Blogs > 2018 > April > 04-19-18

The Ravens

If you receive Shasta Wildlife newsletters, you may recall in the Summer/Fall 2017 issue a story about The Ravens. Our editor took my 3 page story and hacked it down to two pages to fit in the newsletter. Much of their story was cut so I thought this blog might be the place to submit the full version. Ha Ha editor; my blog, mistakes and all!

The Ravens

Every baby bird season at Shasta Wildlife’s Rehabilitation Center there seems to be a particular rehab that stands out from the others.  Last year it was the pleasure of assisting our resident GHO’s Captain & Kewhani foster baby orphaned great horned owls through much of the season.  Watching those babies grow into grouchy fledglings all the while eating copious amounts of mice until the bitter-sweet day when they were successfully released was an incredible experience us volunteers won’t soon forget.  This year it is the ravens.

On June 3rd at around 7PM Michiael and I were the fortunate ones on duty at the Center when 5 beautiful baby ravens were brought in to the Center from a concerned community member and her daughter.  Michiael gathered information about the ravens while I examined them.  The mother and daughter explained to Michiael how odd they thought it was that earlier in the day in their back yard their dog discovered these helpless babies.  They explained that there were no large trees in their yard nor in surrounding yards.  No nests large enough to hold these kids were anywhere in sight.  Just in case, they brought their dog into the house and waited for the parents to come back.  They waited and watched for their parents all day.  After dinner, they decided to gather the babies in a tub and brought them to us.  How they got there, I do not think we will ever know.

Examining each nestling carefully was an amazing experience in itself.  I had never before had the privilege of seeing a baby raven.  I had sometimes wondered prior to them coming in if I would be able to tell the difference between a baby raven and a baby crow.  The difference is obvious.  Their bodies about the size of a softball with no feathering yet on their bellies.  The feathers they did have were still developing and gave the ravens a grayish white look on parts of the feathers. Their mouths were huge and bright pink when they opened them to beg for food.  They had a prehistoric look to them; like what I would have guessed a baby pterodactyl from the Jurassic period to look like.  The exam revealed that one of them had an injured wing although I did not feel a brake.  Just a slight droop, maybe in time it will heal.

Our Center Coordinator, Marianne has a special grace about her when handling wildlife but all of us at the Center know that ravens and crows are her favorite.  Thus, her knowledge and expertise with these and other corvids is common knowledge throughout the rehab community.  I wasn’t there when she first laid eyes on those ravens but I am certain that I know what she was thinking.  The raven lover in her was instantly head-over-heals in love but the Center Coordinator in her knew the cost was going strain Shasta Wildlife’s food budget even more than the GHO’s last year.  Her second thought, un-be-known to me, was what she was observing about the nestling with the “sore” wing.  Her experience and understanding of their behavior told her that there was more going on with that one then met the eye.  On June 6th with a heavy heart she put the sick one to sleep.

Our Center is small.  Baby Ravens cannot go into any rooms that have other songbirds because their call for food spooks the much smaller patients we are caring for.  Minimizing stress for the birds is a huge factor to consider in the wildlife rehabilitation world so the ravens grew up in a laundry basket on top of a table in the hallway of the Center.  They were diligently fed by our tireless volunteers every 20 minutes all day long.  Well, it’s not like we could forget to feed them; they made sure of that.  Feeding every 20 minutes most often means pooping every 20 minutes.  The laundry basket lined with towels in a make-shift nest was continuously being changed.  The washing machine was always running. 

As the nestlings continued to grow, the Center got busier and busier with injured and/or orphaned wildlife inundating our Center.  The typical three volunteers per shift could not keep up with all the demand.  We ceased second priority cleaning and just barely kept up with feeding and priority cleaning.  Never once did I hear a single volunteer complain about how much extra work the ravens made for us in the busy summer rush.  I think we were all losing a piece of our hearts to those four enlarged pink mouths.

Tragedy struck to one of the ravens on a busy Sunday Night shift.  Somehow a back talon was ripped off and the poor little guy was bleeding pretty heavily from what I had heard.  After some advice from a vet in the area, our team leader was able to stop the bleeding.  Life at the Center continued; feed, dishes, feed, laundry, feed and etc. and still more feeding.  Finally, a room opened up and the ravens graduated to an indoor flight room. The one with the talon issue had been to the vet and was on medication.  Luckily it was easy to administer as he was specially tagged and his big pink mouth was ready to receive anything.  Still feeding every twenty minutes but thank goodness no more excessive laundry.  The ravens grew and so did their poop.  But instead of in laundry baskets it would fall to the floor from perches with a loud splat and happened so often that stalagmite looking formations would grow in record time.  Their time in the indoor aviary seemed short with all the comings and goings and before long, they were moved outside.

The big note on the outdoor aviary had firm instructions “no talking; no touching”.  We still had to hand feed but it was urgent that these personable fledglings learn to fear humans or at least not be interested in them.  With so many different volunteers feeding these guys and how often they had to be fed, these instructions were not easy to obey but I think all of us understood it’s importance.  We began decreasing feeding times and offering more and more varieties of food.  Early in July I went in to feed and noticed that the raven with the missing back talon was favoring the leg so I wrote it in the shift notes and made a mental note to speak with Marianne about my discovery.  When we spoke, she mentioned she had noticed as well and she would be taking him back to the vet on July 10 for a follow up appointment about the talon.

Rehabilitating wildlife is not always a job leaving you feeling honored for the helpless critters you got to take part in helping.  Sometimes it is such a heartache that, at least at the time, feels something like losing a family member.  That horrible day, July 10th, was that day for us.  Marianne, in her wisdom with ravens, knew before she took the raven to the vet, that there was something wrong.  The three healthy ravens were ignoring the injured one she said later that day during our Animal Care Committee meeting.  With tears in her eyes, and then in all of ours, she explained what they had discovered at the vet that morning.  The leg had atrophied, he was not releasable, and was in pain was the sum of the report.  She then briefly described the next horrifying task; that she held him a while (I’m sure saying goodbye in her own personal, and I fear all too familiar way) and then, that he cried while transitioning into that permanent sleep.  If some weren’t already crying, they were after that.

Down to three ravens, we diligently took care of them and the many other critters as the summer heat pressed on.  And the summer heat pressed on; it got hotter and persisted.  Considering the birds in the outdoor aviaries with no escape from the heat other than the misters, we had to get creative about how we kept them cool.  Fans were brought into the catch-hold area of the aviaries for increased circulation of air as well as leaving the first entrance open for the same purpose.  If you don’t live in the north state, you cannot imagine how 116°F with no wind feels like.  It is a nasty, stagnant, oven-like atmosphere.  Compared to the east coast humidity and heat, I’ll take the north state any day.  This year though, we broke records for days over 100°F and this new “standard operating procedure” became a daily thing.  Saturday’s, I work the 12-8PM shift and the last Saturday in July was as hot and miserable as any other day that month with no break from the heat in sight.  My routine was, at the top of every hour, I would go outside and hose down the outer part of the aviaries with high sun exposure to offer a bit of relief for the misery the birds were enduring.  The ravens showed signs of relief after hosing down the inside of their aviary as well.

I don’t know for sure if I somehow left the door open to the raven’s aviary or if one figured out how to open it himself.  I suppose I will never know for sure.  The top of the four-o-clock hour I was hosing down an aviary near the ravens wondering why the ravens were being so quiet; not normal behavior when they hear one of us exit the building into the court area.  To my horror, I saw the door open into the raven’s aviary.  I dropped the hose and ran to see if my fear of an escapee would be realized; it was!  Two very guilty looking ravens quietly observed me in my panic as I searched for the third.  He wasn’t in the aviary, he wasn’t in the catch-hold.  Quickly exiting to search the court yard I closed both doors!

I searched the rest of that day in a dazed panic.  I called Marianne to give her the bad news.  She tried to relieve my stress by saying “he’ll be back”.  Sunday morning, I called the morning shift; no sign of the raven.  I cried all day.  I knew he was too young to be on his own.  Sunday night on my shift, I searched more with no luck and lots more tears.  On Monday, Marianne used her knowledge of ravens to look for him in the park.  She took his brother in hopes is call would bring the run-away sibling back.  After being tortured for hours with bites from the unhappy raven taken from his comfy aviary to assist in the mission, she decided head back to the Center.  She was fairly certain he had left the park.

Wednesday August 2nd was a glorious day I will not soon forget.  Marianne called me and told me to drop everything and get down to the center, NOW!.  It didn’t take me long as I was already close by.  I knew, or at least I hoped I knew the urgency for my attendance at the Center.  I was right!  She found our raven.  He was at the Coleman Fish Hatchery having lunch with the workers there.  The Coleman Fish Hatchery is about 5 miles away “as the crow flies”.  (We all wore that one out as you can imagine.)  He was back, he was safe, we all could breathe again.

After that, no matter the heat, when I got to the Center, the first thing I would do is close that aviary door.  No more AWOL ravens on my watch!  I spent a little more time on my shift hosing down the inner and outer aviary to keep them comfortable but it was worth it.  Mid-August I released the turkey vultures in our biggest aviary and the ravens moved in there.  A new space for curious ravens to explore; I wondered what kind of trouble they would get into in there.

The next two weeks saw the rehabilitation process throughout much of the Center, successful in releases of many birds.  The last day of August was scheduled to be that bitter-sweet day when the Center would close and the winter team would resume their duties to ensure wildlife was taken care of year-round.  The Center closed while the ravens still resided.

For the next two weeks the ravens were fed only once a day.  The feeder on duty would hide food which they would quickly find.  They were getting restless and bored with their environment; it was time to get them back into the wild where they belong.

Marianne researched where to release these three orphaned ravens.  You see, it is necessary to release wildlife where they were found unless, like in the ravens’ case, they were likely not found where they were born.  Ravens are very family oriented but do not always take well to “strangers” moving into their neighborhoods.  So, Marianne’s work was really cut out for her.  She settled on a place where they would be loosely observed by local law enforcement and fellow volunteers who frequent the area.

Thursday September 14th was scheduled to be the big day when the ravens would be released!  Five of us met at the Center and discussed the plan to catch and crate the ravens.  Marianne warned us that the first would be fairly easy to catch but the second and third would be more of a challenge.  As usual, she was right.  We wore ourselves out trying to ware out the last two after Marianne gracefully caught the first.  Patty Seargeant, our 7-year Team Leader Volunteer caught the last two with swift movement and a small net.

We all then gathered at the release sight and opened the crates and watched them go.  Into the closest tree at first, then two ventured further.  One of them soared the sky for the longest time; seemed to be in awe of the space he had to fly.  They three kept in communication and local residents (Turkey Vulture, Ravens and Crows) came by to check out the “new kids on the block”.  No displays of aggression, no territory violations; just bored curiosity.  Likely there is plenty of food in that “neighborhood” as well as vacant homes for these new young residents.  Marianne was happy with the release and the rest of us were grateful for the experience.  The release was amazing but to be a part of raising these kids through almost their entire childhood was nothing less than a blessing.  Their story is not over but the rest is up to them now.  Like any parent, we hope those kids have many generations of offspring!  Good luck out there beautiful ravens!

by Kim Baxter

2018 - Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, Inc. (SWRR)
PO Box 1173 Anderson, CA 96007-1173
530 365-WILD (365-9453)

- Header photo by Jeff Carson -