Christina here. I’ve been mulling over ideas for a new story, and one of the things I’d like to add is an unusual pet. In the past, I’ve always given my heroes and heroines faithful canine companions, but this time I want something a little bit different. I’m considering a pet raven.
As I write about Viking times, this seems appropriate, since the god Odin was said to have two ravens – Huginn (Old Norse for ‘thought’) and Muninn (Old Norse for ‘memory’). According to the sagas, this pair would fly across the world each day and then return to Odin to give him information about anything that might concern him. His personal spies, as it were. It is interesting that this particular type of bird was chosen by the god to be his informants – Vikings must have known how clever they are.
Ever since my younger daughter bought a pair of cockatiels, we’ve been fascinated by birds in our house. Being a confirmed dog person, I had never considered having one as a pet and because they are so small, I generally assumed they were literally ‘bird brains’, ie not very clever. I was very wrong. I think most humans tend to underestimate the intelligence of birds (and other creatures). Obviously there are lots of different kinds, and some are smarter than others, but in general they seem to understand much more than we think. And the one who stands out above all others is the raven.
I first became aware of ravens when reading Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem at school. There was something fascinating and spell-binding about that particular bird and the words resonated with me. I’d never seen a raven in real life though until I moved to England and visited the Tower of London. As you probably all know, there is a legend that says that there have to be at least six ravens living at the Tower or else England and its monarchy will fall. (More about that here). I’m assuming that in days gone by they lived there of their own free will because there were wild ravens in London at that time, but these days they are kept on purpose. I follow the Ravenmaster (the Yeoman Warder/’Beefeater’ Chris Skaife who is in charge of them) on social media and love all his quirky photos of the ravens currently residing at the Tower. It seems to me he has a seriously cool job!
There are now seven birds – one extra just in case – with names like Gripp and Poppy. (The collective noun for a group of ravens is an Unkindness of Ravens, which although weird is better than a Murder of Crows IMO). There have also been some chicks and the Ravenmaster posted lovely photos of them while he was looking after them. Some stay on, while others are sent away when they are ready to leave. Although they are kept in cages during the night, they are let out in the daytime and visitors to the Tower can see them and take photos. You’re not supposed to feed them, but I think they manage to find quite a few scraps of food left behind by visitors. One of their wings is clipped so they won’t stray too far, but they can still fly up onto the old walls. I just love watching them and got quite close to one last time I was there! (And I couldn’t resist buying a raven plushie in the gift shop).
A raven’s cry is very harsh and a much deeper sound than that of a crow or jackdaw (listen to this), although they make several different types of noise and apparently also imitate other birds. (And they can learn to speak some of our words too).
When I first moved to my current home near the Welsh border, I didn’t realise that there were wild ravens around here but I heard them and asked someone what the weird noise was. Since then, I have seen them, but only at a distance. They seldom come into our garden except to sit high up in the trees. The local crows must find them a threat, as I’ve seen a group of them gang up on a raven or two, presumably if/when they are threatening the crow chicks. I’m absolutely thrilled to be living close to these magnificent birds, though, and always look for them whenever I hear one. In fact, I’d love to interact with one, but owning them is not allowed, and I prefer to think of them roaming free in any case. If my next heroine is to have one, she’ll have to have found it as a chick, perhaps with a broken wing or something? Obviously, there were no rules against keeping such a bird in Viking times.
As I said, ravens are one of the most intelligent types of birds. According to these articles in the Scientific American and National Geographic, “At just four months of age, the birds performed equally well as great apes on understanding numbers, following cues and many more tasks.” Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
They can solve problems and remember things, as well as follow cues. And they can definitely figure out how to steal food (love this little fisherman – see this YouTube video!). They can even plan ahead and are better at it than human four-year olds!
Ravens are very playful and I love watching videos on social media of their antics, like these ones playing in snow:-
It fascinates me that they make time for playing rather than just spending their whole lives looking for food to survive. They must be very sure of their skills if they can devote time to other things. I read that they use stunt flying, like aeroplanes doing barrel-rolls and flying upside down, to attract mates.
I know birds are not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people are even terrified of them – ornithophobia. Perhaps it’s their flapping wings and sharp beaks they find off-putting. I have to admit that I wouldn’t like to be on the business end of a raven’s beak, nor that of a huge parrot or cockatoo. A friend of mine was bitten by her mother’s parrot and he took quite a chunk out of her! Even my daughter’s cockatiels can give you quite a nip so it doesn’t do to annoy them, small though they are. But I have come to enjoy spending time with them and observing their antics, so I think my heroine will enjoy having a pet bird. And perhaps that beak can come in useful against her enemies? We shall see.
What about you, do you like birds or do you prefer to keep your distance? Any in particular? Or perhaps you like some other unusual type of pet? (I’m very partial to snakes myself).