Raven Foodies

Ravens are clever and adaptable, they eat just about anything we do.

December 4, 2021 | | Notes from the Wild

The raven pair cast covetous eyes at our sandwiches, and we soon weakened. My hiking partner and I tossed them bread and strips of ham and tempted them to come closer by placing morsels near our feet.

The largest and boldest bird took sideways steps towards us and then, with a rapier-like thrust of its bill, snatched the food, retreated a safe distance away, and ate it.

In recent decades ravens have recolonized the Headwaters region. Clever and adaptable they eat just about anything we do, along with a wide assortment of things most of us would never dream of eating, like frogs, shrews and butterflies.

But like us they can be picky. They balk at bees and wasps, even dead ones that can’t deliver nasty stings. And, according to raven expert and author Bernd Heinrich, they recoil in disgust from earthworms.

Also like us – especially like many children – ravens display neophobia, the fear of new things, including potential foods they haven’t seen previously.

In recent decades ravens have recolonized the Headwaters region. Photo by Don Scallen.

In recent decades ravens have recolonized the Headwaters region. Photo by Don Scallen.

Ravens are clever and adaptable. Photo by Don Scallen.

Ravens are clever and adaptable. Photo by Don Scallen.

Ravens display neophobia, the fear of new things. Photo by Don Scallen.

Ravens display neophobia, the fear of new things. Photo by Don Scallen.

Ravens also exercise caution with foods they normally relish. Deer carcasses and, more northward, moose carcasses sustain ravens during the winter.

But if predators and fellow scavengers are not feeding at those carcasses, ravens will give them a pass. This may be the legacy of poison campaigns that laced carcasses with strychnine to kill wolves and coyotes.

A hunter told Heinrich a possibly apocryphal story about a raven that, feeding at a carcass, would roll over and play dead when other ravens flew overhead.

This raised the possibility the raven knew that other ravens would see his “lifeless” body, conclude the carcass was dangerous to eat, and so fly off. Deception successful, the wily raven would then “revive” and continue to feed without having to share.

True or not, this story is just a drop in an ocean of tales that celebrate the intellect and appetites of these feathered Einsteins and avian epicures.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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