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GRAND CANYON NATURE NOTES
October 1934Volume 9, Number 7


SOME HABITS OF TWO RAVENS

By Barbara H. McKee.

Darby and Joan, according to an old song, were an affectionate old couple and for that reason Chief Ranger Brooks and Mrs. Brooks thought of them when a devoted pair of ravens began to frequent their bird feeding station. Thus Mr. and Mrs. Raven, large lustrous black birds with wingspreads of over four feet, became Darby and Joan to the inhabitants of Grand Canyon village, and a more affectionate pair of birds hardly could be imagined.

Three years ago in the winter, Darby and Joan first made their appearance at Ranger Brooks' feeding station. They were attracted there by suet which he had distributed in the trees. At first only one of the ravens came in close, but soon it was accompanied by its mate. Of course, no one could tell which bird was the male and which the female, but the bold aggressive one has always been called Darby and the timid one who usually stays in the trees nearby has been designated as Joan. Since that first visit they have been constant visitors the year round except for a short time in the spring when Mr. Brooks feels sure they are mating and attending to domestic duties elsewhere.

This spring Darby was accompanied by a new Joan. Something must have happened to his former mate, for the one with him this year was extremely shy and would not come very near to the feeding station. Darby was forced to take choice bits of food to her.

For two years the birds have brought their broods with them when the young birds were full grown, but one visit has always seemed sufficient for the young birds, and they have never returned.

Very often in the early morning before the people of the village are stirring, Darby and Joan arrive from their home somewhere in the direction of Grand Canyon and announce their arrival with hoarse cawing and many a "G-dunk". In fact, the "G-dunk" seems to be Derby's call to Joan to "come on, it's all right". In addition to this early feeding hour, they come at noon and again at five or six in the evening, as they have learned that at those hours Mr. Brooks has put out fresh food for the birds and squirrels.

Ever since these Ravens have been eating at the feeding station their diet has been greatly varied from the carrion, insects, and the like which usually constitute their food. Of course, they eat quantities of suet and scraps of meat, but they are also very fond of bread, biscuits and even doughnuts. Strange to say, they love pinyon nuts and will scoop up a whole beak full at a time, then proceed to crack them one by one in the tips of their bills and swallow the nuts with apparent great pleasure after dropping the shell.

There is one especially strange habit which Darby has. He washes practically all the food that he eats and that which he takes to Joan who waits nearby in a tree. He always rinses the dirt off the lumps of suet by dropping them in the bird bath before eating them, and he does the same with the bread, biscuits and doughnuts.

In spite of the fact that Darby has been coming for food for three years he is still very wary. He never walks directly up to the morsel he wants, but goes all around solemnly eyeing it, then snatches the morsel and jumps quickly back as though he feared a hidden trap. Then with hops and a ludicrous walk he takes it to the bird bath to be washed.

Not long ago the two birds were seen feeding bread to their young. Darby had one young one sitting beside him on the branch of a tree, while Joan had another one beside her on the limb above. Each old bird had a slice of bread in one foot and after taking a bite from it would feed that to the young bird nearby.

All the birds and squirrels have learned the time at which Mr. Brooks puts out food and they come for their share. Naturally, there are often little battles over some choice tidbit. The ravens, being so much larger than the other birds who eat there, have no trouble with them, but frequently there are disputes with Abert Squirrels. The squirrels even try to upset the ravens by running under them and between their feet, but a hop is all that is needed to clear a squirrel, so quite often it is the bird that is victorious.

Darby and Joan have greatly endeared themselves to their human watchers, because of their ludicrous manners and humorous antics. They are so awkward on the ground, so graceful in the air, usually so obnoxiously vociferous and yet so intelligent that they have proven entertaining friends.

Darby and Joan

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14-Oct-2011