Ravens: Nevermore no longer

As many species of birds expand their ranges north, the common raven has been slowly making its way south. During the last 50 years, scores of species steadily extended the northern limit of their ranges and have now established themselves in Connecticut. Although the reasons are many, the warming climate has definitely played an important role in this influx of formerly southern birds into our region.

So why has the raven, a wilderness species found in remote northern New England, extended its range further and further south? Why hasn't this species retreated further north? Why does it now make an appearance in urban centers and along crowded strip malls?

A quick look at the bird's history tells us that it once occurred in the South. In fact, historical literature has ravens living in Georgia. This makes sense because the raven is found in a wide variety of habitats across the globe. It is one of the most widespread and adaptable species. Thus, its appearance outside of the North Country is actually a reclamation irrespective of climate.

Although historical accounts are few, it seems that the raven, like many species during European settlement, was robbed of nesting sites and shot on sight because of depredation. Ravens learned to fear humans and retreated to northern New England where the land was logged for timber and not extensively cleared for agriculture.

This is the raven I know, a bird of the north and of wild affinity. They are common at our family cabin in northern Vermont where their guttural croaking calls startle the absolute silence of this remote region. I see them flying along the ridges, just above the tallest trees, soaring, sailing along and sometimes tumbling in mid-flight. They are a sight to behold, their flight is effortless, even playful, and the best in aerial acrobatics.

They are shy, always far off or high up and yet in the deafening silence of this forested region where the sound travels far, it seems as if they are at hand, behind you, or in the tree above you. I remember hearing a rush of wind through heavy feathers and looking up expecting to see a large bird swooping over my head only to see a raven 200 feet above.

And so, it seems strange that the raven is now documented in Georgia, Kentucky and in noisy cities such as Hartford. Yet, it does make sense that the intelligent raven would take advantage where food is readily available, and though it remains basically a wilderness bird here in the Northeast, it does live in cities out West.

Their presence in Hartford and surrounding strip malls is not new; however, it now looks like they are getting established. I get occasional reports of ravens in the suburbs of New London County. Bird counts reveal a slow statewide increase in ravens, too. I don't know if we will ever see the day when ravens are very common city dwellers, frequenting fast food joints and box stores, but maybe the raven is gaining trust in humanity now that we have changed our ways. For me, the raven will always be the mysterious bird of the north.

Robert Tougias is a Colchester birding author. He is available for presentations and can be reached at rtougias@snet.net.

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