Death of a Raven

FTLComm - Tisdale - Sunday, June 2, 2002
The problem for me is that the squawking garbage can tipping big bird of Northern Canada is more than just a bird. Set aside the scientific investigations that show that these animals which live in close proximity to humans and have the intelligence of a kindergarten age child and for all intents and purposes are sentient beings, living well into their middle to late thirties, set that aside for a moment and realise that the Raven embodies one of most complex set of mythologies and is the basis for all manner of legends in all cultures. Inuit, Cree, Heilsuk, Dene all consider the Raven both in life and in legend to be of extraordinary importance.

Yesterday afternoon as I road my bicycle down a back alley flopping around on the ground was a very gravely injured Raven, he or she had suffered a serious head wound and was clearly in the throws of death. A man looking after his lawnmower nearby seemed to be oblivious to the commotion for a commotion it was. As I came toward the dying bird a great clatter of two ravens erupted from the large evergreen above and one swooped out of the tree to make a deliberate warning pass by me.

I know nothing of Raven first aid and quickly backed away from the poor animal and went to ask the man cleaning his lawnmower if he had observed anything. He said he had heard a noise from them but did not know what was going on. He showed obvious disdain for the birds and told me how last year he had knocked a nest with babies in it from a nearby tree and he told me this with pride. I was not impressed as I pointed out to him that though they may be noisy they are a good deal more civilised than many humans I know.

After our conversation I went back to the bicycle and the bird's struggle had ended, the spirit departed and at peace, leaving behind two very agitated mourners still swooping and yelling at me.

Across the street a lady sat on a park bench by McKay Tower and I went over to talk to her, perhaps she might shed some light on what to me seemed tragic. She said that indeed they had a nest in the towering trees beside where she sat and often she had seen them quarrel and even fight.

Though I am no Raven Crime Scene Investigator the injury to the dead bird was a slicing wound to the back of the head consistent with a vicious bill of another raven or an air rifle shot. Long ago on this web site we went over the concern about the Raven's
sense of smell or lack thereof and now the question I pose is do they commit murder?

Before I indulge in speculation as to the cause of death it is necessary to discuss why this concerns me. The Raven is not only known as the spiritual "trickster" in West Coast culture but in real life they have been observed to play, tease and engage in various levels of discourse with each other and other species. Ravens are smart, psychologists rate them up there and above chimpanzees, elephants and perhaps equivalent to whales and dolphins. I have personally seen them play with dogs as a human might and these hardy resourceful beings are capable of amazing auditory reproduction simulating all manner of sounds from their environment.

With this in mind the thought of these creatures engaging in assassination is severely distressing as we as a species seem to be one of the rare examples on this planet of a supposed intelligent being who on more occasions than ever should occur are known to take the lives of our fellow beings. Is it possible that another species could do the same. Oh we know animals may resort to killing as they feed themselves and may even kill their young or each other but murder, that is quite a different thing.

Did one or more ravens kill this unfortunate member of the winged Tisdale community or did a human intervene in the airborne residents lives and bring about the demise of a working member of this place. Let there be no doubt about the importance of Ravens and crows in our world. They are scavengers and not considered game birds who must risk being hunted. They have a right legally and morally to exist for it is their responsibility to clean up albeit sometimes a bit haphazard but that is what they do.

Having spend more than half my life in communities predominated by First Nations people I am very much aware of the powerful taboos associated with these large black birds. Killing one is very bad medicine and not to be contemplated.

I never knew the dead bird personally but I like his or her fellow individuals who yelled and flapped at his or her death I too feel a loss. It troubled me and still does. I called one of my son's to talk about it and he fully understand his father and told me that "such things happen" He and his brothers share my deep awareness of these masters of flight and winter survival and told me that murder was unlikely and the odds on human intervention far more likely.

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on this, clearly there is more to this story than a mere animal's death as I question and struggle with many other concepts that seem linked to the symbolic nature of big black birds.

Timothy W. Shire

Stories of Ravens from this site
A New Day, September 26, 2000
A Raven's Point of View, February 5, 2001
No French Fries, January 24, 2002
Birds Can Smell?, January 25, 2002
Are You Sure Birds Can't Smell?, January 26, 2002