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Inside Passage Audio Guide


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Ravens, Crows, Jays and Magpies

The raven's intelligence and humor are central to Northwest Coast Native myths and stories, and Raven is credited with bringing both light and water to the world.

Ravens and their kin - crows, magpies and jays - are birds with curiosity and the capacity to solve problems. This serves them well in the wild, and also around people. Crows and ravens will tear mussels from intertidal rocks, carry them aloft, and drop them on rocks, sidewalks and parking lots to smash them open. They also figure out how to open up food containers, ice chests and backpacks, and get into tents, vehicles and homes.

Ravens are playful and social, and are outstanding aerial acrobats. They carry sticks and feathers aloft, dropping them and then swooping in to catch them mid-air as they fall or drift in the wind. Ravens also play tag, barrel-rolling and matching another's flight-path just inches away.

In addition to their raucous "caw," ravens have a wide range of vocalizations, some quite musical. They gurgle, chirp, warble and imitate sounds.

Steller's jays are the only crested jay west of the Rocky Mountains. A screeching squawk is their most common call, but they are also melodious singers and can imitate the calls of bald eagles and goshawks.

Members of the raven and crow family, known as corvids, are monogamous and generally mate for life. Flocks forage cooperatively, working together to capture prey that is too much for a single bird. Ravens, crows and jays are year-round Southeast Alaska residents. Magpies are winter migrants to Southeast; they summer in the Yukon and British Columbia.

Southeast Alaska's crow (the Northwestern crow) is considered to be a different species than the American crow found across the rest of the continent. Slightly smaller, with a deeper voice, the Northwestern crow can be found along the coast from Puget Sound to Cook Inlet.

What to look for: Ravens are large birds, about two feet long from head to tail, with a four to five foot wingspan. Ravens have pointed wings (in contrast to eagles' rectangular wing shape) and flap more than eagles when flying. Ravens are much larger than crows, and the raven's tail is wedge-shaped, not fan-shaped like the crow.

Magpies are unmistakable crow-sized black and white birds with long tails. Steller's jays are cobalt-blue birds with a gray upper back, black head, and a prominent, dark crest.

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