The raven himself is hoarse


It’s bird week! There are all sorts of things going on. You can vote for Australia’s favourite bird through BirdLife Australia, take part in the white ibis survey, or go to one of the “breakfast with the birds” events at various centres around the country.

Some birds in the favourite bird survey have campaigners behind them, and SBS telly’s Julia Zemiro has stuck her hand up for the Australian raven.


Look, they’re clever birds all right. But maybe too clever. Maybe a bit Hitchcocky clever. John Lister-Kaye wrote about their Scottish highland relatives, the hooded crows, and a wee trick the hoodies have developed. At lambing time two hoodies find a newborn lamb. First hoodie distracts the ewe while the other pecks out one of the lamb’s eyes. Just one eye, mind. Next day they’re back with the same trick, this time taking out the second eye. I think we can all work out the life expectancy of a blind newborn lamb on a Scottish hillside. It takes a few days for the lamb to die, but time is something that hooded crows have got plenty of.


I saw a similar trick down the drain on Friday evening. Jambo and I were heading back from the gasworks when I saw a mother duck and her brood of about nine ducklings. They were very far upstream; perhaps she was taking them to the outlet by the Chatham Road bridge to feed on the water grass that grows around there. Whatever her motive, it was ill conceived. The family was very exposed – a long way from deep water and no plant cover – and a pair of ravens were stalking them along the beck, one either side. Jambo saw the ducks and charged after them and so mother duck went into “ooh ooh catch me! I’ve got a broken wing!” mode. He obliged.


At least, until I’d got him back on the lead. By the time mother duck had circled round, though, an opportunity had presented itself for the ravens. All those little ducklings! Yum yum!


The mother got back and started rounding up the littlies, but by this time they were eight. And those ravens just kept up the distraction and the triangulation. She didn’t have a chance, and neither did the ducklings. Their usual “duck and dive” routine wasn’t fooling these guys, and if I thought I might scare them off then that wasn’t going to happen either, they’d just fix me a baleful glare, flap a few feet away and start the process again.


Soon they were seven …


Six ducklings eventually made it to the cover of the culvert entrance. That’s a 33% strike rate for the ravens, an evening’s work that even they’d be pretty pleased with. One each, and one to share for dessert.


For those of you with a literary bent, here’s Lady Macbeth’s raven soliloquy with the full raven blah. They won’t be getting any votes from me.