Posted: Tuesday, February 09, 2010

During the past 15 years having worked or hunted all over the State of Alaska, I have seen just about every animal or bird in the state. Throughout my travels I have seen musk ox and polar bears, which are two of the more rare creatures to spot, as well as quite a few whales. One of most common creatures that we all see in the state is the raven.

This black bird is also considered one of the smartest birds in the world. Remarkably, it is classified as a song bird, and can make over 30 different sounds. These birds have been spotted on the North Slope in temperatures with wind chills in the excess of -100F, pecking at snow as though they were on a beach in California. Nothing seems to bother them, and at times they can be quite entertaining.

I once watched one land about ten feet in front of an arctic fox in Kuparuk, and wait till the fox was about two feet from it before flying again, only to land a few feet in front of the fox again. This game went on for several hours till finally the hungry fox got frustrated and wandered off. I am sure in the world of the Raven, that story has been retold over and over again how Uncle Toby once teased the dumb fox!

Ravens are notorious for finding food by any means necessary, even if it means stealing it. I recall one time when I was working up on the slope when a raven flew into a loader when the operator was outside hooking up his next load. In seconds, the raven stole an ice cream sandwich that the operator had next to his seat and was out the door. There was nothing the operator could do except run after the bird while waving his arms and cussing.

Ravens have been known to pick up the back storage compartment on snow machines and steal lunch from them as well, and even land for a quick bite at a backyard picnic. They are also notorious egg thieves if you don't have a completely enclosed place for your chickens to lay their eggs. Ravens have also been reported to have attacked and killed small chickens in Seward a few years ago.

One video on the internet shows a raven watching an ice fisherman set his line and walk away. Minutes later, the video shows the raven pull out the line with his beak and then put his foot on it before pulling it out again. He repeated this beak-over-foot method till he managed to pull out the fish at the end of the line and eat it!

You will find thousands of these birds at the dump preferring to live the easy life of not having to look for food, or if you prefer a more industrious bird, you will also see them on the oil platforms. A happy raven is one that spotted an open food dumpster, and by using it's powerful, thick beak, will have a hole poked through even the heaviest plastic bag in seconds. They eat practically everything and are even smart enough to hide food in a cache if they have an abundance of it.

For several years they nested on the old Parker 245 rig that was stacked in Kuparuk, and for you that are not familiar to that rig, it is one of the largest rigs in Alaska. Quite a fitting tribute to the king of all birds in Alaska to have been hatched and growing upon Parker 245, as it is truly a giant statue.

I saw these magnificent birds on the drill ship which was offshore 12 miles out in the ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, as well as when it was anchored out of Nome. Now, you tell me why a bird would even fly 12 miles out in the ocean in the first place? And yet, you also have birds that live totally on their own out in the wild and they do just fine away from the influence of human interaction.

I guess in a lot of ways, they are like humans, as we also have people who like to live in the remote areas as well as those who prefer city life. We have those who like to work hard for their food, while others seem content to let someone else provide it for them. Some of us store up food, while others do not, and they survive too.

Some people live in new homes or well kept homes, while others really don't care where they live or what they live in. Others are fussy eaters, and some will eat anything from wild game to store-bought or prepared.

The toughness of the raven has always been admired, not only here in Alaska, but throughout the world. They are a very unique bird that we can perhaps all admire and even learn something from. To succeed in life, we must all try to do what we can to survive on our own without being a burden on others. These birds have proven they can survive on their own in the toughest conditions, but will also take a free meal if we create an easier way of life for them. See you next week!

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