As Keith Nushart's feathered friend extended its coal-colored wings and took flight toward the sky Thursday, he saw a happy end to what began as a tragedy several weeks prior.
It started late one night when Nushart peered out from his Soldotna home at a suspicious vehicle.
"I couldn't tell what they were doing that night, but by morning I came to find out they had been dumping garbage," he said.
As if the disappointment of finding strewn-about shreds of plastic, crumpled wrappers and large amounts of food debris weren't enough, Nushart's barking dogs alerted him to a casualty amid the early morning mess.
"There was a raven that looked pretty banged up. I'm not sure when it happened or how long he had been there, but he looked like he had been hit by a car," he said.
The raven sits in a tree in the Nushart's yard, where it stretched and groomed itself, cackled several times and eventually flew off.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Nushart decided to attempt to capture the raven, but found out that this bird was down, but not out.
"He couldn't fly, but he could hop really good," Nushart said.
For more than an hour he tried, but the bird eluded him. Nushart needed to be swift to catch the hopping raven, but the snow that was several feet deep and made it difficult for him to maneuver quickly.
He said he called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to find out how, and if, he should proceed.
"They said they would come pick up the bird if I could catch it," Nushart said.
Back outside he put in another 45 minutes before finally catching the raven. He rushed the bird indoors to the warmth of his home and called Fish and Game. He had no idea where to put the bird, so he turned it loose inside the house.
"He calmed down right away and seemed more curious than anything," Nushart said. "It was like he knew we were trying to help him."
While waiting for the bird to be picked up, Nushart thought the raven may need a little food. The now-cold breakfast his wife made two hours earlier seemed as good as anything to offer the bird.
"We threw a piece of bacon to him and he gobbled it right up," Nushart said. "We fed him more bacon and toast, he loved it."
Wildlife personnel arrived and took the raven to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage for rehabilitation.
"We determined it was an adult male and that it had taken an impact somehow, but it's difficult to say from what, exactly," said Ferg Ferguson, assistant director at TLC.
He added, "The raven had soft tissue damage to the right shoulder."
The bird's recovery went well and it regained the ability to fly. TLC staff thought the bird was suitable for release back into the wild.
"Anytime birds are flying, their healing increases exponentially," Ferguson said.
However, Nushart hadn't forgotten about the raven.
"We were proud that we saved the bird, so we kept in touch," he said.
Saving the bird piqued the couple's interest in raven biology and ecology. They were able to determine that the birds not only live in family clans or territorial groups, but that they mate for life.
Nushart championed the cause to have the bird released in Soldotna where it was captured, as opposed to Anchorage where the release was originally proposed.
Nushart was happy to see the bird fly away to freedom. As to what made him take the bird in in the first place, Nushart said, "It was a live animal and I couldn't just let it die."
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