Edgar the raven shortly before succumbing to injuries sustained from gunshot wounds in late October. Courtesy photo
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
Laura Sandling-Bennett loves birds. Her backyard is set up as a sanctuary and the birds have her number! They flock to her yard in Tsikumu Village on North Mesa. Her proximity to the canyon brings a variety of wildlife to Sandling-Bennet’s yard, but she has a special love for ravens.
“There are six ravens that visit me every day for treats,” she said. “The raven I later named Edgar didn’t show up for a couple of days. When we finally saw him, we could tell something was wrong with his wing.”
Edgar got through a hole in the fence, but Sandling-Bennett and her husband Bryan easily trapped him in a neighbor’s yard. The two placed Edgar in a cat carrier wrapped in towels. They called veterinarian Dr. Kathleen Ramsay at her Cottonwood Vet Clinic in Espanola for advice.
Dr. Ramsay is a skilled wildlife veterinarian. She founded the New Mexico Wildlife Center. When it was time to step away from the Center, she continued to treat wildlife at her vet clinic.
“Dr. Ramsay said to keep him overnight and bring him to the clinic first thing in the morning,” Sandling-Bennet said. “We could tell he was gravely injured.”
Dr. Ramsey called her in the afternoon to give her the sad news. Edgar was too seriously injured to recover.
“Dr. Ramsay told us he had been wounded several days before with a BB gun,” Sandling-Bennet said. “The infection was rampant and very painful. He would not have been able to fly because of his wing injury. Edgar had been shot several times.”
This isn’t the end of the story.
“I’ve seen his mate in the yard since his death,” Sandling-Bennett said. “It makes me so sad. Ravens mate for life.”
Ravens are remarkable birds. According to Bob Walker of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, ravens are the largest perching birds.
“Common Ravens (Corvus corax) can be seen flying high over the canyons, soaring on thermals in the Los Alamos area, Walker writes on the PEEC website. “Also known as the Northern Raven, these large crow-like birds are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders and consume food sources ranging from insects to garbage to small animals. Their tendency to prey on the nests of other birds does not endear them to bird-lovers, but their high-level of intelligence is impressive. They know your trash day and which bins are likely to be overflowing.”
Ravens are among the smartest of all birds, gaining a reputation for solving ever more complicated problems invented by ever more creative scientists. Here are a few facts about ravens from the Cornell University Bird Lab website.
The Common Raven is an acrobatic flier, often doing rolls and somersaults in the air. One bird was seen flying upside down for more than a half-mile. Young birds are fond of playing games with sticks, repeatedly dropping them, then diving to catch them in midair.
Breeding pairs of Common Ravens hold territories and try to exclude all other ravens throughout the year. In winter, young ravens finding a carcass will call other ravens to the prize. They apparently do this to overwhelm the local territory owners by force of numbers to gain access to the food.
Common Ravens are smart, which makes them dangerous predators. They sometimes work in pairs to raid seabird colonies, with one bird distracting an incubating adult and the other waiting to grab an egg or chick as soon as it’s uncovered. They’ve been seen waiting in trees as ewes give birth, then attacking the newborn lambs.
They also use their intellect to put together cause and effect. A study in Wyoming discovered that during hunting season, the sound of a gunshot draws ravens in to investigate a presumed carcass, whereas the birds ignore sounds that are just as loud but harmless, such as an airhorn or a car door slamming.
Common Ravens can mimic the calls of other bird species. When raised in captivity, they can even imitate human words; one Common Raven raised from birth was taught to mimic the word “nevermore”.
The oldest known wild Common Raven was at least 22 years, 7 months old. It was banded and found in Nova Scotia.
Jessica Schlarbaum of the New Mexico Wildlife Center reported that from 2018 to the present, the Center has had 16 cases of animals shot with various kinds of guns.
“Only 6 percent of those animals were able to be released in the wild,” Schlarbaum said. “Birds are good at hiding their wounds. By the time they are found they are too far gone to be saved.”
Outside cats are the greatest danger living near people poses to wild birds. Running into cars and windows also account for many bird injuries, she said. Glue traps and poison also take a toll on birds.
Schlarbaum urges anyone who finds an injured wild animal to contact the Wildlife Center at 505.753.9505.
“Our rehabilitators are happy to advise you and are available between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., seven days a week,” Schlarbaum said. “If it is after hours, please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible.”
The death of a wild animal, especially a large, intelligent one seems like a tragedy to some, but not everyone feels that way. However, shooting wild birds is illegal under many circumstances, and firing a projectile like a BB or an arrow in a residential area is illegal if there is a chance the projectile can travel outside one’s yard.
Sandling-Bennett tries to understand how someone could shoot a raven, saying, “We have people that move here who aren’t used to living with wild animals. Be aware of their presence and be a good neighbor.”