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Monday, March 22, 2010

Corvus corax

Queens County has a new pair of residents.

Please note that I am intentionally being vague about the exact location of this rare NYC breeding species.

On Saturday I went to Queens looking for a pair of nesting Common Ravens. Ravens are not normally seen around New York City's five boroughs, but I did see one last year at Pelham Bay Park. I was told, at that time, that they are being seen more frequently in Westchester and that, presumably, some of those birds are venturing farther south. Historically, Common Ravens resided throughout the northern forests of eastern North America. As humans cleared most of the forests, the ravens disappeared from the northeast and much of New York. Presumably, they once nested in the New York City area and Long Island. As our forests have been allowed to return, it appears that the ravens have followed. There are now reports of ravens nesting on Long Island.

The pioneering ravens around our urban areas seem to prefer nesting on manmade structures. My friend Paul, a biologist (and birder extraordinaire), just wrote to me about the Queens ravens and said:

"The curious thing is that the recent colonizers in NJ (Palisades, Hackensack Meadows) and MA (along Rte 128) are nesting either on rocky cliffs (scarce on LI, and not too many Brooklyn) or on tall tower-like structures. [...] they seem to be avoiding bridges or buildings (because of the falcons?)."

Ravens are extremely intelligent animals that I didn't think would be intimidated by any other bird. On the other hand, they may just be smart enough not to mess with a bird that can slam into them at 200mph. There is concern by some people that if ravens were to become more numerous in NYC that they could cause the decline of other species. One study seeks to reduce their numbers in the Mohave Desert because they are decimating Desert Tortoise populations.

In any case, I used some of the available clues posted online to figure out the best spot to look for the ravens. This was quickly confirmed. The nest is hard to miss as it is a huge structure that could easily be mistaken for a hawk or eagle nest. At 8:30am there didn't seem to be anyone sitting on the nest, but we were pretty far away and I thought that, perhaps, one of the pair was just hunkered down in the deep twig and branch structure. We stuck around for an hour. Jeff and Anna met us there a little before 9:30am and within a few minutes, both the male and female raven flew into the nest with more building material. We watched as one carefully arranged the new material on the top of the nest. The second bird flew to an adjacent perch where he or she observed the work and croaked a few times. It's hard to say if there any eggs on the nest. Normally, someone would be incubating the eggs at all times, but it was so warm on Saturday that, perhaps, they felt safe leaving the nest alone for a little while.

Here's a short video I shot of the ravens at the nest.

Corey Finger also has a good post about the ravens on his 10000 Birds blog here.


corey said...

Thanks for the link and I'm glad you got to see the birds...

Anonymous said...

Fantastic about the ravens. Just so thrilling. Love your squirrel & mourning dove, too. Very amusing.

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