A story for those of you who know the reputation of keas

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: A story for those of you who know the reputation of keas
From: L&L Knight <>
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2006 22:28:15 +1000

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Maligned bird lives up to reputation
Park staff ponders odd, thieving behavior of ravens

The standoff began at the height of June's breeding cycle when an unlikely tourist stooped in front of the North Cascades National Park visitor center.

In the early-morning hours, the midnight-black bird with beady eyes peered into the visitor center window and then banged its anvillike beak on the glass for hours on end, clawing and pecking until it was bloody red.

Staff members flapped their arms and tried to shoo its form from their door.

But as Edgar Allan Poe -- or even Alfred Hitchcock -- would have expected, the bird remained.

The staff, perplexed by the unusual behavior, called in an ornithologist to diagnose the disturbed bird.

The raven could have been pecking away at its reflection, he said.

Or maybe it was defending its territory from the two large raven murals inside.

So, the rangers covered the windows with dark butcher paper.

The raven ripped it to shreds.

Then, mysteriously, it disappeared.

The staff had no sooner relaxed, though, when the bird reappeared, this time with a companion -- and a vengeance.

The ravens have been tearing the rubber blades right out from the windshield wipers of cars parked near the visitor center.

Cathi Jones, natural resource manager at North Cascades National Park, suspects the male raven to be the culprit, but she isn't positive.

"The ravens could be bored, looking for a challenge -- we really don't know," Jones said. "Or maybe they have a fetish with rubber."

As a result, signs at the park have been posted warning campers of the raven agitators and advising them to cover their wipers with rags.

Charles Beall, acting chief interpreter at North Cascades National Park, speculates that maybe the vendetta is with parked cars.

"Maybe they had a bad experience with a vehicle," Beall said.

Ravens and their close cousins, crows, are sociable and intelligent creatures. A "murder" often congregates in large numbers from a few hundred to a couple thousand.

However, while the larger raven prefers the wilderness, crows are adapting to using parks and tree-lined streets in urban areas as large roosting areas, where stale Cheetos and pizza crust offer up a delightful meal.

Seattle has one of the highest growths in crow population on the West Coast, said John Withey, biologist and crow expert at the University of Washington.

Crows are the more likely to encounter and pester humans. Both of the clever birds, however, have worldwide reputations for mischief.

And ravens tearing out windshield wiper blades is not uncommon.

A Google search reveals other instances of ravens and crows ripping car antennas and dive-bombing unsuspecting pedestrians.

Although, the birds haven't posed any threat to campers and the personal encounters with the ravens have been rare, Beall said the signs have amused those not victimized by the ravens.

"The ravens are not brazen; they don't like to be around when there are people," Beall said.

If ravens are caught in the act, Beall recommends shouting or waving your arms to scare the birds away.

"They need adverse conditioning so a negative experience can be attached to the behavior," Beall said.

Some call the destructive behavior of crowlike birds vandalism. Kevin McGowan, an ornithologist at Cornell University, said the term has a negative connotation for what is not malicious but normal crow behavior.

McGowan attributes the behavior to young mischievous crows or ravens not interested in gathering food or nesting materials, but playing with the rubber in wipers because it's pliant and resistant enough to give the birds a challenge.

"If you watch young birds, they like to manipulate objects by hiding pebbles and taking apart branches," McGowan said. "It's appropriate behavior with inappropriate circumstances."

Because crows are intelligent creatures, McGowan suspects the behavior of one crow was somehow learned by another crow, and it spread.

But these feathered foes are not only nuisances. When crows and ravens fall from the sky, Public Health -- Seattle & King County takes notice of the dead birds because they are the earliest indicators of the West Nile virus. The birds are highly susceptible to the disease.

The birds made famous by poet Poe, European folklore and Hitchcock films have popularized the idea that ravens or crows stalk humans, but rarely do these birds attack unless their young are in danger.

"They are big, black and don't sing pretty songs, and they are associated with death and evilness in Western folklore," McGowan said. "It's really bad public relations."

Laurie & Leanne Knight


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