By Mikal Jakubal
This post from two weeks ago was about a woman in Redway who has been feeding ravens and now claims someone is poisoning them. Her solution is a bit, um, wacky, to say the least.
The post generated a few comments, one of which I’ll excerpt below because it got me thinking about our relationship with those birds. The comment excerpts:
By providing (ravens) with an artificial food supply she encourages them to congregate in unnaturally high numbers…. In the best interest of these wild creatures we can help keep them wild by not feeding them and keeping garbage and compost secured in tightly covered cans and bins.
True on the one hand, regarding ravens being wild animals. And true also about securing trash from other wild animals. On the other hand, ravens can also be thought of as one of our commensal species—in the literal sense of the term, “sharing table” or “sharing food”—who have cohabitated with humans for countless millennia. They thrive in our disturbance, eat our leftovers and provide us amusement through their antics. Sharing food with ravens, whether out of hand or incidentally when they raid our dumps, continues an inter-species bond stretching back into evolutionary eternity. Ranging throughout the holarctic, they figure significantly in mythologies as diverse as Native American, Christian, Scandinavian and North African. The human/raven bonding through shared food is ancient and deep. It is no accident that many of us feel compelled to feed them.
It is likely that ravens migrated to North America over the Bering land bridge about the same time as humans. It would not be at all surprising if we came here together, since following our camps would be a natural behavior for ravens. (Ah, a bit of searching turns up the fact that there are two different groups of ravens, one that has lived on the West Coast for 2 million years and the other that came over the Bering land bridge contemporaneously with us.)
I think we all too often fall into unnecessarily rigid or overly-generalized rules of behavior with regard to animals. If, in a given place and time, there is a specific reason to not feed ravens, then we should not do it. But, in general, we are co-adapted and get along quite fine. While they can live on their own, they’re quite happy and healthy living with us and sharing our table as well. Given the duration and durability of our bonding over food, it is not really accurate to say that feeding them constitutes an “artificial food supply.” In fact, eating our toss-offs is quite the natural thing for them to do.
Should this woman or anyone feed them in Redway? Meh, I dunno. Ravens were here eating our food when the Native people were the only human inhabitants. They were here when the European settlers moved in and they’ll be here in a thousand years, no matter who is or isn’t here.