Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Mythical Raven

The Raven and I exchanged glances at a great distance..

This week, for the first time in my life, I saw Ravens in the Arboretum. I was awe-struck. Words cannot explain my excitement, wonder, and reverence. I was lucky enough to see them on three consecutive days. It was like watching a myth come to life. 

Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest chose the Raven as the creator of the earth, the moon, and humanity. They also recognized the Raven's intelligence, referring to it to as, The Trickster. You can experience much more about The Raven and its relationship with the native Pacific Northwest culture at the Tillicum Village production on Blake Island. 

As the European culture expanded across North American Ravens learned to avoid humans. Unlike salmon, the Ravens were smart enough and capable enough to retire to more isolated regions. During my lifetime I have generally seen Ravens in areas like The Olympics, Crystal Ski Area, Snoqualmie Pass and near the Skagit River delta.

However, there are reports that Ravens are beginning to reappear in urban environments. Wild creatures are constantly striving and fighting to find new food sources and safe locations to raise their young. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens in the Arboretum find everything they need to become our permanent neighbors.

I suspect these two Ravens are a new pair, searching for a territory of their own. From a habitat perspective, the tall native trees of the Arboretum have attracted their attention. The next question is, Will they find an adequate supply of food? 

Ravens are omnivores. They will eat anything from fruit, eggs, and insects, to a vast variety of small creatures including roadkill. Anything we can do to help the smaller creatures thrive will ultimately benefit the Ravens.

Local residents can help by:
  1. Leaving dead snags, small piles of brush, leaves, spider webs, lichen and moss in our yards and parks - these provide nesting material and/or food sources for a variety of small creatures and birds.
  2. Retaining native plants - local creatures intuitively know how to utilize native flora.
  3. Facilitating multi-story environments, from ground cover to trees - a variety of species utilize each level of native habitat. Multiple stories multiplies productivity.
  4. Keeping bird feeders clean and full - healthy populations of small birds are critical to the natural food pyramid.
  5. Leaving chemicals at the store - rodenticides, herbicides, and pesticides are not selective killers. They can bioaccumulate and kill Owls, Hawks, Eagles, and Ravens.

A very common question is, How can you tell a Raven from Crow? There is a size difference. However, unless you see them close together it can be hard to judge. Crows generally weigh around a pound while Ravens can weigh up to four times as much. In this photo, the Raven is seated and the Crow is darting in to harass it. Also, note the shape of the Crow's tail.

Ravens, particularly in-flight, often display more of a diamond-shaped tail as opposed to the fan-shaped tail of a Crow. Although, at normal angles, the shape can be hard to judge. Raven's wings are also relatively longer and less rounded. You can easily compare with the previous photo.

Ravens have a much deeper voice. I hear 'Grawk' instead of the higher pitched 'Caw' of a Crow.

Click Here - to select and hear Raven sounds.

The first recording is the 'standard' sound of a Raven. The last recording is amazingly different. The first time I heard it in the wild I had great difficulty believing it came from a Raven - even though I was looking directly at the Raven at the time. 

Ravens can display obvious hackles. The long feathers extending out from the neck. These can be raised although when they are lowered they are basically invisible. In this case, the Raven's hackles were raised because it was irritated by the crow's harassment.

A Raven's bill is shaped differently than a Crow's. The tapering of a Raven's bill is rather subtle until after the halfway point. There is a distinct change in the angle of the tapering.

With Crows, the tapering begins at the head and the angle continues quite consistently all the way to the end.

Ravens tend to have a slower wing-beat and often glide and circle with their wings fully extended. Crows tend to have a very steady wing-beat and are often seen flying in a straight line, apparently headed toward a specific destination.

Good Luck! I certainly hope you get the chance to hear and see Ravens in the Arboretum!

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Wood Duck Update:

Last week, while observing Wood Ducks and their boxes, Jeff Graham caught this great sequence on video. (Thank You, Jeff!) His friend and fellow Wood Duck observer David O. Wilbur kindly converted these frames to still photos.

Two Wood Duck hens with similar nesting priorities.

There can be only one - at least for the moment.

The second hen won the battle but not the war. 

Wood Ducks often lay eggs in nests other than their own. If the timing is right, the eggs can be successful and a higher level of genetic diversity is insured. If the timing is off, the eggs can end up being wasted primarily because they do not get properly incubated.

Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

Which native berry will this plant produce? I realize this may seem like an absurdly difficult challenge. However, during the Spring, when plants are just starting to bud, people often begin their gardening and planting. If we are to retain native plants we must learn to identify them even without their berries and leaves. In this case, look closely at the delicate habit of this plant. I believe it is really quite unique among native berries.

Scroll down for the answer.


This is one of my favorite natives plants. Its light and delicate appearance can be savored just as much as the taste of its fruit.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net


  1. While working in my garden next to Interlaken park (planting native salal and mahonia today)I heard bird calls that I recognized but just could not place. Your post jogged my memory! Ravens! Hopefully out little slice of forest will tempt them to stay. Love your blog and pictures.

    1. Thank you! It is great to know where you heard them. Those large winged birds can easily wander about and it is nice to know they are still in the neighborhood. I love those native plantings!

  2. Hi Larry, my husband Frank and my friend Dana and I often run into you in the Arboretum in the morning, and I asked you about the ravens. We live near Cafe Flora, and have a large black locust tree in the back yard. Just five minutes ago, 3 ravens perched in the tree, about 10 feet from my window! I think it might've been two males wooing a females. The local crows were not amused. They all flew away when my husband (who didn't know anything was going on) opened the back door.

    1. Wow! Thank you! This is the first report of three ravens in the area! I have only seen two at a time. Great catch! Way to go!

  3. Been a while since you posted this, but my wife and I saw a raven in Discovery Park on the south beach trail. We then heard a couple calling back and forth to each other.

    1. That is wonderful news! (I have not heard any in the Arboretum for months. I suspect they nested elsewhere. Maybe next year!)

  4. Are you still seeing the ravens? I think I have been seeing one up on Crescent Drive Being dive-bombed by two crows.

    1. I heard them the other day in the Arboretum. I am hearing the less which seems logical to me for a number of reasons. The young ravens are getting a bit older so I expect they are learning to quietly hunt at least some of the time, instead of the loud begging. Plus, I would expect them to travel further as their flight skills and endurance improves so it becomes less likely to cross paths as often. However, there was a point where them seemed to be dividing time almost equally between the Arboretum and Interlaken so seeing them anywhere in the area should not be a surprise. Can you tell if you are hearing the adult "groking" or the young "wailing" for food sounds or is it just the cries of the crows that points them out to you?