Going Wild

More and Never didn’t roost at home last night.  But we think we know why.

While on his run yesterday, Kerry spied six ravens in the wash tributary by his house.  He displayed some raw elk meat (leave it to a downeaster to be running around with raw meat in his pocket), but none of the ravens were interested.

Later though, after he had fetched Poe from the wash, two split off from the pack and landed right next to him.  For the second day, Poe and More had been hanging with the adolescent flock!

Earlier I thought I had heard the sing song call near our house which now seems quite possible.  The new routine for Never and More now includes some house time (they like picking through the chicken feed and hanging with Poe), and lots of away time.  They’ll come and go during the day.  When they get bored at our house, they’re just as soon to take off and maybe check out Kerry’s or to go off elsewhere, presumably with the other birds.  If they can keep it up, we all will be quite happy.

More questions, though.  What’s the normal routine for the other adolescents?  Are they always in a pack?  Do they split off into singles and pairs as well for part of the day and then recongregate?  Are they roosting communally?

Do they perhaps have a set feeding period in which they all split off to find food individually (less competition for a single resource)?  More and Never know right away where there’s some good pickings – they can get free water and lots of scavengy refuse from the yard and compost.  They also like the chicken feed.  The other birds may go off in different directions and catch as catch can.  They may then recongregate in the afternoon for hang out time.  Lots yet to figure out.

As for Poe, we’ve decided that  since we’re no longer leading More and Never to the wash, he might as well stay at home in the yard to recoup his strength.  If More and Never are out and about, he’s basically alone down there and it doesn’t seem to push him to develop strength.

He’s a sitter and observer.  At least in the yard he has the stimulation of the other animals.  And the approaching dogs sometimes keep him moving, which is good.  We also have more chances to incent him to flap his wings and get a move on it.  I fear, though, that he may be settling into his crippled mode and perceiving himself as disabled.

That dang bird.  I love him so.

I’ll have to look into adaptive skiing programs.

Poe Learning © Andrew Lewis

Born Free (sort of): June 22

Kerry Hardy, naturalist at large:

The same routine worked well once again– Broken Wing as decoy, and this time the sibs even beat us down to the wash and were sitting there waiting (I daresay their pattern recognition skills exceed those of most of our neighbors). Broken Wing apparently has a favorite seat down there; he headed right for this elevated tussock and hunkered right down– until he noticed the one last scrap of elk that I was saving for bait to lure the others over. He hopped from about 20′ away and was just about to nab it (pretty good eyesight to spot the small red morsel among the black, blue, and green objects!) when I spotted what he was up to. Two minutes later, Never and More had joined the party, and were swilling away at the water dish and getting cozy in the elm’s shade. Not a bad setup.

I was talking with Shawn this morning and he said he’d gotten a ‘call’ (i.e. complaint) about the birds. I explained that we were doing our all to rehab and wildify them, and were making good progress. This relieved him– he’d done his job and told us, and now he was off the hook.

More flyovers from the resident birds, and (so far) no sign of hostilities, just curiosity. Never and More flew several hundred yards uninterrupted on their way to the wash, and actually landed about fifty yards from the big nest tree– which had several birds sitting in it– and spent five or ten minutes just wandering around there, so I think they’re getting a handle on the raven geography of the area.

Slow progress.

Broken Wing © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of) June 21 evening

Broken Wing is definitely the star today. I was pretty late heading down to get him tonight (owing to a flat tire on my bike ride), so I took the truck. About halfway down the road who should I see, gamely hopping back towards your house. Quite touching! and such a trooper. I picked him up and just held him as I drove; he was quite happy with it all (and even gave Lola a good peck on the nose when she got too friendly!).

The sibs greeted us enthusiastically when we reached the yard, and all three (successfully) begged a little nightcap of elk from me. I figure it’s good to keep that food connection strong so that they’ll follow me to the wash each day. Cindy was amazed (and relieved) that they had spent the whole day there, and I think she’ll be game to lead them there herself in my absence. All in all, I’d say really good progress today.

To complete the picture, the wash is a quarter mile distant from our house.  In order to reunite himself with his siblings and return to the ancestral roost, he made a beeline on foot for the entire distance.  You have to love the guy.

It also spotlights the importance of the intra-raven relationships as well as physical place.  They need to be on the ramada by nightfall.  It’s not willy-nilly choice, but rather a pit in the stomach as dusk advances and they’re not in a place considered safe.

The beauty?  When they are fully airborne and mobile and integrated, is there really any problem in a couple birds sleeping in our yard?

Here’s to Broken Wing.

Broken Wing © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of): June 21

And the odyssey continues:

This morning Cindy couldn’t get the ravens in the cage. No problem; with enough elk meat anything is possible. I just grabbed Broken Wing, wrapped him in a towel, and headed for the wash, feeding him tidbits as I went. The sibs couldn’t stand the thought of not getting their fair share, and they flew along quite nicely. Just left all three of them down there with water, and they seemed happy. Even more interesting is that at least four ravens did flyovers, and have perched just 100 yd. up the wash in the big cottonwood. Let’s hope that they talk today.

Today’s pix: #1 is the native birds settling in up the wash; #2 is a shot from the wash of that weirdo’s unit in Walpi Housing (what’s up with that guy and all the brush?); #3 is Broken Wing, my prize decoy, enjoying a well-earned drink.

Broken Wing is getting stronger and stronger; some very vigorous flapping today, apparently pain-free. Flying in 3 days? As I walked back up I was chuckling at the irony of your being at the bluegrass fest, surrounded by world-class musicians– and diving for your computer three times a day for updates on the ravens. I’m sure this will be used as evidence when they lock you away. . .

Native Raven © Kerry Hardy

Broken Wing © Kerry Hardy

Walpi Housing

The four wild ravens were either the other set of fledgelings or the two mating pairs.  Note the incongruity of our units in this setting (despite the groovy ramada).

And I’m fully ready to be committed on this one.  We’ve been encountering our share of bumps on the human side, starting with the forced removal from Health Care and continuing on to neighborly complaints.  But it only steels our resolve.  If we as a species are that removed from the environment around us, then it’s time to hone the edge and take it to the streets.  Time for us, perhaps, to reinhabit the wildness that is our own nature.

Scare Crow

Baby and Parent Flyover © Kerry Hardy

I love this picture for reasons other than the humor.

The house raven feels comfortable perching on the scarecrow.  The wash raven doesn’t.

That suggests that the dang things learn.  And if they can learn one thing, they can learn another.  A wash raven has learned to fear and distrust the human form and so it steers clear of it.  The house raven, though, has grown up perching on our shoulders.  It associates those shoulders with sustenance. To perch on a shoulder is no biggy.

The wash raven and the house raven probably consider one another deranged.

But what if farmer and animal got to know one another?  More, meet Lloyd.  Lloyd, this is More.

As for the farmer (I’m talking to you, Lloyd), behavior is malleable.  In what way can we encourage good behavior?  Is it possible to both preserve the corn and coexist?

Born Free (sort of) June 19

For those that have been following the saga, I’m providing Kerry’s notes, straight from the horse’s mouth.  If anything, they suggest the richness and nuances of the relationships, interspecies and otherwise.  Hurray for Kerry:

Big doin’s in the wash. When I took them down there, they got separated (because More freaked out a bit and got out of the cage) and were too skittish to recapture. So, I put the more timid of the two in the nest box which was about 150 yards away from where More was hiding in the sagebrush. I was pretty concerned about them finding each other, so a few hours later I went back down.

They were each exactly where I’d left them. I used water to coax Never(?) down out of the nest which he came to immediately. He seemed very affectionate, so I started squawking to him and walking towards More, and sure enough he followed– and meanwhile More was interested enough to fly and walk a bit closer, down into the cornfield.

My squawking brought two mature birds almost instantly; they did some real close flyovers.  Finally the two babies spotted each other– and I’ll tell you, it was quite touching to see them figure it out and hop together for a nuzzling. Palpable relief on all parts, myself included.

Then I walked back to the nest. Never followed along, and More did too at a safe distance. When we got back Never drank some more, and More almost dared to. When I gave Never some elk scraps and he went into full open-mouth-begging calls, More broke down and came over for his share too. So– they’re fed, watered, and both know where the nest box is, and they’re together (at least when I left them).

Lola and I sneaked away and they went off to explore the wash. Parents stayed in sight at all times– fingers crossed that they’ll adopt, rather than attack. Never even pecked and ate a bug at one point. If Broken Wing is still looking chipper tomorrow, I’ll take him down along with their breakfast. More heart-rending photos expected then. Enjoy these! A memorable Father’s Day, in its way.

Who needs TV.

Settling In © Kerry Hardy

Reunited © Kerry Hardy

Parent Flyover and Baby  © Kerry Hardy

Parent Flyover © Kerry Hardy

Born Free (sort of): June 17

The day that the fourth raven died.  Kerry pushed onward:

 I procured a 3′ long bullsnake that a friend had bravely bludgeoned with a 2 x 4 yesterday. I opened its belly and wove the whole schlange into the top of the chainlink fence with the two bravest ravens watching intently. . . and before I had made it to the road, they were both up there pecking, and seemed excited. One grabbed some intestine and flew down to the gravel roadway with it; the other joined him and the two of them danced around it like it was some great exotic delicacy. So there’s hope for them as ravens. . . of course, if the smell of day-old dead snake in 90º weather hasn’t faded out of the Prius by tomorrow morning when we go to Flag, there may be no hope for me. Hang in there, I’ll see what I can do tomorrow once we get back from Flagstaff.

Kudos to Kerry for doing the snake.  Although our house now resembles some charnal house with heads on pikes, etc.

Our wonderful house sitter is none too happy with it, though.  She’s worried that it’ll begin to stink and will attract flies and that the neighbors will go ballistic.  The whole thing is horrifying.  She asks to take the snake down and give it a respectful burial.  She also wants to take the remaining ravens up to the Cultural Center and leave them there where they can pick through trash.

Which summons a whole range of thoughts.

  1. What’s more horrifying:  a rotting dead serpent woven into our fence or a overweight man bludgeoning a harmless bull snake to death with a two by four?
  2. Why do we pay respect to things once they’re dead and not when they’re still living?  Living things (be they spouses or snakes) are messy and involved tangled relationships.  Dead things are simple.  They’re dead.
  3. Ravens are not solitary dumb birds.  They live in family groups and have extended relations.  This family group has been living at the confluence of the Wepo and Polacca washes for a while now.  A Hopi can’t live apart from Hopi.  A Hopi outside of the clan and village and this particular spot of land is nothing.  They exist in groups.  To an extent, the same holds true of ravens.  To send them up to Second Mesa, we might as well ship them to Siberia.  Furthermore, they’re adolescents yet and a huge amount of learning is to be had, ideally through the parents.

But our poor house sitter.  She (along with the rest of the neighborhood) are under the impression we want to keep them as pets.  Time for a massive media campaign.  Perhaps through a blog or something.

Trust © Kerry Hardy


Born Free (sort of): June 16

The ravens are returning to the wild.

We’ve waited until they’re confident in their flying and they can safely evade predators.  Unfortunately, I’ve been away for the reintroduction and it’s fallen on Kerry Hardy’s shoulders.  Don’t get me wrong.  Despite his shameful and perennial unemployment and his poor standing in his wife’s eyes, he’s capable enough.  He’s from Maine, after all.  But what an opportunity to miss.

High wind day at Hopi.  Kerry went up on the ramada despite it all and removed the straw bale windbreak and the nest.  Two  of the birds pretty much  out and about for most of the day while the other two stuck to the yard.

Prison Yard © Kerry Hardy



Our neighbor worries that the ravens are eating his corn.  We try to ease his concerns.  The ravens are too young yet.  They can’t feed themselves.  They’re carnivores.  They don’t give a rip about his corn just coming up.

But preconceptions and prejudices are hard to break.  

Hopi don’t like black looking birds because they supposedly destroy their crops.  There’s a simple solution, however.  The best Hopi farmers plant extra for the rodents and birds.  In a resource rich environment predators cease to be a problem. 

In which case perhaps we need to unlearn our distrust.  Trust and distrust, afterall, are also learned responses.  Ideally we first learn trust.  When we come into the world our mothers and fathers greet us with love and caring, food and nurture. 

But if a harsh world greets us, we can just as easily  learn distrust.  A scary dog chases the chickens and they learn to fear dogs.  A farmer shoots ravens and they learn to steer clear of the farmers.  

More comes down yesterday on the other side of the fence.  Chester, the stray pit, ambles up and nuzzles him.  He’s already shown something like affection toward the birds.  I note the variety of species running and flitting about the yard and getting along.  Two varieties of chickens, hummingbirds, doves, cats, dogs, wild birds, ravens, humans.  We all largely mind our own business.  We’ve all learned that this is a resource abundant, safe environment and we respond accordingly.  Introduce hunger though, and hunger will breed desire, desire begets aggression and soon we’ll all be going at each other.

The ravens sit on the fence and I talk to them. They listen and respond with their murmurs.

My heart goes out to Heinrich, and I appreciate (just a bit) the difficulty of observing and being with something that is supposed to exist in the wild.  Even our remote presence or insertion of a variable disrupts the process.  At this point, we don’t have wild fledgelings; their behavior may in fact be some weird hybrid of raven, people and chicken.  What ill-equipped monsters are we creating?

This is a terrible thing.

I still can’t help but talk to the ravens though.  They can trust me, I tell them.  They can trust Pearish and Kerry and the others that feed them.  We won’t hurt them.  But they can’t trust anyone else.  They can’t trust the world, I tell them. The world will hurt them.  Most other humans will hurt them.  I feel a sudden sadness in this recognition.  That’s what we are as a species:  the ones that hurt others.  We will eat anything in sight.  We disdain a creature just because it shits in a plot we consider our yard.  We will kill other living things just for the sport of it.  Sometimes we gain pleasure in hurting.  We’re sick.

Emancipation comes in honoring another life over your own.  Curbing your own appetite so that another may live.

I want the ravens to stay with us.  I want them as friends.  But that’s my selfish desire and I can’t impose it on them.  The day may come when I will have scare the bejesus out of them.  They may have to become terrified of us.  Just so that they may live.

© Kerry Hardy



Bad weather sets in so the ravens remain housebound for a day or two.  On the first clear dawn, however, I set them out on the ramada.  Out front a mating pair eyes me from a distant light pole.  A third peers surreptitiously over a parapet.  All three call to one another and take flight toward Health Care.  A half hour later a pair flies low overhead and call out wildly to the fledgelings who call back excitedly in return.

I believe they’ve been found.

Later that morning a friend comes over and climbs the ladder to take a peek.  As she gets closer, the babies call out in panic and immediately an adult pair flies over from Health Care and light upon the ramada in a defensive posture before again taking off.

But that’s it.  Later they spy me feeding the babies and circle.  And since then they’ve kept their distance.