The Raven

Raven, Point Lobos, California

This all-black bird has either fascinated or intimidated humans for centuries. I am one of the fascinated fans. Corvus corax  have a versatile and wide-ranging diet; a full repertoire of vocalizations; and a rare ability to problem-solve.


A member of the Corvid family, the most intelligent birds on the planet, ravens have captivated humans for centuries. Hundreds of scientific studies and thousands of observations continue to prove how advanced a raven’s thinking is.


Corvids include crows, jays, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, and more.  Common Raven Wikipedia.


At the Golden Gate Bridge, SF skyline in background


They reside in our planet’s northern hemisphere; see range maps at end.


This photograph offers a good size comparison between a bald eagle (left) and a raven (right). It was very rainy day and we were all drenched and a little cranky.

Bald eagle (juvenile) on left, raven on right. Sacramento NWR, CA


It can be difficult to distinguish the difference between a raven and a crow. They look very much alike, differences are subtle.


Here are a few of the differences that help me with identification:

  • The raven is the larger of the two birds;
  • Adult ravens usually travel in pairs, whereas crows are often seen in large flocks;
  • The call of a raven is a deeper croak than the crow;
  • Ravens like large expanses of open land, while crows are more often seen in densely populated areas;
  •  A raven’s tail, which you can see well in the photograph below, has varying lengths and tapers into a rounded wedge shape; whereas a crow’s tail has feathers all the same length, the end is straight across.

Raven in flight

More info for distinguishing the two here.




We have a raven pair on our property who often come to roost at the end of the day. After the sun has set, I hear them call to each other. Caw, caw, caw says one. Then I hear the other one reply: caw, caw, caw. They can go on like this for several minutes. I think they’re discussing which tree to spend the night in.


Here they were captured by our camera trap. They are keen to collect our offering of mice, caught in traps from our storage space. Look closely in the right raven’s mouth. They take the mice and fly off with their cache; circle this stump from above on their daily hunting route.


Even the Tower of London has a long history with ravens.


Not everyone, including Edgar Allan Poe, find ravens to be a delight. But even Mr. Poe, in his poem, found them to be mysterious.


Common Raven, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California


Big and raucous, and sporting the all-black color of the underworld, ravens have an intimidating effect on some cultures.


If you happen to see a raven blinking in a moment when their extra protective eyelid, the nictitating membrane, is revealed, they can look eerie.

Raven revealing nictitating membrane in eye


But observe them long enough and you hear dozens of creative vocalizations that you never knew were possible. You see barrel rolls and aerobatic displays that can only be interpreted as one thing: fun.


You see enough of the fun and games of ravens…and you’re hooked for life.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.



Range Map for Common Raven

North America Range Map for Common Raven, courtesy

Corvus corax map.jpg

World Map, Common Raven Range, courtesy Wikipedia

Jubilee and Munin, two of the London Tower’s ravens in 2016. Courtesy Wikipedia.


The Night Before Christmas

Bobcat, California

Bobcat, California

‘Twas the night before Christmas

when all through the woods

every creature was stirring

to dig up their goods.

The children were nestled

all snug in their beds

while foxes and bobcats

danced on their sleds.

Then out on the lawn

there arose such a clatter

I sprang from my bed

to see what was the matter.

When what to my wandering eyes should appear

but a huge mountain lion,

I’d been waiting all year.

Just as I focused on this awesome cat

the sleigh and its reindeer

landed, oh drat.

Image result for free image santa winking


With a little ol’ driver

so lively and quick

I knew in a moment

it must be St. Nick.

The cat I had dreamed of

to the woods it had trot

but maybe my critter cam

got a good shot.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Poem credit:  Jet Eliot


Unrattled by a Rattler

Western Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake

Last Tuesday I found this rattlesnake outside my back door in the morning and outside my front door in the afternoon.  Saw the same individual at the front door again on Wednesday. 


Here in northern California, all winter long they stay burrowed in the earth enjoying a protected subterranean sleeping life while us mammals endure the rain and chilly temperatures.  Then in April or May, depending how warm and dry it is, they come out looking for food and a mate to get the new season underway.  This is when we see them, and they’re frisky, active, and prevalent.  This time of year can be unnerving, but if you learn how to cohabit with this magnificent serpent you’re fine.  After these two spring months pass we don’t see them again except for an occasional surprise encounter. 


This is a venomous viper, so it works best to learn their patterns and boundaries and be respectful.  Some people around here kill every rattlesnake they see, but to me that translates they are afraid of it.  We have lived on this property 11 years and there have always been rattlesnakes here, but we have never killed one.  Have never had an incident of getting bit ever.  It is a symbiotic relationship, which goes on a lot in nature if you allow it.  We don’t bother the rattlers, they don’t bother us, and they keep our mouse population blessedly in check. 


When we moved here the mice were a problem.  Then we found out the previous owner killed every rattler.  Now, the only time the mice are a problem is in the early spring when they want to build nests under the hood of our cars.  The snakes haven’t woken up yet.  We have to use mouse traps under the hood because, let’s face it, you can’t have mice eating away your filters and wires.  But once the snakes are awake the mouse traps go back in the shed until next spring. 


The western rattlesnake, pictured here, lives in all the western states of the U.S.; this individual is in a sub-species called Northern Pacific and resides in western CA as well as WA, OR and ID.  They like dry, warm habitats.  This one I saw was the first sighting of the season and it was hidden in grass so I couldn’t see the rattle.  I had my foot in mid-air to step onto a cinderblock, when I noticed something inside the cinderblock.   The sun reflected shininess off of a reptile head.  I thought it was a harmless lizard.  Then when it didn’t scurry away like a lizard I paused and stepped back.  Its forked tongue shot out at me, sensing me as I sensed him.  Even though the rattle was hidden, I knew it was a rattlesnake by the triangular-shaped head.  I moved back to safety, observed from a distance with my binoculars, and saw why it hadn’t moved.  It had just eaten something pretty big, couldn’t move until he did some digesting.  The center of his body was widely misshapen and stretched out several inches wider than the rest of the body.  Through the binoculars I saw light-colored fur beside him and realized he had just eaten a chipmunk.  The chipmunks like to hang out in that little corner…or at least they did. 


No other viper on earth has rattles.  The rattles are loosely interlocking segments at the end of the tail.  Each year when they shed their skin they grow a new rattle.  But they don’t necessarily have one rattle for every year of life because a youth sometimes adds 3 or 4 segments in a year, and older snakes don’t always add a new rattle.  This individual is probably 8 or 10 years old.  I try not to get so close that I get rattled at, because that’s the danger sign.  Once my partner and I each had huge armloads of weeds we were carrying and we didn’t see the fella; he rattled at us and we immediately stopped, stepped back, gave him his space.  He didn’t retreat so we did.  It is a very cool sound, a hollow clatter, something like a dry gourd. 


We’ll be careful in the next few months especially—kick a rock or fallen limb before lifting it, keep the grass short where walking.  Mostly it’s about being attentive.  Being attentive is a remarkable tool for any species, and being respectful goes a long way too.  Happy Spring!