It is officially spring here. The snow finally melted and the winter quiet is over. Outside it is filled with the sounds of birds bustling about hurrying to catch up on the breeding and rearing time lost in our unusual West Coast cold spell. The ravens are no exception and Big Boy who I have watched for several years now shows up twice a day to collect my food offerings. He had disappeared for about two weeks while he and his mate were busy building a nest and laying some eggs. For the next month or so until they hatch she will guard the nest with her life and it is the job of the male to feed her. He knows I will help and when I hear his polite cronk I try to give him any protein I have on hand. Sometimes it is only cat kibble but if I have meat scraps I share them with him. I can tell he is stressed because whenever he shows up the feathers on his head are shaped like ear tufts and that usually is only visible when he is in a state of excitement or nervousness. His other feathers are disheveled as well and since I believe he is an older raven the pressure to feed another adult must be enormous. That pressure increases even more so when the babies arrive and last year the adults successfully brought four to adolescence before they sent them packing and out of their territory. Young ravens band together for survival during their first winter and like all young thugs the raven parents want nothing to do with them. Having the babies around is an event and last summer was the first year that the adults trust level was high enough that they brought the babies here. Other years they have trained them elsewhere returning here only after they have launched their young. Having two ravens in the neighbourhood can be noisy but having four additional raucous young birds is both comical and awful. For about six weeks they stalk their harried parents demanding food and when they start to be ignored in the weaning phase the bored youngsters find other toys to play with. They are like destructive puppies and are hard on the garden, our carefully organized recycle items like plastic and cans and, of course, our sleep. When the sun rises so does the noise level.
A Shift of Thought:
I don't just watch the local ravens: I have also been an avid follower of the Wellesley College Raven Cam in the US and today when I checked in I found the cam down due to the loss of Henry, the male raven. He hit a window and died. After 2 years of watching him and Pauline diligently raise their young I am very distressed by this loss of this lovely bird and appreciate the respect the operators of the cam are showing to the remaining raven who will now have to struggle to feed herself while protecting her eggs and rearing her young without the help of her mate. They have shut the cam down to give Pauline time to grieve, and she will, because it is not only about survival when ravens mate. It is about sharing a life together and being wild birds it is one fraught with all kinds of danger. On that note, I hope that Big Boy and his partner are able to overcome the delayed start of spring and bring their young ones to adulthood. It will be noisy here again but if we don't get the chance to sleep in beyond sunrise this summer it means that they are successful. I can live with that.
I am having a conversation with ravens. And chickens. Admittedly, I am primarily a source of food, but ravens are by nature wary, human shy creatures and the level of trust that they show me still leaves me feeling very privileged. How it came about is by pure happenstance. Several years ago my neighbour lost the bulk of her chicken flock to mink. For an entire winter the three surviving birds cowered in my fir tree refusing to return to their coop. When they finally ventured off their perch I started to feed them. The poor creatures were thin and exhausted so my neighbour sent food over to help keep them alive and my relationship with the chickens began. A new coop was built, and a new flock purchased but the birds were so used to being fed here that the relationship has continued to this day. Fast forward to the following summer: I've thrown some food off the porch and I begin to hear some very un-chicken like noises, almost like conversation, along with the usual sounds of birds scrabbling for food. When I opened the door I saw the rooster along with two big gorgeous ravens. They immediately flew off but it appeared that I had interrupted some kind of fowl party. And that is how it started. Over the years the wild birds have grown somewhat relaxed with my antics and inform me politely, (the male) and not so politely. (the female) when it is time to feed them. I am, under no circumstances, allowed to photograph them, but I am allowed to feed them.. So what does this have to do with my art? A lot! As you can see by the content of my work I paint what I see and because of these relationships with both the wild and domestic birds I get to see not only their physical beauty but observe and appreciate the complex relationships they share with each other. A flock shares intricate levels of power interactions (the pecking order) but ravens who are monogamous, are similar to a couple, with all the dances and squabbles of any long term relationship. They kiss, they fight and they are fascinating. So welcome to my back yard. Through my words and my art I will try to share with you what I see on a daily basis. It is definitely rural, a mixture of the wild and not so wild and it is a world I love.