Blackbirds, crows, ravens – I never thought much about them before. If I happened to come across a small, dark bird, I called it a blackbird. Anything slightly larger was identified as a crow. The common raven was a more mysterious bird to me, reserved for the legends of nevermore. This past summer, however, I came to realize that ravens were in our midst.
At first, I never actually saw a raven; I just heard something loud and unusual. It was such a strange noise that, when I heard it, I stopped washing the dishes so I could listen. It was more like a croak or a growl or a honking, definitely not the caw-caw-caw call of a crow. I dismissed the noise that day, attributing it to either the kids in my neighborhood or a stray cat spooking around outside.
Several days later, I heard the noise again and ran outside to try to locate the source of the sound. I kept this routine going for several weeks – I’d hear the strange noise and look around outside – but I could never figure out where the sound was coming from.
Finally, one day in late August, I heard the noise, ran outside, and saw the creature fly right between our house and the neighbor’s house…a crow, a blackbird, what was that? I wasn’t sure. I had never seen a crow come close to our house before and crows usually don’t fly solo. It was too large to be a blackbird.
I started looking on-line at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Guide and stumbled upon the raven. After I listened to the recorded bird calls I knew that was it! The bird I’d been hearing for the past month was the common raven. I certainly don’t remember ever hearing a raven in our neighborhood before. By the end of August, the sound of the raven was gone and I haven’t heard it again.
Early this December, the postal carrier delivered our copy of the winter 2012 edition of the New Jersey Audubon magazine. Inside was an article by Rick Radis about a bird that is becoming more common in New Jersey. The article was entitled, “The Return of the Raven”. Here was the proof, in black and white, that the range of the raven really has been expanding in New Jersey and their population has increased. I was quite happy that the strange bird noise I heard this past summer helped me notice something “new” in my New Jersey neighborhood.
What do ravens sound like? Here’s a short clip I recorded at the Raptor Trust: