Raptor Persecution UK and the RSPB has said it is outraged. There are two petitions to sign - one on the Petition Site and one on More importantly letters of objection can be sent to Mike Cantlay, SNH Chair, calling on him to withdraw the licence with immediate effect. Emails to:

There seems to me no justification for this slaughter. It's noteworthy that SNH worked with gamekeepers, farmers and estates on this but no wildlife or bird organisations. Not the RSPB, or the Scottish Raptors Study Group, not the Scottish Wildlife Trust - no-one in fact who might have argued against the proposal.

The killing of birds of prey to protect other birds so they can be shot always sickens me. This proposal has upset and angered me more than most as ravens are a favourite of mine. One of the symbols of wild places their harsh cries always inspire me. They are brilliant fliers and I love watching them and find their behaviour fascinating. They are very curious and often unwary around people. Sit and watch and they'll perform superb aerobatics as they keep an eye on you in return. Look back and you'll often see them land where you've been sitting, hoping to find something edible.

Ravens are found in wild areas worldwide. I've seen them everywhere from the deserts of Arizona where I startled a flock of them feeding on a dead cow and Makalu base camp high in the Himalaya where another flock was enjoying teasing a dog. The last case showed just how much ravens like having fun and how clever they are. The dog had tagged along with us for several days, feeding on scraps chucked to it by the kitchen crew. At base camp I was sitting on a rock watching some ravens picking about on the ground when the dog suddenly appeared and ran at the ravens, which flew up in the air cackling loudly. They didn't just fly off though. Instead they settled on a boulder and watched the dog. Then one of them flew down onto the ground near the dog and turned its back to it. The dog duly charged the raven which flew off to the sound of loud cackling from the other ravens. Another raven then repeated the performance. Then another. The ravens were clearly finding the poor dog very entertaining.

In Scotland many mountain features are named for the raven. There's a Creag an Fhithich (rock of the raven) on Ben Lawers, a Biod an Fhithich (pointed top of the raven) in Kintail and an Eas an Fhithich (waterfall of the raven) in Strathglass plus many more. It was and is an important bird of mountains and wild places. It should remain so, unpersecuted.

1 comment:

  1. Totally love ravens, they are one of the smartest animals in the world with great memories.