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Stark Raven

November 1, 2022

I don’t mind the wily white-eyed Australian Raven (Taungurung name: Waa or Waang). Too smart to be hit by a car, and a bird that knows and relishes its place in the great landscape of life, ravens are succeeding in urban areas and benefiting from human changes to land use. A pair of Australian Ravens (Corvus coronoides) has successfully nested atop a tall tree in Cummins Lagoon in Yea Wetlands these last three years. In Taungurung culture, each person belonged either to the moiety of Bunjil, the Wedge-tail, or Waang the Raven.

I take some pleasure in the wailing call of the Australian Raven as it wings its way homeward across the valley, because while common here, they generally are not found in Melbourne – Yea, Healesville and just into the Yarra valley and then it is all Little Ravens. We get Little Ravens in our district also. Each Australian capital city features one dominant corvid: the Australian Raven in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. Adelaide and Melbourne feature the Little Raven; Hobart has the Forest Raven – the only corvid in Tasmania. Northern parts of Australia also have two species of Crow, but there are no crows in Victoria. (Crows lack the large hackle feathers on the throat)

Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides)Little Raven (Corvus mellori)
Black, with long throat hackles and white eyeBlack, with short throat hackles and white eye
Call: Arrk, arrrk, aaaaaargh (dying away)
Calls holding head horizontal when perched
Call: Ock, ock, ock
Shuffles wings with head up as it calls
Usually single or in pairs, sedentaryOften in flocks, sometimes up to 100, nomadic
Eats carrion, injured animals, insects, urban wasteSpiders, cicadas, crickets, caterpillars, maggots, urban waste
Benefit: cleans up dead things and rubbishBenefit: helps control flies and insects, cleans up waste
Problem: merciless to injured lambsProblem: None really

You will notice that ravens do not eat grain. American crows on the other hand invade newly-planted fields prompting the invention of the ‘Scare-crow’. Aussies need a ‘Scare-corella’.

Ravens were traditionally hated by farmers but intensive research has shown that killing healthy lambs is rare. However, the Australian Raven (not the Little) may hover menacingly around a newborn lamb and will eat the afterbirth, the newborn’s faeces (which are apparently high in protein – yes, but not for me, thanks) and any still-born or sick lamb.

For a long time, the birding world thought there was only one species of raven in Southern Australia, but in the 1960s, a great birder named Ian Rowley worked out there were two. It happened like this: he could so imitate the call of the raven that wild ravens would come quite close when he called. One day he and a co-worker approached a tree with two ravens in it and the call was made. The birds in the tree showed no interest whatsoever but some other ravens from a distant tree flew over. They reasoned that there were two species and each had a distinctive call. Later DNA studies confirmed the observation.

Similarly, I noticed that my children never came when I called them by the wrong name. Come to think of it, they seldom came when I called them by the right name.

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