Bird's Eye View of Bute

The Raven

(1) Good Outline
(1) Good Outline
(2) Raven
(2) Raven
(3) Wanting food
(3) Wanting food

 

 

The Raven

This week we look at a bird more associated with the Tower of London than of Bute. I talk of course about the "Raven", the largest member of the crow family.

 

A few years ago thirteen nests were found on around the island. Most were on cliff ledges but a few were on trees, with coniferous being the favourite. Some nests were easy to get to but most of them required the skills of abseiling, (not my dep’t) to count clutch sizes and to ring the chicks later on. A good dry, and if possible warm day was best to do this job to keep the time that the hen bird was off the nest to a minimum as she would take to the skies and disappear“, ’coming back every so often to see if we had gone, so we had to be quick but careful . In some cases I had to lower a bag down to the ringer who was held in suspension. He would put the chicks in the bag one at a time and I would pull them to the cliff top. He would then either pull himself back up the cliff or continue to the base and then make his way by the path to the cliff top, ring them and then abseil back down the cliff face to the nest, and then I would lower them down one at a time. He would once more ascend or descend and I would pull the rope and put all the gear into the back pack and make a hasty retreat. As you can see this exercise can take a while, so good weather helps the chicks and the ringer plus me. The times that the nest was on a pine tree were a bit easier. I would shin up the tree, count the eggs and go back down.

For those of you that have climbed trees you will appreciate that it is a lot easier going up than down. Your eyes being at the top of your body means that you can see where you are going upwards, but on the way back down they are at the wrong end, so you have to feel your way down with an occasional glance downwards when you can’t find a foothold. A way of getting around this is to have a rope attached to yourself before you start to climb, and then it is easy to put the rope over a branch and step into space and be lowered to the ground by the ringer. When it is ringing time, it is a repeat performance, but this time I lower the chicks in a bag, they are ringed and I pull them back up and place them back in the nest. Raven chicks are not the prettiest of birds, but they have something that endears them to you. They have enormous mouths, and they they have a habit of scooting their body wastes a great distance, mostly in your direction. You will also get covered in a white powder like substance that covers their body. They don't seem to mind being handled, and if you place a cloth over them while they wait being ringed they are very quiet, a lot quieter than other birds, and also their claws are not sharp.

Identification is easy once you know what you are looking and listening for. Their call is a "Pruk pruk", as opposed to the caw caw of the crows, repeated often and more so if they are alarmed. They also make popping noises in the spring and summer time, a sound that seems out of character with its size. If you think you have seen one, look at its tail, it should be wedge shaped and longer than a crows, but if the bird that you are looking at does a roll-over in the sky, then you are looking at a raven. Even from a great distance identification is easy this way. They feed on anything that has died (carrion) but as they are the first birds to nest, they depend a lot on the death of sheep and lambs during the lambing season. They are one of the street cleaners of the countryside, joining the crows and buzzards in their endless search for food.



Norrie Mulholland

First Published in the Buteman 16-10-2003


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