Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Samantha Raven Actually Killing Pigeons?

Samantha smiles for the camera. I'm joking of course but look at that bird's face. Look at her eyes. That is a smart animal.

Here are some photos of Samantha Raven in the cemetery from April, 2009, when she first came to our attention and made the blog.

Common Ravens, Corvus Corax, at 22 to 27 inches are about 6 inches taller than an American Crow. Unless of course it is a big Crow being compared with a small Raven. Crows run in the 17 to 21 inch range. So a Crow and a Raven can be very nearly the same size, so size may not help much in identifying them. Ravens don 't seem to caw, they have a different voice, a wedge shaped tail, and a heavier beak than Crows.

And as you can see here, the wedged shaped tail isn't always obvious.

Samantha gets around by jumping.
Karen Kolling left this comment on the previous post--
I think Samantha may be getting a bad rap about catching pigeons. I hope whoever is in charge of her living arrangements (I couldn't find the original posting about her) can be convinced of that and will let her stay.
I looked on the web, and found that ravens are big at scavenging already dead animals. Among numerous other citations:"Ravens are scavengers. When approaching dead animals, often the raven will land a short distance away, then hop forward or sideways to the carcass. ...but they will also hunt for mice, lizards, small birds, snakes, insects, and berries."
I find it pretty unimaginable that a flightless raven could take out a bird the size of a pigeon, esp. on a regular basis.
I have a tendency to agree with you. Though with the caveat ---as with Red-tails, Parrots and no doubt any Corvid, we shouldn't underestimate them.
That said, it is interesting that the cemetary folks have noticed Samantha's pigeon eating tendency in summer.
In NYC and doubtless other urban pigeon habitats there is a very strong, particularly in some years, summer kill of pigeons. There are three or four nearly always mortal diseases that strike pigeons in the warm weather.
These diseases are not pleasant, two of which are neuralogical and one which slowly smothers the bird internally. It often takes some days for the pigeon to succumb. And during those days the pigeons are dibilatated and often grounded shortly before death.
They do tend to die on the ground where they are readily accessible for Samantha to eat. It is also a possibility that Samantha may lay in wait on those handy tombstones and jump down on a very sick bird, which in actuality would be a mercy. I have rehabbed many summer sick pigeons, and there is very little one can do to cure them or even make them comfortable.
But for Samantha to kill a perfectly fit pigeon seems a bit of a stretch. They are big, muscular, and fast. Urban pigeons are very aware of their surroundings and know a predator if they see one. Of course Samantha might get one every now and again by stealth but they have to walk into exactly the right spot while distracted for them to be gotten so I don't imagine she kills many if any. She is likely eating corpses as Ravens have evolved to do.
As to extremely ill pigeons, note the approach of a Raven to a possible corpse as is noted in Karen's email. It is oblique Which to me means that Raven's would just as soon wait for a large bird to be still--dead or very near death before approaching it.
I too hope that Samantha's current keepers watch carefully and realize that Samantha is likely not much of a threat to the healthy pigeon population.
And if they are fearful that she is killing healthy pigeons, perhaps leaving a larger portion of meat for her everyday could keep her from predating them.
She has done very well in the cemetery and has avoided any predators to herself there. And it looks like learned the ropes and made friends there as well. In a new situation she'd have to learn the lay of the land all over again, and if outside the city she'd be in jeoporady from a larger populaton of predators and a more varied species population which would include animals such as coyotes or free running dogs before being at all safe.
Donegal Browne


Michael Natale said...

Hi, I was told by a neighbor that her name is Emily and that she came from Utah with a broken wing. I have photos and video here:

Thunder said...

Well, Last Friday, October 23rd, I witnessed a raven kill a pigeon. I work in a building, and as I was leaving for my lunch, a pigeon was feasting on little bits from the ground. Poor little fellow never seen it coming. A raven about 2 1/2 feet tall dive bombed directly into the pigeon and drove its beak clean into it. It then decided to eat it, freaking out kids passing by. I'm in northern Ontario.

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Thunder,

For my response to you comment and some questions I had, thank you very much for sending in your observation by the way,please visit the post on
Tuesday, October 27, 2009.