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Raven roosts a foothills mystery

“Cronk!” “Cronk!” The morning commute was in full swing. Another two pairs of ravens just passed high over Dark Hollow heading down out of the foothills to various points in Medford. These were the ninth and tenth pairs plus 3 singles I had seen so far. There would certainly be more. Mostly, they are silent, but one or two always has something to say. It wasn’t until last year I realized this was a daily occurrence. As I’ve said before, I learn a lot when sitting and drinking my morning coffee on the back porch.

They were headed out for another hard day’s work scouring the fast-food and grocery store parking lots. School yards at lunch time are another favorite. Lately, I’ve made it a point to count the “working” ravens when running errands around town. It’s not hard to run up a tally of 13-17 scattered about. There must be many more. There are a few crows, too, but crows and ravens don’t exactly get along.

Apparently, there are plenty of dropped French fries and other items to go around. There is plenty of time for play. Chases are common as well as general mischief. Six or eight will sometimes circle up high to the point they are dots in in the sky. If a Red-tailed Hawk happens by, even more fun.

Distinguishing crows from ravens can be a challenge. Usually if you see one or two, they are ravens. If you see a group of ten, twenty or more, they are crows. Crows are usually more social and work, play, and rest in mobs. There are other ways to tell ravens from crows, but that is for another time.

Thus, to see the morning fly out from what I believe to be a communal roost is intriguing. How many use the roost? How far do they range in a day? I know some commute at least 5 miles one way. Why choose such a remote location that presents several miles of travel for a fast-food breakfast? Why bother to roost together? There are few predators short of golden eagles and great horned owls that pose a threat to such a large and capable bird. Some studies indicate aggregations at a roost in other species such as terns, gulls, and swallows allow for information sharing regarding good foraging opportunities. Ravens are perhaps the most intelligent of birds. So, this is certainly possible. I can only imagine the kinds of conversations they might have.

As the afternoon wears on, they begin to drift silently back up into the foothills. One evening, driving home I saw a swirl of ravens in the distance high in the foothills above the level of the highest houses. It appeared to be a last bit of fun before dropping into what I assume to be a roost in the fading light. This section of forest did not appear to be special in any way. Only the ravens know.

Are there similar roosts elsewhere in the valley? I can imagine one on RoxyAnn, possibly another in the Eagle Point area and likely one in the Talent/Ashland area. If you know the location of a raven roost or a crow roost in the valley, I would like to hear from you.

Stewart Janes is a biology professor, emeritus, at Southern Oregon University. He can be reached at janes@sou.edu.