Ancient Celts interpreted raven calls as cosmic predictions of affairs to come. Likewise, Native American tribes in Alaska see ravens as a creature of change/transformation and bearers of magic. According to them, a raven’s shape shifting properties helps them in rituals, either by clarifying visions or in healing processes.
Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. But I can say that in my own experience with ravens, I find that they have assisted me and guided me through my journey in bird conservation. And here is how:
At this time two years ago, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree not knowing where my studies would take me. I was always interested in animals and conservation, but I never expected that I would be submerged in a variety of birding and bird education jobs for the next 24 months of my life.
It started when I was sitting in my living room, looking at a picture of a resident raven from the avian rehabilitation center I volunteered at. As I looked at the picture, I remember thinking, “You are so beautiful, I want to see more of you in the wild. How cool would it be to bird for a living!?” at that moment my phone rang. It was Environment for the Americas offering me a position to survey shorebirds, assist in seabird reproductive plot surveys, deliver bird programs to kids of all ages, and outreach to the Latino community about bird conservation. This job changed my life, as it opened up a world of opportunities I did not know existed and uncovered my passion for birds.
This passion led me to Alaska this summer to do fieldwork, where my encounters with ravens skyrocketed. From the moment I got to Bethel, AK two ravens called “Cr-r-r-u-k, cr-r-r-u-k” greeting me at the house I was staying at. I had started reading Mind of the Raven a book by Bernd Heinrech that had me fanatical about them. As I watched the two ravens from my window, I was lost in their beauty, for they were much bigger than any other raven I had ever seen in Oregon. Something in me felt they were a good omen to the start of my time there. I expressed my excitement to some senior staff and asked if I would see them often in the tundra (where we would be working for the rest of month doing waterfowl nest plot surveys), but he said chances were unlikely in the Yukon Delta. I was disappointed.
A day later, the crew and I arrived to the field station in Kanaryarmiut, and to our surprise ravens had decided to nest on the building. I was ecstatic! From then on, every time I left and arrived at a new place, I heard “Cr-r-r-u-k, cr-r-r-u-k,” a raven call. They were greeting me hello and wishing me farewell. I spent a little over two months in Alaska working for US Fish and Wildlife, nest searching in the tundra and performing seabird surveys in Prince William Sound. But, I was away from my husband who I missed dearly and could not communicate with due to the remoteness of my locations. However, I couldn’t help but believe that the ravens’ call were a affirmation that I was at the right place. Every time I heard their call, I felt happy and at ease. Were the ravens really telling me something? Or was I just noticing them more since I started reading “Mind of the Raven”? Perhaps both.
Once I came back home to Eugene, OR from my Alaskan adventures, I thought I’d finally have some family time. But after two weeks of being home, while organizing my room and putting my raven book away, I got an e-mail. It was an e-mail from my old supervisor about a position that had opened up banding passerines in southern Oregon and northern CA. Although I felt hesitant to leave home so shortly, I looked at my book and decided to go for it. A week later, I was packing my bags and driving south to work with the Klamath Bird Observatory for the next two months. When I arrived to the secluded cabin in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, I heard “Cr-r-r-u-k, cr-r-r-u-k”, a raven call and I knew I had made the right choice.
Are all of these coincidences? Or are ravens guiding me through the path of conservation? I don’t know. But, I do know that I get the pleasure of listening to their calls every morning while I trek through Oregon’s forests to band landbirds. This is a new journey and the internship involves setting up mist-nests, extracting birds from the nets, banding, ageing and sexing them. I am faced with new challenges as all of this is new to me, but I am excited to learn.