Raven Comeuppance

“If a raven can alert a coyote to potential live prey or carrion, both species benefit.  Common Ravens feeding on other predators’ kills is well documented, but ravens leading predators, such as coyotes, wolves, bears, or cougars, to potential live prey or carrion, by using vocalizations, is not as well documented, but may also exist. See “Communication Between Common Ravens and Eastern Coyotes” by Joan Collins.

However, here in San Francisco, where we have no large prey such as deer, ravens don’t like coyotes: they constantly harass coyotes with their loud cries of alarm and by swooping down or skydiving them. Raven alarm cries consist of incessant, piercing shrieks, which in some ways have the same alarmist intonation that we might use as we warn a fellow human: “Danger! Danger! Danger!” or “Run! Run! Run!” And the cries seem to run in groups of threes.

I happen to love ravens: their supreme intelligence, their long-term family life, and that they also mate for life. A “flock” of ravens, by the way, is known as either a “murder” of ravens, or an “unkindness” of ravens. Flocks of other blackbirds are referred to as “clouds”. When you have twenty to fifty of these birds shrieking all at once, it can be deafening.

This mama coyote, below, put up with 20 minutes of unceasing bullying, cawing, and skydiving by a single raven, the raven pictured above. She remained on edge and alert as she watched it. She reacted, as seen above, when the raven came within reach: “Kiai!”

Coyotes and ravens share many of the same resources, and it’s the competition for those resources that probably is at the root of the animosity. But not entirely!

The day before I took the above photographs, I found myself in a park broadcasting the most horrendously loud commotion of ravens. There must have been 100 of them. It sounded as if a real murder was in progress. And then I glimpsed the fomentor: a coyote hidden in the foliage. The noise was deafening and unceasing. A couple of the ravens skydove her — it happened too quickly to capture on video.  Her uneasiness could be seen through her erratic movements. Besides dealing with the ravens, she also was maneuvering to avoid people or being seen by them, evading a kid and his dad bicycling through the rough terrain who didn’t see her and weren’t even aware of the significance of all the noise.

The coyote moved around nervously. And then she got mad and kicked and scratched the ground angrily before disappearing from my view, but the super-penetrating, shrieking alarm cries continued. I decided to video the tree from where the cries came to record the absolutely amazing intensity of the noise. Two runners stopped to investigate: they saw the coyote and wondered why she didn’t flee. They asked me if the ravens might kill her. I smiled and said she’d be okay.

I then located the coyote with my camera in the distance. I took a few still shots and then switched to video again so that I could continue to capture more of the sounds: the sounds were much more impressive than the images of the coyote.

As I filmed, . . . well, just watch the video. Maybe the ravens should stop harassing coyotes.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cindie White
    Jun 29, 2020 @ 16:02:34

    Wow! Incredible scenes. Thank you for this amazing, intimate window into the lives of Coyote & Raven.


  2. environmentalhealthpolicy
    Jun 29, 2020 @ 16:33:22

    Wow, this is a very interesting scene! However, I also wonder if it could be open to a slightly different interpretation. Ravens are well-known to recognize individual human faces, and to remember humans that feed them, or humans that kill them, and act accordingly. Ravens wouldn’t normally assemble in such huge numbers to harass an individual coyote….unless that particular coyote is a known raven-killer. This coyote may have developed a taste for ravens, and a technique for capturing them. The ravens, of course, would know that and would mass to express their extreme displeasure. It’s also interesting that most of the ravens seemed to stay in the trees, and very few were daring to dive down, which also supports the idea that they view her as extremely dangerous. Regardless of which came first, the raven harassment or the raven killing, it is still fascinating! Thanks for posting!


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jun 29, 2020 @ 16:55:25

      Hi! Thanks for your insightful comment. Yes, you are probably right about the behavior of the masses of ravens towards that one coyote: she probably knows how to pick them off and they have something to say about it. However, ravens as individuals or as family groups of 3 to 8 or so regularly harass coyotes, and I think few of the coyotes have actually caught a raven. I say this based on what I have seen.

  3. MelindaH.
    Jun 29, 2020 @ 19:52:46

    This is a fabulous video!! Thank you! Found myself cheering for the coyote in the face of all that ghastly noise. I love ravens too, but their noise on occasion, does become a bit much. 😂😂


  4. Barb
    Jun 30, 2020 @ 01:00:04

    I love your photos, insights, and the comments are interesting also.


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