Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Raven is a Clever Bird....

The raven might be the brightest of all birds , the myths about it are manifold. The raven was the messenger of the Nordic god Odin -  it was also aboard Noahs Ark, from where it was sent out to find land after the Flood.

After being almost extinct in Denmark for about 100 years the raven has now taken the old land in possession. The raven has a weight of about 1 1/2 kilo and a wing span of about 1 1/2, which means that it is the largest passerine in Europe. When you see the raven from a distance it looks as if it is black as coal, but if you look closer the plumage is more metal shining with a bluish sheen and greenish hues. The older the bird is the more metal shining feathers.

 A scientist and photographer had made a photo hide in the late winter, where the birds really need some food, and he had put out some baits for his models, the birds of prey and the crows. The first hungry birds were the crows, then came the buzzards and the seagulls. Suddenly came the golden eagle - and then he really got busy with his camera. It is rare to be that close to one of the great eagles.

But the raven kept away from the hide, it had discovered that someone was sitting inside under these camouflage nets. The guy had been there an hour before sunrise in order to "fool" the birds, but the black bird had fooled him instead. All the other birds were munching away, while the ravens were hovering above the feeding site and the photo hide shouting its krårk, which can be heard far and wide. He never got his close-up of the raven. His opinion is that the raven is the only bird whom he suspects being able to reason and figure things out.

In the Nordic mythology Odin used the ravens Hugin and Munin as observers. Hugin was the thought and Munin was the remembrance. This was a thousand years ago and there was a great deal of respect around the raven back then. It was a symbol of power, sharp senses and wisdom. Before Dannebrog came down from the sky in 1219 as the oldest national flag in the world, the Danes used the Raven Banner, a red cloth with two black ravens representing the national symbol of the Danes. The raven was a sacred bird.

Yggdrasil and ravens, Silkeborg Museum
Odin depict on a helmet, 7. century. wikipedia.

From the middle of the 1800s the view of nature changed in Denmark, and the raven was brought down with it. Together with raptors and largely all carnivors the raven was excommunicated and violently pursued. The wise black bird was virtually eradicated in the Danish nature, and it has not come back to its old land until the latest decades. But it came back in honor and dignity!  The Danish breeding population of ravens is today more than 1000 pairs and there is probably place and food enough for twice as many.

The raven, the raptors and other carnivors were in the 1800s indirectly victims of some high political changes, which contributed to feed a new approach in many Danes. The time of the land reclamation had taken off . A large part of the Jutland heath was cultivated, and furthermore came the comprehensive drainage of the "useless" wet areas. The new view of nature divided birds and animals in vermins, who had to be killed and useful game who had to be protected at any price. It was a kind of household philosophy. Raptors, ravens and other predators were shot, caught in traps, poisoned and had their nests destroyed. Shooting prizes were given for dead and unwanted birds and mammals. During only half a century several species of raptors were extinct in Denmark - and the raven held barely out.

The pheasant from Southeast Asia had an impact on the raven and the raptors, when this colourful fowl was introduced in Denmark as a hunting object in the 1800s. The hatred grew of the species who ventured to eat some meat now and then, and the omnivorous raven took of course a dead or wounded pheasant, if it got the chance. The raven has a secondary job in the renovation of nature.

In the 1950s were as far as known only about 10 pair of ravens in Denmark, most of the nests were in the southern part of Jutland - and it was from here the raven spread up through Jutland. It is now breeding in the main land of Jutland except in the outernest dunes at the west coast. The ancient bird of the Nordic gods has also won a terrain on the Isles, but it is shy and sceptical everywhere. It might take generations for it to get the distrust out of the body and achieve the confidence in the most dangerous mammal on earth, Man.

Ravn til Gavn. Som sendebud og sladrehank, Jan Skriver, Natur og Miljø, nr. 1, 2013, Danmarks Naturfredningsforening

photos of ravens: grethe bachmann, Vilsted sø, 2009. 
photo: Silkeborg Museum: stig bachmann nielsen, 

I have found the most wonderful Japanese blog about ravens and crows. If you are interested try to see this: ravens-of-japanese-myth

Grethe ´)


MyMaracas said...

What a fascinating saga. I'm glad the clever raven is making a comeback.

Thyra said...

Hello Maracas. Yes, it is always good when the animals get a better chance. We are the only ones who can help them.
Right now some fool is on purpose poisoning the whitetailed eagle in some place at Sjælland (Zealand) and I'm so sad and agry about this. A reward will be given to the one who can tell who's doing this.

Grethe ´)

Gerry Snape said...

I love this post father irishman from middle Ireland loved the raven and made it a creature of exoticness for us.

Thyra said...

Hej Gerry, he must have been a wonderful father. The Irish traditions of legends are very fascinating.

I've googled a little now, and there is a lot of material about ravens on the net. There are six tame ravens at the Tower of London but they are clipped so they cannot fly away. A Ravenmaster takes care of them!!The ravens of Tower died of chock under the blitz, but they got hold of six other ravens - they are a part of the history.

I've found some magnificent photos from landscapes and castles in Ireland. It's a Danish guy who travelled there.(there is also a great photo of a raven, he writes about some tame ravens in Ireland.

Maybe you'd like to see:

Grethe ´)

Out on the prairie said...

Native Americans in the NW have lots of ceremony and stories around the ravens.

Thyra said...

Hej Steve, yes the raven is a popular bird because it is so clever.
I chose the material in my post because it was a new article.
There are also legends from Japan about the raven.
We could write a new book about it!!

Have a nice week-end!
Grethe ´)

Out on the prairie said...

i will have to look up the Japanese lore.Thanks

Thyra said...

Hej Steve,

try this blog:

a blog about the ravens and with the most beautiful Japanese drawings.

Grethe ´)

stardust said...

We readers really appreciate this comprehensive discourse on Raven. Indeed they are clever. Raven appears in Japanese myhology, too. The emblem of the Japan Football Association is the Yatagarasu, a mythical three-legged raven. Have a peaceful springtime, Grethe.


Thyra said...

Hej Yoko, thank you and the same to you!

I think this Japanese Raven-blog is great with the beautiful drawings of the raven. I have read about the three-legged raven in some legend and now I cannot remember where!! Maybe it was in that blog?

Grethe ´)