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

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Raven Recovery

If you visited the Washington Park Arboretum during June, you probably heard some loud and unusually raucous calls. You may have even wondered if someone was in pain. Perhaps you felt marginally better when you noticed the sound was coming from up in the trees. Maybe you even caught a glimpse of a black bird in the foliage. 

Here is a brief example of the sounds. 

The only pain associated with these cries is hunger and that is debatable. The birds making these sounds appear to all be active and healthy. They are not starving. However, they are begging for food. At this stage in their development, the young Ravens have already started to find food for themselves. Nonetheless, they still beg from their parents and their siblings. They also attempt to steal from their siblings, and sometimes they pay a penalty for their behavior. 

Last year, for the first time in most likely more than a hundred years, Common Ravens nested and raised young in and around the Arboretum. They had at least two young in 2020. You can see more of that story by Clicking Here. This year, their recolonization of the area has accelerated.

Earlier this month, my friend Rick Matsen texted me that four young Ravens were fighting over food near the Winter Garden. We saw a fifth Raven. However with all the shadows among the branches, I was uncertain whether it was an adult or not.

With an adult Raven, virtually every part of the head is black.

With a young Raven, the gape is pink, the iris is a grey-blue, and the feathers on the head are shorter. The rictal bristles, the sensory feathers just in front of the adult's gape, are not obvious on a young bird. Click Here to read an account regarding the use of rictal bristles. 

These are all subtle differences that are challenging to notice and document. 

Two days later, I encountered four of them in a Prunus tree along Azalea Way. This tree is just west of the lower Woodland Garden Pond. The sunlight illuminated the red and pink of the bird's inner mouth. This can be brighter and easier to notice than the gape. However, you have to catch the young bird with its mouth open. Given how often they are begging for food, that may not be too hard, but binoculars would still be helpful.

As a matter of comparison, the inside of an adult's mouth is black. Perhaps, the color of the young bird's mouth helps the parents find the correct location for the food they supply.

All four of the young birds found a different spot in the tree. The fruit was plentiful and easy to pick. Even though Ravens are omnivores they do have a preference for meat.

When Rick and I saw them, they were fighting over the shredded carcass of some small unfortunate creature. It could have been the remains of a small bird, rat, rabbit, or mole. All of these are likely possibilities in the Arboretum. 

During the last few weeks, I have seen four of the young Ravens multiple times near a picnic table to the north of the Winter Garden. At a casual glance, one might assume they were Crows.

They can be inquisitive, playful, and sometimes surprisingly silent.

Their bills and mouths function like our hands. They use them to touch, taste, and learn about everything.

This looks like the remains of a Western Red Cedar cone that is being closely investigated.

At this stage, the siblings are often close together.

I suspect they learn as much by watching each other as they do by personal research.

These two both wanted to know more about the rubberized "binky" that was apparently tossed overboard by a visiting infant.

Last Sunday, I watched as the group of young birds hopped, strolled, and skipped slightly to the north towards another fruit tree. To the best of my ability, the tree appears to be in the same family as a nearby Celtis occidentalis or Sugarberry.

While some searched the ground for fallen fruit, others were smart enough to leap up and pluck the fruit from the tree. In one case, it appeared like the first sibling leaped up and pulled a branch down. This enabled one of its siblings to pluck a low-hanging fruit from the branch. The first bird immediately let go and chased after the second as if to say, "Hey, that's mine!"

This was the first time I was able to clearly see that there are actually five young Ravens roaming around in the Arboretum this year. Apparently, the parents had a good winter, found plenty of food, and are feeling quite at home in the neighborhood. 

It would be wonderful if we could identify each of the young and be able to track them as they mature. Birds of the World (citation below) says they do not mature until their third year. However, they typically leave their parents' care in July or August of their first year. Their time with us is limited.

On Saturday, I did notice something interesting. If you look closely at the bird with the orange peel there is a small pale reflection above the "brow" on the right side of its head, e.g. right from our perspective.

I suspect it is the result of feather loss while attempting to steal food from a sibling. I saw a very similar situation occur when the bird on the left tried to snag a piece of the peel in this photo. The bird on the right struck at it with its bill and backed it away.

For the record, Common Ravens can have a wingspan of nearly four feet and weigh almost three pounds. These are large birds. We do not want them swooping down and stealing food off our plates during picnics in the Arboretum. Please patrol your trash. If the Ravens become habituated to handouts, sooner or later someone will get hurt. The old saying, "Take only photos and leave only footsteps!" applies in the Arboretum just like in a National Park. This land and all who live here deserve our respect.

Also of interest, is the size difference between these two. In my mind, I am calling them Tiny and Beanie. Tiny being the smaller bird, and Beanie is the one who apparently got "beaned" on the head by one of his siblings.

Later, I got a closer look at Beanie's mark when she or he snagged a small insect. Sadly, the spot reflected the sunlight and became over-exposed.

Beanie also got quite curious about one of the signs.

The first attempt to stand on the "plasticized" surface did not work as hoped.

Beanie was quickly reacquainted with the ground.

Raven's are smart enough that no second lesson was required.

Although, getting the full oral experience apparently supplemented its knowledge in some unknown way.

After Beanie left, another sibling decided to investigate the sign. 

This bird spent 26 seconds on top of the sign. The majority of that time it focused steadily on the sign's surface. It was almost as if it was reading the print. Ravens are scary smart. While I do not believe they can read, the young bird's investigation of the world was uncannily similar to the behavior of human children.


I cannot think of Ravens without thinking about the Native Americans and in particular the Duwamish, who have lived on this land for time without end. Their knowledge and relationship with the land and its creatures, especially Ravens, deserves to be honored. It is long past time they received full recognition as a tribe.

This week, I signed the petition "Federal Recognition for the Duwamish Tribe". I am hoping each of you will help by adding your names.

Our goal is to reach 50,000 signatures and we need your support. You can read more and sign the petition here:


Thank you!

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. 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. I hope 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. 

(By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Apparently, Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.

What species of dragonfly is this?  Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the answer.


Common Whitetail: Yes, it is native to our area. Thanks to Dennis Paulson's book, "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West' I was able to identify it as an immature male. Enlarging the photos and seeing the tiny, similar but still unique, "webbings" on each wing is awe-inspiring.


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. Google never responded to my requests for help with this issue. Now, in 2021,
 the service is being discontinued.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net


A few final photos:
Tiny says, "Share!"

One of the siblings investigates wood chips.

Beanie says, "Goodbye!"

Recommended Citation

 Boarman, W. I. and B. Heinrich (2020). Common Raven (Corvus corax), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.comrav.01


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post about the raven family in the arboretum, and your support in publicizing the petition to recognize the Duwamish. As always, your photos and captions always teach me new things about our feathered neighbors, and also inspire wonder and inquiry, and a good chuckle.

    1. You are very welcome. Thank you for following my posts and caring about nature in the city!

  2. Great post! I finally saw the ravens about a month ago, near the big field with the crabapples (north of the sorbus, east of the winter garden). They were busy arguing with crows, so it was really loud. After wondering why the crows sounded so strange, I remembered that the ravens were back. Then compared calls/size. Now I know what the mystery wailing sounds are that I keep hearing.