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.