Saturday, August 29, 2009



Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Samantha Raven and a Nature Miscellany

Bear Climbs Ladder To Escape Skate Park
Workers Lower Ladder So Bear Can Climb Out
SNOWMASS, Colo. -- It sounds like the setup to a joke. How do you get a bear out of a skateboard park? Well, in this case the answer is: a very long ladder. A black bear stuck into a sunken skateboard park in Snowmass Village earlier this week got a little help from animal control officers who lowered a ladder so the critter could climb out. The bear wandered into the large concrete skateboard park Monday night and couldn't get out because of the park 's steep sloping sides. The bear was discovered Tuesday morning. "In an effort to ensure its safety, and the safety of our residents, animal control officers extended a ladder, waited patiently and the bear figured it out!" said Lesley Compagnone, a spokeswoman with Snowmass Village. The bear sniffed out the ladder, tested it out from the side and then climbed the ladder, at times taking two rungs at a time. Once it got to the top of the ladder, it scoped out the scene and ran off. No injuries were reported to humans or the bear and the skate park was reopened Tuesday morning.

Email correspondent Diane D’Arcy missed the original appearance of Samantha Raven
Hi Donna:
Sorry but I must have missed something. Where is the Raven? and why is she flightless? Who is the person or entity calling for her eviction. Can we mount a campaign to keep her there?
Best, Diane

Hi Diane,

Sorry for not doing a full recap on Samantha. The posts concerning Samantha Raven appear in early April.

It all started when I received an email from a concerned citizen who had taken a walk through a cemetery in NYC. He saw a large black bird who appeared flightless and quite possibly injured being “visited” by three other large black birds, whose intent was unclear.

He wasn’t sure what kind of birds they were or exactly what was going on with them. I was out of town at the time so I asked for photographs of the bird and shot off emails to the bird rehabbing Horvaths and our favorite squirrel rehabber Carol Vinzant.

Carol was first on the spot and after talking to folks with connections to the cemetery, found out that, Yes, Samantha was flightless but she wasn’t currently hurt. Previously she’d been injured and taken into rehab. In the end her wing was irreparable and she had been released into the peaceful cemetery where she had been living very nicely. Little bowls of meat were left for her and the “three other black birds” were Crows who made daily visits to her. Eventually due to the hoopla surrounding her, whether she was safe or not and other machinations, the cemetery gate was locked and visits to Samantha by the public came to an end.

Then lately Carol took another walk to the area of the cemetery with her dog Jolly and was allowed inside where she heard of Samantha Raven’s current plight. It seems that the folks who have been caring for Samantha believe that she has been predating the local pigeon flock. They were upset by this and think that Samantha should be found another home.

Now Ravens are known scavengers. In many habitats the eating of already dead animals is the main choice on their menu, though they are also known to hunt lizards, mice, and small birds.

Though it isn’t impossible that a flightless Raven might be hunting and killing pigeons with some clever Corvid hunting technique but it seemed more likely to me and some others that Samantha might be getting a bum rap. That possibly she was doing her Raven job of eating already dead animals. Particularly as this behavior seems to have been suddenly discovered this summer. Because not only is Samantha flightless but during some summers there are several diseases amongst pigeons which kill a high percentage of the individuals in affected flocks. Even those lucky enough to be taken to rehab very often cannot be saved or become unreleasable due to neurological damage as in the case of PMV—a kind of pigeon virus related to the virus that gives humans polio.

Therefore I hypothesized that perhaps this was a tough summer for pigeons but a banquet for Samantha the scavenger Raven and there might be a mistake in blaming Samantha for the pigeons demise.

From Karen of Rhode Island--
Is someone talking to the cemetery people about Samantha?I hope they don't toss her out...

Carol Vinzant has been speaking with people. She has also passed along the thought that the pigeons Samantha is eating might have already been dead when she found them. But with the caveat and question that Samantha could possibly be killing the pigeons but if she is, how is she doing it?

It is my hope that someone will take the time to observe Samantha’s activities and perhaps find that she is scavenging or if she is hunting and killing, then what her technique might be. If Samantha is hunting but as she is flightless perhaps it is always from the same perch and that perch might be made inaccessible to her and their problem with predating pigeons could be ameliorated without Samantha being evicted.

I don’t believe that they would just throw Sam out as people seem to be actively looking for a placement for her.


Photograph by Carol Studebaker

Five Wild Turkeys trot with purpose.

Photograph by Donegal Browne

Still Life: Toad with Briquettes

Photograph by Francois Portmann
New York Photographer Francois Portmann took a trip to Jamaica Bay.

See more of his gorgeous photos at

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

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Skunk Friend Plus a Samantha the Raven Update

From Rhode Island contributor, Karen Anne Kolling--

Several times this week, I've seen one of our neighborhood skunks in the yard or my next door neighbors' yard when I was filling the deck feeders early in the morning. I try not to startle her (or him), but she hightails it off and hides behind something, not very well, actually, since having a big white stripe on one's back is not conducive to blending in to green shrubbery.

Yesterday, I saw that she was underneath the deck, since I could see her stripe through the deck boards, so I gently pushed some of the shelled peanuts through the gaps. It didn't startle her, and she snarfed them up.

I guess that's why today this happened :-)

(This is a super shot of skunk feet. Look at the front paws and compare the rear feet. They look like feet from two different animals. D.B.)
(Has Skunk got a peanut in her paw? D.B.)

(Suddenly I began thinking about molars for grinding peanuts but as Skunks are omnivores, no doubt they've the dental equipment for full spectrum food as we do also. D.B.)
Are those sharp teeth, I'm thinking?

p.s. The focus isn't good, but those look like pretty sharp claws, too.
Oh yeah, those teeth look like needles and the claws? Those too look finely honed. Add the aroma and it's a wonder that skunks are ever predated upon at all.
Remember when Carol Vinzant, our favorite boffo Squirrel rehabber, got involved with Samantha the flightless Raven who lives in the cemetery? Carol has sent a fascinating but worrisome update concerning Samantha--


We took Jolly [her dog, D.B.] by his favorite cemetery this afternoon and the guy who leaves the nuts for the squirrels let us in and let Jolly lay in the grass. I asked how Samantha the raven was doing. Turns out she might get evicted. They just discovered she’s picking off pigeons. And somehow they think that’s a bad thing. So they’re looking for a place for her.

Carol Vinzant

Hi Carol,

Thanks for the update. Poor Samantha Raven, she seems to enjoy living in the cemetery and another "placement" might not be as safe for her. Besides she'd miss her daily visit from her three Crow friends.

Should we seriously be looking for a new place for her?

But wowie zowie, so Samantha’s been picking off pigeons? I would absolutely love to know how she does it being she’s unflighted. Has anyone actually seen her do it? Or has she just been seen eating pigeon corpses? She could be munching pigeons which died from other causes. On the other hand she might just have found a clever Corvid pigeon hunting technique. My interest is tremendously peaked. Any chance of finding out the real scoop?

Donegal Browne
P.S. I asked Carol if they were seriously looking for another home for Samantha Raven and it appears that they are. Anyone from the area have a possible spot for her?

Barn Swallow Nest, Wren's Nest, and Deer

Athena of the Triborough Bridge Red-tailed Hawk Pair
Following up on the conversation between Mai and John Blakeman, Karen Anne Kolling of RI, has some questions of her own--

Hi, John,

I was interested to read your letter in Donna's blog. I have wondered
sometimes what would happen if a captive hawk flew away from a falconer
in terms of the leather(?) attachments on their legs. Would the
attachments come loose or would the hawk bite through them eventually?

It seems that at least the Riverside hawks came through the storm this
week okay, as Lincoln refers to them on his website. I have not seen
any updates on Pale Male and Lola from any of the blogs I read. I am
wondering how a bird, particularly a big bird who must have a hard time
finding a nook to shelter in deals with a severe storm. Do they outfly
them and then return? Or take shelter?



Anklets with snap rivets
Button Topped Field Jesses
Equipment images courtesy of
And John Blakeman's response--

By federal law, falconers must fly their birds with "field jesses," which are loosely hanging out through a metal grommet on the leather anklet around the hawk's leg. In short, if the hawk "flies over the hill," it can easily pull out the loose jesses, or they just fall out themselves.

But most importantly, the flying jesses are not allowed to have any openings or slits at the tips, just a bare, continuous length of leather or cord. That way, it cannot get ensnared in a tree snag or anything else. A few hawks who flew away have been seen with their jesses several months after their escape.

It's an issue falconers are very attentive to.

And no, the hawks in the storm did not fly off to avoid it. They had to weather it. Just how they cling to a tree branch during a storm like the one in Central Park is a mystery. It's not impossible for a hawk to be killed in such an event, I fear.

--John Blakeman
Thank you, John.
Photograph by Carol Studebaker
Today Carol came hurrying up to tell me there was a deer in the field with shocked corn at Thresherman's Park. I flagged down a passing golf cart and we zoomed down to try to see the deer. In the meantime mowing of grass had started in that area and the fawn above with her fading spots was nowhere to be seen.
It's always something when it comes to deer and turkeys and my catching them in the act.

And now for another look at the Barn Swallow nest we've been f ollowing..
and it's raining.
One can see two sets of eyes for two birds, but is that possibly a third tail, leaning up against the back wall?

Or is it a wing tip?
Oh ho, here we go. Look carefully and you can see the peachy foreheads of four chicks. Perhaps the rain has brought the first chick back to the nest to keep dry.
As we know, Wisconsin is the U.S. capital of albinistic birds. See the odd white patches forming on the fourth youngster.
I had rather an odd feeling when I opened the side viewing door and saw three fingers inside. Of course it is a reflection, whew. that was a relief.
For some weeks every time I go out to the garden, a House Wren begins to scold me with great vigor. Sometimes from the log fence with a mouth full of insects or on his way out of the Wren House. He's been going in and out of the box for an inordinately long time this summer without my ever seeing any young Wrens.
I think it is possible that I missed them, but I still feel odd about that nest so I decided to open the side viewing door to take a first peek through the plexiglass at the nest.
Are those two eggs buried deep down in the bottom of the nesting materials?
Donegal Browne


By mischance, a highlight of yesterday's Barn Swallow sequence was accidentally deleted from the progression.
One of the parents zoomed in, poked a mouthful of bugs into the middle chicks mouth and zoomed back out again. Due to the low light I was shooting too slow, (I won't use flash.) for a sharp picture, but look at the size of that birds mouth!