My father has a pair of ravens that sit perched a top the branches of a snag on his property. They will often squawk upon our arrival and swoop down quickly to snatch up the tasty morsels we toss out to them periodically. Watching their antics is a highlight of our visit and provides a great nature study segue for our teens.
I’ve always been fascinated by ravens. When I was a young girl, my mother introduced me to her favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. Chills ran up my spine as she read, The Raven. I now enjoy reading it each autumn when the leaves begin to fall from the trees and the cold winds begin to blow. Teens may wish to memorize this poem.
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
~ Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
Common ravens (Corvus corax) and American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), overlap widely throughout North America and they look very similar. Rest assured, however, that with a little practice, you can tell them apart.
You probably know that ravens are larger. They are actually the same size as a Red-tailed Hawk and will often travel in pairs. Crows, on the other hand, are seen in larger groups.
As they fly overhead, the crow’s tail feathers are basically the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, it opens like a fan. Ravens, however, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open. Ravens ride the thermals and soar, whereas crows do more flapping.
Another key difference is their call. Crows give a cawing sound whereas ravens produce a lower croaking sound.
The Tower of London
The photo featured at the top of this post was taken at the Tower of London while on family holiday a few months ago. “Should the ravens leave the Tower of London, it will crumble into dust and great harm befall the kingdom,” proclaimed the official Ravenmaster we spoke to as we wandered about the grounds.
As you can imagine, the ravens who reside at the Tower of London are an attraction to travelers around the world. You can learn more about them and the role the Ravenmaster plays in their care here, At the Tower of London, a Ravenmaster for the Digital Age.
Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich is a wonderfully written narrative compiled from the author’s field notes and studies all aimed at understanding raven behavior. In 1984 he was determined to find out why ravens call to each other when they discover food, a rare example of sharing in the wild. For the next four years he spent winter weekends observing these birds at a remote site in Maine, braving fierce weather, lugging enormous amounts of bait to lure ravens to his study area and sleeping in a cabin where temperatures often plunged below zero at night.
A Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont, Henrich is the author of numerous books, including Bumblebee Economics, Mind of the Raven, and The Homing Instinct. He has received the John Burrough’s Medal for Nature Writing and has been nominated for a National Book Award for Science.Ravens in Winter provides an in-depth look at raven ethology – particularly their intelligence and playfulness. It is a great living science book for teens, providing a visual picture of the scientific method.
To expand on your Corvid nature study, you may consider extending with Native American and Norse mythology.
Corvus Study in the Wild
Ravens and crows have the keenest intelligence of all our common birds. Taking inspiration from Heinrich’s study, winter is the perfect time to get outdoors and study the behavior of the Corvus genus ourselves. Their nests are often easier to see in the winter when the foliage is absent from the trees. However, most do build their nests in evergreens. Here are few questions or things to ponder as you observe them – be sure to record your observations in your nature journal:
- Describe its colors when seen in the sunlight.
- Describe the general shape of the crow or raven.
- Are its wings long and slender or short and stout?
- Is the tail long or short? Is it notched or straight across the end?
- Describe its feet. Are they large and strong or slender? How many toes does it have? How many are directed forward and how many backward?
- What is it doing? Describe its behavior or activity.
- Describe its call.
- Describe its beak.
- Where and of what material did it build its nest?
- If they are feeding in a feed, is there a sentinel or guard posted?
- What do they feed upon?
Sit down with your sketch book and illustrate a few. Try to capture its movement and different poses with quick, light sketches. Take photographs if the weather is not conducive to sketching outdoors.
Build a Feeder
There are two beneficiaries to setting up a bird feeder in you backyard … birds and people. In regards to the first beneficiary, you should consider:
- accessibility to the birds;
- shelter from the wind, snow, and rain;
- vulnerability to window strikes; and
- safety from predators, especially cats.
In regards to the latter, ponder the following:
- ready visibility from a window;
- ease of filling and maintaining; and
- capacity, which determines refilling frequency.
With these thoughts in mind, you can begin to research what type of feeder you would like to build and the potential placement. There are many options to choose from and building plans are easily found at your local library, online, or from local bird watching groups like the Audubon Society.
There are also many opportunities to engage in real science – collecting data on bird migration patterns and nesting behaviors for a variety of citizen science projects. Two that come to mind immediately are Project FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Welcome to the first The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. The monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.
The monthly book club is devoted to connecting children to nature. There is a theme for each month in 2018. The theme this month is winter birds and nests.
We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!
The Nature Book Club theme for January: Winter Birds and Nests
The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these 15 nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts! Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.
Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for the month.
Something 2 Offer
Birds, Nests, and Eggs Nest Scavenger Hunt
The Usual Mayhem
The Boy Who Drew Birds Free artist study set (John James Audobon)
Whose Nest Is This? Nest Building Activity
Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
(Backyard Bird Series) Cardinals – Free Northern Cardinal Unit Study & Lapbook.
Rule This Roost
Fine Feathered Friends: All About Birds – DIY Bird Feeders
Hide The Chocolate
Those Darn Squirrels Fly South – Free online book club.
The Homeschool Scientist
Birds, Nests, and Eggs – Make a Suet Feeder
Snowy Owls Snowy Owl Craft
Table Life Blog
A Nest is Noisy – Art Project.
Ravens in Winter: Nature Study Activities and Lessons for Teens – Winter Bird ID
Wind in a Letterbox
Birds for Beginners in Southern Africa – Nature Journal Entry
Rainy Day Mum
Coming Home – Needle Felted Robin
Handbook of Nature Study
Backyard Birds Field Guide for Young Naturalist – Backyard Bird Nature Study
The Playful Scholar
TBD – How to Make Hanging Suet Ornaments
Nests – Nest weaving
The Nature Book Club theme for February: Small Mammals
WHOOP! – The Nature Book Club Giveaway!
We’re so excited about this month’s freebie. It is an ebook, Backyard Science – Easy Activities for All Ages, by The Homeschool Scientist.
A huge Thank You to The Homeschool Scientist!
- Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
- The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
- You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
- By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
- Let’s party.