Cordial Corvids

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Be curious, use your wits, don’t be a picky eater, make your voice heard, don’t let life ruffle your feathers!Advice from a Raven, Your True Nature

Corvids—jays, magpies, nutcrackers, crows, and ravens, are considered the most intelligent birds on the planet, and I happen to agree. They are cordial, playful, and humorous, they are problem-solvers, and they have a terrific memory. Do them wrong just once, and you likely won’t be given a second chance to make it right. They are bold and pushy, and protective, but are also sensitive, and shy. They are opportunists. Corvids are not picky eaters, they will eat almost anything from carrion (roadkill) to fruits, nuts, berries, insects, small rodents, as well as birds, and eggs.

Steller’s Jay on the fence

The Steller’s jayCyanocitta stelleri (sometimes wrongly called a blue jay or bluebird) is a bold and lively year-round resident measuring 12 to 13 inches from the beak to the tail. This gorgeous, black-crested jay brightens our woods with its vibrant blue-black plumage.  Its voice is loud and often harsh, a repetitive scolding—shack, shack, shack, shack! As well as various squawks, rattles, screams, and whistles.  Jays love to mimic other birds as well as squirrels, cats, dogs, and even mechanical devices; there’s no end to what a jay might say.  

Every morning, rain or shine, the Steller’s jays that I have come to know and love, line up along the fence for peanut treats. In late spring, and early summer, fledglings accompany their parents, and although incredibly noisy, they are delightfully entertaining. Just the other morning, one was practicing its flight. From the top of a cedar snag, the young jay glided straight for me, wings tipping left then right. Thinking the youngster would have sense enough to dodge me, it did not, and I had to duck. The young jay just missed the top of my head, and refusing to flap its wings, glided clumsily to land in a cedar tree along South Bank where it fluttered its wings, and screeched for mom.

The Steller’s jays often accompany me on my walks in the woods, and will occasionally eat from my hand. Right now, one of them is looking through the glass door demanding my attention by tapping its bill against the glass. Another sits in the cedar tree; the one we call J. Hawkins who likes to mimic a red-tailed hawk. I have to laugh every time I hear it because it seems to be the only language this jay knows, or at least chooses to speak.

The American crowCorvus brachyrhynchos, a year-round resident measuring 16 to 21 inches, with a wingspan of 34 to 39 inches. Its voice consists of various sharp, gruff caws, coos, clicks, and rattles. The American crow is an intelligent, delightful entertainer that can adapt to a variety of habitats.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) braces against the pull of the tide
American crow brings me a shrimp

I’ve had some enchanting encounters with American crows and not just at home where they know and trust me, but away from home as well. On more than one occasion, I’ve had crows follow me, and even bring me gifts, much as a cat will do when leaving a dead mouse on the doorstep. One of my favorite crow moments was at the beach.  I was walking along the shore when a crow landed next to me, and proceeded to follow me. The crow then flew in front of me, landing in the shallow tidewater where it stood with legs apart, bracing against the current. I said, “Hello, Crow,” and took some photos, and then walked on. Moments later, the crow joined me again, and landed a few feet away. This time, it was holding a large shrimp in its beak. The crow dropped the shrimp on the sand, then picked it up again, but refused to eat it. This went on for some minutes. Clearly the crow was trying to communicate. But, what was the crow trying to tell me? Was the shrimp a gift? Or did the crow want praised for its catch? Well, I wasn’t about to eat the shrimp, so I chose the latter, and complimented his catching a fine shrimp, and wished him well.

The Common ravenCorvus corax, is a year-round resident, and one of the smartest birds on the planet. Most intriguing about the raven is that it’s a problem solver. It is a cautious bird, and often shy, which is rather surprising given its size. From its large, thick, bone-crushing beak to the tip of its wedge-shaped tail, the raven measures 22 to 26 inches with a wingspan of 45 to 48 inches. Its voice is unmistakable being a very loud, raspy, Cr-r-ruck as well as various croaks, gurgles, knocks, and rattles. Ravens also mimic other birds, and will learn to speak words when raised in captivity.  It was just yesterday I heard one of our ravens laughing in a deep, graveled voice ha, ha, ha, ha.  The words so loud and clearly pronounced, it was almost spooky. 

Common Raven (Corvus corax)
The friendly raven


Raven tips his head during our talking session at the fence


Raven dunking bread


Raven with a beak full of soggy bread

This year has been extra special with the ravens because for the first time, they are letting me talk to them without have a panic attack. Ravens are shy, sensitive birds, so I must be careful when talking to them. There are two ravens that visit, one a little shyer than the other. I’m not sure why, but our meetings are always in the morning. My conversations with them started through the kitchen window with a simple “Hello, Ravens, how are you this morning?” Gradually, the ravens overcame their fright, and will now accept treats while in their presence, something they never would have tolerated before. This is an honor, given how shy they are. They even allow my photographing them while they soak bread slices in the bird basin. The soggier the better, it’s the way they like it.

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