It was in August 1989 at Burton Bradstock in Dorset when we found Tarquin, a badly injured raven. Having put the tent up on day one of our two week holiday; we decided to take the children and our dog Ben for a walk on the beach. Whilst walking my daughter, Nina, noticed a big black something in the distance on the shingle. It looked like it had just moved. Nina ran ahead with Ben to investigate. As they got close a big, black beak shot up from the stones and tried to bite Ben. I knew immediately that is was a raven from the size of the beak; even at a distance it looked massive.
Yes, it was a raven and he was in a bad way and very close to death. I picked him up and wrapped him in a towel to take him back to the tent. On examination I found that his right wing was partially severed along with his right leg and his right eye was completely missing. He could not stand or fly and was very skinny and lethargic; I didn't think he would last for long.
I washed all the grit from his wing and leg and the hole where his right eye once was. I cut up a towel and bandaged his right leg to hold it in place and did likewise with his wing. Having done this I managed to get him to reluctantly drink some water and I pushed some dog food down in to his crop, which he promptly swallowed. I sat with him wrapped in a towel all night long and during that time he managed to consume a whole tin of dog food and a good number of sand eels that the children had managed to catch in nets in the surf for him. I fully expected him to die during that first night but to my surprise, the next morning he was looking much brighter and he was generally more alert.
Rambling thoughts in the Night about Corvus Corax
I remember in the night thinking to myself, "Wow this is a Raven, Corvus Corax, the king of the Corvids, bird brain supreme; top of the bird tree; famous in literature, religion, folklore and cultures all over the world; the legendary bird of death and life; friend and helper to humans and carnivores world wide; persecuted in Britain and Europe; what a bird!!! On the other hand I was thinking, how come I am the one that always ends up with the injured birds? It seems to have been that way since I was a young lad, I was always getting in trouble with my parents for bringing home every injured bird from the neighbourhood, sometimes full nests of them that a cat or the wind had had dislodged, people brought them to me when they found them. I had no real idea why. I just cracked on and did my best to help them; sometimes successfully and other times not. I didn't hold out much hope for this poor raven. I also remembered what had switched me on to the Corvids in the first place; a crow that I had rescued as a lad called Caw; by the time he eventually went back into the wild he was silly tame with me. Anyway he came back to see me the next year and brought his whole family with him.He had 6 babies and his new woman. The babies seemed so tame with me, they seemed to have no fear of me, Caw must have told them that they had nothing to fear from me, he may have even told them of his rescue. It seemed that he wanted to introduce us all. They stayed with me for about two hours and then they were gone. I never saw them again, but to this day the whole thing still amazes me. All sorts of things went through my mind that night. I think my brain had gone into overdrive.
The next day
After a night of virtually no sleep and seeing that he was looking a lot brighter I phoned the RSPB and explained his injuries.I wanted to see if there was a rescue centre anywhere that I could take him to for some treatment. They said they were busy rescuing gulls from an oil spillage and suggested I found a quiet place to put him and leave him to die. I rang the RSPCA who were busy helping the RSPB with the gulls and they suggested I put him out of his misery. I was not prepared to take their advice as he was looking so much brighter and I had never seen a raven in the wild before.I was determined to at least give him the best chance possible to get him back on his feet.
Dave the Rave meets his saviour
My dad agreed to drive and take us to the local police station in Bridport who were very helpful; they found us a local vet that was a bird specialist. He agreed to see us straight away and told us to come down to the surgery and he would see us at the end of surgery. When we arrived, the waiting room was full of people with cats waiting for their annual vaccinations. The vet came in to the waiting room to take a quick look at the now named Dave the Rave and promptly cancelled surgery till the following day with no complaints from any of his other patients. We were ushered in to the operating room where Dave was given a sedative. His right wing, right leg and eye socket were thoroughly washed and disinfected. Stitches were inserted to hold his right wing and leg in place.A severed tendon was also rejoined. He was given two injections of different antibiotics to combat any infections and another tonic injection. The vet estimated that his age could be anything up to 65 years. He pointed out that he was an old bird that probably wouldn't have too many more years longer to live. He also pointed out that if he recovered he would never be able to be returned to the wild as he would be severely handicapped with just one eye, and would struggle to hunt and scavenge for food. He also informed us that he would suffer in the cold weather through his other injuries. It was agreed that I would look after Dave the Rave for the rest of his days. The visit in its entirety was hours long and I was charged £1.00 plus VAT.
Two Weeks in a tent with Dave and the coming of Tarquin
Dave the Rave continued to get stronger and stronger over the two weeks that we were camping. He started to crawl around quite a lot. He was getting into every corner of the tent and causing havoc, pulling everything out of its boxes and containers. He kept pecking at our youngest child Lisa's feet; she was under a year old and spent a lot of time sitting in her pushchair. We were getting worried that he was moving around too much. We had been told by the vet to keep him as quiet as possible until his wounds had healed. In the end we had to buy a cage to stop him wrecking the tent and to keep him still until he was a bit better. His name was changed to Tarquin, as it seemed to fit his character better. I could not believe his progress and was looking forward to building him an aviary as soon as we got home. Tarquin became quite a celebrity on the campsite and nightly updates on his progress were announced in the camp club. He became quite used to people with the amount of campsite visitors that popped in to see him.
I built his first aviary at the bottom of our garden the day we got home. It was a bit makeshift but he seemed very happy with his new home. He seemed to get stronger and stronger day by day and month by month, loving my company and people visiting. He especially liked it when we had people over for a barbeque as he knew he would be spoilt rotten with all sorts of food and attention. (He is a real character and always up for mischief). After a year I decided that I would build him a better and bigger aviary attached to the house so that he wasn't too far removed from us; he loved it and could see inside the house, he used to perch on the living room window ledge and talk to us through the window whenever we were in there.
Checked out by the Authorities
It was about this time that I got a call from the RSPCA, it had been reported that we were keeping a perfectly healthy crow in an aviary!! They wanted to visit to see what going on. I agreed to the visit and when they arrived I explained that actually it was a raven that we were keeping and not a crow. I explained Tarquin's rescue and pointed out what their advice was at the time, (put him out of his misery). She agreed that our solution to Tarquin's problem had been a better one than theirs and as he looked so happy in his new aviary they even agreed to help in looking out for a mate for him. I was quite excited at this prospect, as I was sure there must be another injured raven somewhere. We sadly didn't hear any more from them.
We decided to go back to Burton Bradstock on holiday the next year. We wanted to and see the vet who helped save him, let him know of Tarquin's progress and also to relive the camping experience.This time without a raven in the tent for two weeks! This, of course, meant that someone back home would have to feed Tarquin whilst we were away. Tarquin was not keen on anybody other than the immediate family going into the aviary so it was a tricky choice. My business partner Bob offered to do the job. I carefully explained how to put his food on the shelf just inside the aviary door and then just back out and close the door and lock it; the water bowl could be topped up from the outside. I explained not to approach Tarquin who would be in his shelter at the other end of the aviary checking him out. Bob, of course, in his wisdom confused Tarquin's alarm call with come over here and stroke me please. As Bob approached, Tarquin launched himself at Bob's head and promptly got caught up in his waist length hair, all the while viciously pecking at his head with his talons locked onto his hair. Bob and Tarquin both ended up on the floor unable to move, they had been there about fifteen minutes, when by chance my friend Thurston popped round to visit and found them both. Fortunately, he was good with birds and had kept a very mad cockatoo for many years,he managed to ease Tarquin's talons one at a time from Bob's hair until he was released (ravens can lock their talons shut for up to 20 minutes or until they relax). No real harm came to any of them but Bob never went in the aviary again. I must say that in my opinion Tarquin was probably attempting to fly over his head and Bob must have jumped in fright at the same time and they collided in mid air. Although Bob is convinced that Tarquin just attacked him for being friendly.
We had recently bought a couple of mynah birds which we called Austin and Morris.We put them in an aviary joined on to Tarquin's. They seemed very interested in each other and appeared to chat for hours with each other. One morning as I took out breakfast and found a big hole in the adjoining wall of the aviaries and there were the two mynah birds perched right beside Tarquin; he had ripped open the chicken wire to let them in. I watched in amazement as Tarquin drooped both his wings and a mynah bird jumped on to each wing and started to de-lice each one starting at the neck and working their way down to the tips of the wings. This became a daily routine for eight years. Tarquin ended up with the mynahs, cockatiels, glossy starlings and four quails all living with him in perfect harmony. Tarquin used to cover the quails with his wings during the night. There was, however, one frosty morning when I was late getting breakfast out and three of the Quails had been eaten. I was never late with breakfast again.
Raven overrun with mice
There was also a time when my children were keeping mice and they were multiplying in numbers like you wouldn't believe, they were all kept in a large plastic mouse paradise and had been placed outside the back door, on the shed roof, to get some sun. I popped in the aviary to see Tarquin and he was sat on his perch looking rather content with himself and with a mouse-tail hanging from his beak. He could hardly move he had eaten so much. In fact, he couldn't swallow the last one. Our cat, Boots, had knocked the mouse cage off of the shed roof and the mice had all escaped to the aviary, a very bad escape route to choose. It turned out to be a big mistake for most of them. I managed to rescue mum and dad and some of the babies but Tarquin had eaten at least 10. All the kids thought I had done it to keep the mouse numbers down but I could tell from the guilty look on Boots' face that it was him.
The arrival of Tilly
Tarquin was now in his fourth aviary in eight years; each one bigger and better than the last. This one was 60ft long and 12ft wide by 10ft high. It was at this time that my wife, Shelley, found a female raven advertised for sale. We were very excited and I was pretty sure that Tarquin was a male bird so we took a chance and bought Tilly, a captive bred one-year-old female. We drove up to Penrith to collect her from Brian Redhead, a breeder of ravens; it was great to find someone else with a love for the birds. We learnt so much from Brian in that short visit. When we got home we put her in a large cage just outside the main aviary until she settled. Tarquin seemed very interested in her and they were calling to each other nearly all the time. We decided to let her in and see what happened, she immediately chased down Morris, one of the mynah birds,killing him and then started chasing the other whilst killing a cockatiel as it tried to get out of the way. We dashed in and managed to catch all the other birds before she did. I hastily built another aviary for these birds. It really was a shame in some ways as Tarquin really did seem to love the other birds, especially the two mynah birds. Tarquin was not happy at first with his new mate and would not even perch next to her and he certainly wasn't talking to her either. Eventually Tilly sidled up to him and he drooped his wings and she started to de-lice them as the mynah birds had done. They became inseparable, although at breeding season she seemed to annoy him with her advances, it's as if he knew that she was too young for mating. Tilly was getting quite frustrated by the time she was four and had plucked most of Tarquin's neck and chest feathers; she had even built a small nest and laid an egg, but of course without Tarquin's assistance nothing happened.
Something Fishy going on
Prior to Tilly's arrival Tarquin had been used to having the other birds company and the luxury of his own pond with a fountain and six goldfish. Tarquin used to bath in the pond and particularly enjoyed standing on the fountain head and diving into the water. He didn't seem to bother much with the fish, they just co-existed. He certainly knew they were there, as you could see his head and one eye follow them around the pond as they swam around. The fish didn't even attempt to hide from Tarquin when he was in the water. As previously explained, when Tilly arrived the peace and tranquillity disappeared straight away. Having rescued the other birds into cages whilst their new aviary was being hastily built, Shelley suggested that I should check on the fish in case Tilly had been after them as well. It hadn't occurred to me that she might go after the fish as well. I rushed out to the aviary but there were not any fish left, she had eaten them all. It was very sad as we were very fond of the fish. It didn't look like Tilly wanted Tarquin to have any of his mates at all; she even broke off the top of the fountain and ripped the wires out from the pump. I had to uninstall the pump and fountain before Tilly electrocuted herself or Tarquin. In the end the pond was replaced with a plastic sand pit, as Tilly used to throw all the meat that she didn't want into the pond. The pond was 3ft deep so it didn't take long for the unspotted meat to make the water rancid and smelly; it was quite a job emptying and refilling it twice a week. I think Tilly tried to rid Tarquin of his friends and luxuries so that he would give her his undivided attention. I am sure I have seen similar behaviour in humans.
Tilly seduces Tarquin
Then when Tilly turned five years old Tarquin started to build a nest with the nesting material I had put in for them (just in case they needed it), we were very excited. They had twigs and sticks of all sizes along with wisteria and vine and rhododendrum cuttings. They had straw and hay and lots of dog's hair (we shaved them especially) and lots of sheep wool that Chris, my mother in-law, had collected from the local Broadmoor farm. I could not believe the size of the nest they built it, it was massive, on the outside it looked like a great big mess but the cup inside was perfect in every way, lined with hair and wool. I noticed this when I went up to the nest to check if there were any eggs and to my joy there were five eggs. The nest construction was amazing with large sticks forming the base and then smaller twigs bound to them gradually decreasing in size right the way up to the cup. The whole thing was extremely robust and well constructed, a lot of hard work had gone into that.
The start of the 7 T's
They produced all five young, Tequila, Taboo, Tyrell, Tamara and Tess, we were overjoyed. I was in Hull on business when they were hatched, I received an excited telephone call from my wife Shelley telling me that she could hear the babies crying for food. My business partner Bob and I decided that as we weren't there to see all the great news, we should at least go out on the town and toast their birth and good health. We got quite drunk and both had a hangover the next day, which didn't help as we had to drive on up to Teeside the next day. We did both agree that it was all for a good cause though. We nicknamed them the 7T's, seven ravens all with names beginning with T. I decided that I would not hand rear any of the young as I didn't want to interfere with what was going on. Shelley and I agreed that we should let Tarquin and Tilly fully experience the whole thing, although we did put closed rings on the babies. We had to put on size Z rings instead of the correct W size because we had left it for fourteen days before ringing them and the correct day is the 9th, but we didn't know that at the time. We didn't realise how quickly they grew, six weeks and they are fully grown. We eventually cut off the Z size rings and replaced them with size W split rings. We found Taboo hanging from a branch by the oversized ring; it was lucky I spotted him when I did, as it would have been fatal if undetected. We felt they were dangerous for the birds as they could get caught on all manner of things, and of course if they ever ended up escaping into the wild we would never sleep at night wondering if they were ok or caught on a branch somewhere. We were a bit worried about putting on the split rings, as a closed ring is proof that the birds were born in captivity. We had video film of them in the nest so we knew we could prove that they were captive bred if we ever needed to.
Harry Potter calls
When the five toddlers were five months old we decided to go camping on the north Devon coast. We had gone into a falconry centre and had watched the flying displays and were talking to the falconer after the show had finished. We mentioned that we had seven ravens and he was very surprised and said that he had always wanted one himself, in fact his good friend was looking for some ravens to be in the new Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban. He asked if we minded him having our phone number. We were quite excited that our mob might end up famous raven stars. We gave our number and ten minutes later my mobile rang and it was Mike from Birds and Animals, the company providing all the animals and birds for the movie, he told me that he had been looking for ravens to be in the film for close on nine months and had had no success. He said he would buy all our ravens and what did we want for them? We explained that they were definitely not for sale and that they were very much part of our family. He asked if there was any way he could lease them, as he was desperate to use them in the film. We agreed in principle that it might be possible to lease them, as I would get them back trained at the end of filming. I explained that we were on holiday and arranged for him to give me a call when we got home. He phoned within ten minutes of us getting home and invited us to the studios the next day to be shown the film set and to meet his boss. We agreed to the meeting and were shown round the whole set, we saw the main shopping street and the big, fat, funny fellas house played by Robbie Coltrane and a cardboard cut out of Harry's house when he was a kid. We were also shown all around the animal and bird hospitality suites; we met with the animals and birds that they had already acquired for the film and we watched some of the animals being clicker trained to perfection. We were treated to lunch in the staff canteen and were introduced to the fella that had been brought over from the States to train the ravens.Then we were ushered in to see the boss man. He sat us down and explained that all he wanted was the five babies and that leasing wasn't an option, he had to buy the birds, as it was company policy. He informed us that as we didn't hand rear any of them they would never bond with us and escape at their first opportunity. We were asked what price we wanted and were told this the film industry basically allows you to ask for what you want and you will get it. Silly money was discussed but eventually he realised that the birds were not for sale; he told us that he couldn't use the birds if that was the case. For us the problem was that we loved the birds and didn't want to be permanently separated from them and of course how can you pin a price to what Tarquin, Tilly and us have produced. We didn't even know if Tarquin would live through the next winter let alone have any more babies. Anyway the planned accommodation was nowhere near as good as Harry got, or as good as they were used to, so we walked away. Their brief brush with stardom didn't work out so well but I suspect in the long run they will end up better off for it.
A bit later on Shelley, the children and myself were sunbathing up the garden on a lovely day reflecting about what had happened. The ravens were talking a lot that afternoon and we were all admiring them. We were all saying how great it was to still have all the 70s, all seven were lined up on the perch together looking at us, studying us and making lots of affectionate murmurings at us. I suddenly realised that I couldn't see any wire between them and us. I jumped to my feet, at first thinking it was a trick of the light, but sure enough there was a whole panel of chicken wire missing, they had ripped it off and screwed it up and pushed it into the corner. On closer inspection I found lots of holes that they all could have escaped from. I just smiled to myself and remembered what Harry's boss had said about them not bonding with us and how they would try to escape at their earliest chance. Some of those holes had been there for weeks and there was not a single bird missing. They may even have been out and about many times and come back; we swore the crows in the garden had suddenly got bigger! Mind you, I didn't want to take anything for granted so I rushed around patching up all the holes before nightfall, just in case.
When the five additions were about eighteen months old I built an aviary for them that was joined to the main aviary. They had interfered with Tarquin and Tilly building their nest that year. As fast as mum and dad built it they took it apart. It's as if they were jealous that mum and dad were planning for more young. I had read that in the wild, any of last year's young that hadn't dispersed, would generally assist their parents in building the nest and raising the following years young. Not this lot, they were determined not to let it happen. In the end Tarquin and Tilly gave up trying that year.
The next year six babies were born, but we noticed mum and dad were feeding their original five through the wire and not paying enough attention to the new babies. On the 9th day I went up to the nest to ring the babies but the rings were much too big. I then realised that they were much too small and must be undernourished due to mum and dad continuing to feed the first five. I decided I was going to remove them the next day and hand rear them; I got myself set up with everything that I would need.
When I went out in the morning to get them, to my horror they were all dead, we were devastated. I decided to put a wooden wall between the two aviaries so that the same thing didn't happen the following year, and just to be sure I decided that I would hand raise at least two of the young the following year. Getting ready for chaos
The next breeding season seemed to take ages to come around but in the end the nest building started. I had decided that I was going to raise the two young in my large garden shed, it was well insulated and well lit so I decided to move my whole office out there so I could raise the babies and work at the same time. I thought it would be great. I moved out my desk and computer, a sound system and a portable DVD player, I had a telephone extension, the lot. I set up the area where the babies were to be reared, I built them a nest from a washing up bowl with a padded bottom and sides and put some foam pipe lagging round the rim. I got some heat lights set up and a food blender for mixing the feed; our camping fridge was used to store the prepared feed; a baby bottle warmer was used to bring the feed to the right temperature. I had a large selection of syringes and water droppers and a good oil radiator to keep warm if the temperature dropped off in the evenings. I had a kettle for tea and coffee, I was set.
The birth of Chaos, The 1st two weeks
To our joy four babies were born: Spirit, Shadow, Willow and Petra. I hand reared Spirit and Shadow from nine days old; Willow and Petra stayed in the nest with mum and dad. These four babies were big, not like last years, in fact, we had to put the next size x rings on them instead of size w. They took to feeding from a large syringe within a minute, they went mad for it. They reminded me of tiny new born dinosaurs (seen in films of course!) having a feeding frenzy, but when they were asleep they looked so helpless and loveable. If I coughed or spoke to them or answered the phone or sneezed, Their heads would shoot up and they would shout at the top of their little lungs until you put food in their mouth. I soon got into the routine, about every hour for the first two weeks from 7am through till 1am. Things were going very well and they were gaining weight rapidly, feathers were starting to appear and they were moving around the nest.
They were standing up and stretching. Their eyes were fully open and they could obviously see very well; I couldn't even sneak out for a moment without them going crazy. They were eating for England and kept both Shelley and I busy all the time, Shelley knocking up the grub and me feeding them and clearing up their mess. They stayed feeding from the large syringe for the first two weeks, but we slowly reduced the amount of water in the mix until we couldn't reduce it any more, they then went on to a solid diet and were given water with a dropper.
The Rein of Chaos, The last 4 weeks
Only another two weeks to go before they would fledge their homemade nest. I had managed to get the feeding time down to every two hours by then and I was really enjoying life in the shed. I wasn't getting much work done though, most of my time was spent cleaning up their droppings.They wiggled their bums to the top of the nest and then squirt it out over the top of the nest, sometimes up to 3 feet away. This, of course, was constant day and night. I was amazed how they seemed to be house trained from birth, mind you the second they step out of the nest for the first time that all stops immediately. Bang on six weeks old they left the nest and chaos was let loose. I had never known anything like it in my life, they wanted to steal and break everything in sight. They were trying to break my computer screen by smashing their beaks into it; they were ejecting cds from the sound system and flying off with them; they pulled plugs out of their sockets; ransacked the draws of my desk. There really was no stopping them, they broke the telephone and kept stealing my mobile as well; there were holes in my speakers too, then they blew them up by turning the volume to max and then turning on the stereo amp; they crashed my computer several times by jumping all over the keyboard and trying to remove the key tops. They also wanted everything that I had in my pockets, they got my fags, lighters, glasses and wallet and trashed the lot. My work diary was ripped to pieces. I knew that this couldn't go on much longer. Every time I walked into the shed they mobbed me, initially both trying to land on my head at the same time. After a few days I resembled the walking wounded, I was scratched all over my head, face and arms. They couldn't keep away from me they loved me to bits and just wanted to play 24/7.
It was at this time that I noticed Tarquin was looking really tired and kept lying down on his perches. I was very worried about him because of his age. It was Tarquin that seemed to do all the work, he built the nest every year and then fed Tilly whilst she sat the eggs and then did all the feeding of the young. Petra and Willow had just fledged the nest as well so I decided that I would remove Tarquin from the aviary to give him a rest and keep a close eye on him for a while. I put him in a very large cage that I assembled in the shed and phoned our vet who gave me some antibiotics and wormer to give him as a precaution. But after a few hours I noticed that Tilly wasn't feeding Petra and Willow, they were begging her for food but she was ignoring them. She just called for Tarquin all the time whilst looking at the shed. I let that go on for twenty four hours and decided that a change of plan was needed. I decided that I would remove Petra and Willow to the shed and put Tarquin back in the aviary with Tilly. Tarquin soon recovered with some rest and since then they seem to have shared the workload equally. In the shed it was double chaos. I had the hand reared ones mobbing me and the parent reared ones trying to get away from me and they were the two that needed to get some food into them quick. I decided to put Petra and Willow in the cage that I had built for Tarquin, just for a few days till they got used to me feeding them, that didn't take long and soon they were happily taking food from me. It wasn't long before they were begging to come out of the cage and join Spirit and Shadow. It was clear that I had to abandon my office in the shed and moved it all back into the house. I got Sharon (our aviary builder) and one of my employees Michael (who is also now a lodger) to build an aviary outside the house kitchen and we moved all four of them into it. I sat in my office in the house with the birds safely in their new aviary and reflected with the biggest smile ever on one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Fantastic, I would recommend it to anyone.
They all got on great in the new aviary, I made sure that it wasn't too big so that I could keep the close relationship that I had with Spirit and Shadow (the hand reared ones). I also wanted to encourage Willow and Petra (the parent reared up to six weeks) to tame down further. The problem was that Spirit and Shadow wouldn't give Willow and Petra any time with me because they got so jealous of my attention. Every time they attempted to approach me, Spirit or Shadow would yank their tails and distract them and generally cause some trouble. I wondered what I could do to solve the problem without separating them as they all enjoyed playing together and hanging out. I really mean hanging out to as I would often find them hanging from the aviary ceiling like bats, they would even fall asleep hanging upside down like bats. I was in the aviary one morning with Petra and Willow trying to take food from me but Spirit and Shadow we not having it at all, they just kept on and on pulling at their tails every time they got close. Almost in frustration I tugged at Spirit's tail to see how he liked it, he immediately flew up and over me and landed behind me, and promptly jumped up and gave my backside a good hard peck. I chased him back and gave his tail another tug and he went off and tugged at one of the others bird's tails and then he gave chase. In the end they all joined in and we all had a great game of tag. We used to do this often as it was great fun and they all seemed to love it. I think the best bit for them were my screams as my backside got pecked, they used to get me in exactly the same spot every time and in the end they made a hole, unbeknown to me, in my jeans, when I felt that next peck I really did yell. You could almost see them all laughing their heads off every time it happened.
They truly are playful birds and just like young children or puppy dogs but they are also very alert and actively thinking through their next move all the time. They love to play fetch just like dogs. I decided to try some clicker training with them and reward any good behaviour with a click and a treat, they took to it in a few minutes, the only problem was that they could not resist trying to steal the clicker all the time. I used to keep the clicker in a bum bag along with the treats and they would work together in trying to get it off me, when they did get it they would pass it around to each other so I couldn't get it back. They used to click it for ages until I would give up trying to get it back. I used to find it right outside the kitchen door in the morning, but as soon as I picked it up they wanted it again.
We certainly had hours of great fun together, they would regularly steal all from my pockets but their favourite was my mobile phone which occasionally was in my waistcoat pocket when I went into the aviary. When they got it they would go straight to their water bowl and dangle the phone over the water and just look at me threateningly and wait for my next move. Of course, all my business and private contact numbers were on that phone so my reaction to their game was shear panic and they loved it, being chased around to get it back was nearly as much fun. I must say though that for all their threats they never did drop the phone in the water, I'm sure they knew how important it was to me. The phone ended up getting water damaged at a party we had so I lost all my numbers anyway but at least it wasn't my boys that did it. They continue to pinch my new mobile if given the opportunity but to this day they haven't dropped it in the water but I am sure it will happen one day, If they get hold of my fags or rolling papers then it's straight in the water they go, more often than not one at a time to prolong my agony. I used to play a game with Spirit and Shadow where I would launch them one at a time into the air and depending on how long they hovered before landing on my arm again I would click and treat them. The idea was to slowly extend the time in the air before landing back on my arm, this was in the hope that in the end they would hover until called down (we haven't got that far yet). Anyway, one particular day I went out into the aviary to play this game with them but Spirit was reluctant to play. I persisted with him, intent on getting my own way, he was moaning and groaning and fluffing up his feathers and generally showing that he didn't want to play that game today. I still persisted and in the end he was sat on my arm with me giving him a bit of a talking to, when suddenly his beak shot up towards my eye. Just as I thought my eye was about to be ripped out he gently placed his open beak just above and below my eye, he left it there for a few fractions of a second and then just resumed sitting down on my arm and looking at me. I was stunned, I didn't have time to even flinch, he had given me a gentle warning, thank God. I didn't persist any further with the game that day and I now only play games when they want to. I realised how wrong and stupid I had been to persist when he didn't want to play, however Spirit had taught me something very special that day and it was that I could completely trust these birds.
No Mercy for the faint hearted
I abandoned my setup in the shed in favour of their new aviary that had been built joined onto our kitchen. Outside the kitchen door had been our utility room with a tumble dryer and washing machine, which I had omitted to move back into the kitchen before the ravens moved in. I was in no hurry to move the machines back into the kitchen as they had been put in the utility room because they were too noisy. Our kitchen table is the central hub of the household and always has people sitting around it and talking and drinking tea, our blue and gold macaw called Sunny also lives in the kitchen so we try and spend lots of time in there. My son Lewis, and Mel our good friend and cleaner at the time were showing some concerns about going into the aviary to do the washing and tumble drying, which had been piling up. I explained to them both that if they go in armed with a couple of treats and make good eye contact and speak with the birds then they would be ok. They, of course, ignored my advice and decided that ignoring the birds was their best course of action. They both got nasty pecks on the back of the neck and head and fled the aviary swearing that they would never go in there again and telling me that I would have to do the washing and drying in the future if I left the machines in there. I decided to move both back into the kitchen and put up with the noise. I must say that my sympathies lie with the ravens though; because I know if someone came into my house and completely ignored me I would probably be a bit angry too. They can both see the funny side of it now but they still won't go into the aviary.
Shortly after that I went on a trip up north to visit a friend and met a very old lady called Morag, (I won't let on how old she is because she may get to read this story). Morag is a sheep farmer whose farm is on a very steep valley and her house is at the bottom on the shore. Whilst having a cup of tea and some cake in her kitchen we got talking about ravens and she explained that there were a lot of farmers around that shoot and sometimes poison the ravens because it is suspected that they attack and kill young lambs. She also explained that she disagreed with this view and thought that farmers that hold this view should think again. She pointed out that she has had a pair of ravens that visit her bird table every morning and evening and had done for years and that they have saved her a lot of leg work over the years. She went on to tell me that every morning she puts the kettle on and takes food out for the ravens, if they show up for breakfast then she knows all her sheep are ok. If, however, they don't show up then she may have a problem and up that steep hill she goes to check on the sheep. More often than not, on these occasions, she finds the ravens sitting close to the sheep that is feeling unwell. She then brings that sheep down to the house to nurse it back to health. I was amazed at her story and thought it worth a mention in Tarquin's story even though it is not directly related to it. As I was driving away I saw two ravens (the first I had seen in the wild since finding Tarquin), I was really pleased until one of them took off and flew right in front of the car. I had to brake hard to avoid hitting it and fortunately I missed him. I couldn't believe that I had nearly killed the second only raven I had ever seen in the wild.
2006 Joy turns to tragedy and back again
In 2006 we were overjoyed to have another five babies born, Dinky Dylan (the smallest), Mystic, Precious, Isis and Gem. I decided to hand rear Dylan, Mystic and Precious. I removed the three of them at nine days old and all went well for the first week. They were gaining weight rapidly, sometimes doubling it in twenty four hours. I didn't think anything could go wrong. They were being fed with lamb, beef, pork, liver, kidney, eggs, and Go Cat and a calcium and vitamin supplement called Nutrabal which is ideal for birds reptiles and snakes. They were doing great until they started moving around and scrambling over each other in their homemade nest at feed times. Suddenly, one by one they went very quiet and were not showing any interest in their food.Dylan was first to show these signs and then Precious and then Mystic. It started with the smallest and ended with the biggest. I noticed that Dylan and Precious could no longer get to their feet and Dylan's legs seemed to be facing the wrong way (which they weren't at first).
I decided to take them all to our Vet Mr Steve Cooke at Kelperland surgery in Holyport, he is a bird specialist. At first he thought they may have an infection and they were given antibiotics and they were taken off all raw meat other than Go Cat and brown bread. Things didn't improve but got worse, even Mystic who was the strongest could only just move and Dylan was looking like he could die any moment. Even if he did live, what was going on with his legs? Precious was fast heading the same way as Dylan. I phoned Sally Bingham who I knew was breeding ravens and she suggested that it sounded like a calcium deficiency. I phoned Steve Cooke and took all three back to the surgery where they were X-rayed. This confirmed that it was a calcium deficiency and that their bones had folded. Mystic had a fold in his left wing, Precious had two folds in her legs (but they had re-set nearly right), but Dylan was in a real bad way with six folds in his legs and a fold in his wing and a twisted diaphram. Steve Cooke didn't think he would survive, they were to continue on just Go Cat and brown bread but with loads of calcium carbonate mixed with it for two days. All three birds seemed to improve a little over the two days. They started to eat more.
Dylan undergoes surgery
After the two days were up I took them all back to the vet. Mystic and Precious were doing better and Precious' legs seemed to be holding in place but poor Dylan was still in a bad way with his legs but much brighter in himself. Steve Cooke said he was willing to try and put a metal pin into Dylan's worst leg but he was worried that the operation and after pain might kill him. He was going to need twenty four hour care to even have a chance of survival. We decided to go ahead with the op and it went well, in fact it went so well that Mr Cooke pinned both his legs. We were overjoyed to have him back alive but we had to keep his legs in place without him moving them for two weeks. This we did by folding a sleeping bag and hooking his talons into the material and then taping over both legs so he couldn't move them. He just wasn't interested in life at that point and didn't want any food at all, in fact, we had to force feed him every 30 minutes for a week. He came everywhere with us, to bed, to work, everywhere we went. Suddenly the pain must have got less and he got his appetite back.
Joy slowly returns
Mystic by now was doing really well though he had a bit of a droopy wing. Precious was also improving fast but still couldn't walk properly or stand on a perch. I had to place her on a perch and tape her feet to it until she got the hang of it, eventually she got the hang of both. Dylan was also doing much better but still unable to stand either on the ground or a perch but at least his legs were facing the right way. Once we took the tape of his legs he seemed happier and started to move his legs a little. We had to put paddles on his feet to keep his toes from curling in. Then came the day that he stood up for the first time, the whole household was in tears it was fantastic. We had to teach him to sit on a perch and walk with the aid of the paddles, he was keen to learn and has now mastered both. It took four months to get Precious walking and perching and close to six months for Dylan. None of them are flying yet but that is down to feather damage caused by not being able to stand for so long. We are looking forward to this year's moult and lots of new feather growth. All three are now doing well and play endlessly up the garden. They bring themselves in at nightfall for their dinner. They all bed down in the house with us. All three may end up slightly disabled but they have such an interactive life with us that I don't think they even notice or aren't bothered as there is too much fun to be had chasing around the dogs and visitors and joining us for barbeques.
The calcium deficiency was due to two factors: 1 - being fed too much raw meat and 2 - my Nutrabal being out of date, not the calcium content but the vitamins and particularly the D3 that is mixed with it to get the calcium into their system. All three birds stayed on Go Cat, brown bread and dried complete dog food soaked in water, a balanced diet with D3, with two teaspoons of calcium carbonate per sachet of Go Cat for nine months.
Since then I have been in touch with Bernd Heinrich who wrote two brilliant books on ravens: Ravens in Winter and Mind of the Raven (I thoroughly recommend these two books to anyone who has an interest in the birds). He thinks that it is doubtful that the Nutrabal being out of date was the cause of the problems (Bernd has hand raised many ravens using no food supplements at all), and that it was more likely that they caught an infection or something that upset their calcium metabolism. Another good friend of mine Mike Nolan, a very experienced bird keeper and falconer turned raven lover and keeper, agrees with this view and pointed it out to me after much contemplation before I got in touch with Bernd. So if the birds had caught an infection or had their Ca metabolism poisoned in some way, then it's very probable that it was a combination of the antibiotics that Mr Cooke first prescribed and the calcium carbonate and balanced diet (cat & dog food) that led to their recovery.
I could never forget it, it was Jan 26th 2007, it was our youngest daughter Siobhan's 14th birthday and there was a party organised for her and her friends at our house. Sharon, a good friend and our chief aviary builder and gardener, came running into the kitchen looking extremely alarmed and told me there was a dead raven in aviary five. We rushed outside to the aviary and there was poor Spirit dead on the floor, battered beyond all recognition. We were all totally heartbroken, devastated and shocked, I could hardly speak, I had raised that bird from nine days old and we were very close indeed. There was blood all over the aviary and feathers everywhere, it looked a terrible mess. I tried to work out what had happened but it was very difficult. Shadow, Petra and Willow all looked very uneasy and alarmed at seeing Spirit dead on the floor, as if they didn't expect him to be dead. I noticed that most of the blood was under the perches in several places where Spirit had obviously been perched whilst bleeding. I realised that it could not have been murder or Spirit would have been dead where he was attacked, but he had been free to move around the aviary and perch, so the poor thing had bled to death during the night. We had heard no noise from the aviary and we usually do when the ravens are fighting,especially if it's a bad fight. The whole garden generally erupts with shouting from all the aviaries if a bad fight occurs, but there was none of it. I can never be sure, but I think it must have been the result of an ordinary fight (which is something they all seem to enjoy) that went horribly wrong by mistake. An artery or main blood supply must have been severed, which was backed up by the amount of blood under the various perches. I was absolutely gutted because if I had seen him earlier I could probably have saved his life. I will always miss Spirit and Shadow had definitely gone into mourning. She was quiet and subdued and didn't even want my company. I separated her from Petra and Willow just in case they were getting territorial. In the end it seems to have turned out ok for her as Taboo one of the original five 70s and a male, had taken a bit of a beating himself in aviary three. He had struggled to get on with the rest for a couple of years and was constantly being moved around. We decided to give him a go in with Shadow and they seem to be getting very sweet on each other and are both now very relaxed. We are so pleased for Taboo and Shadow is now back to her normal self.
Our ravens definitely get more aggressive with each other when it is getting close to the breeding season, Territorial fights break out here and there and shortly after the death of Spirit we had an incident in aviary four where Tess and Tamara live. The four that live in the adjoining aviary (aviary three), Tequila, Tyrell, from the 70s and Gem and Isis from last year had chewed at the adjoining door bottom and managed to get hold of Tamara's wing and pulled it under the door. They must have joined in together for this attack as the wing damage was so great that the tip had to be amputated. Tamara will be ok but his flying days are over.
Here we go again (two nests)
Its now March 2007 and I have had Tarquin for eighteen years come this August and he has built another nest. In fact, he has built two and has done so for the two previous years. I'm not sure why he has taken to doing this. He starts building the nest in its original location and then stops and starts building another nest in the next nest box along. He gets about half way through this second nest and then switches his attention back to the original and finishes it, he then dismantles the second nest. Perhaps he is just experimenting with a new location in an attempt to better the design of the nest, or maybe he feels he can father two nest loads of young. Tilly is sitting on five eggs in the nest again, she started sitting the nest on the 2nd March so the babies should be hatched around the 23/24th, I have decided to hand rear more babies this year even though it feels like I have just finished the last lot. I have decided that I am going to put all the young back into the nest after ringing and leave them with mum and dad for another week or so, hopefully this will reduce the chances of any more problems. As in most animals and birds I am sure there is a level of immunity passed on from the parents to the young protecting them from infection.
Well I checked the nest yesterday and the day before, 23rd and 24th and there were no hatchlings but today the 25th at six pm I noticed the first egg has hatched. Hopefully the rest will hatch during the next few days, so I shall count down nine days until ringing from the morning of the 26th. Well the 4th of April has arrived and myself and Shelley went into ring the babies, we went armed with two buckets with sponge in the bottoms, we have always put the rings on in the aviary so Tarquin and Tilly can see what we are doing.Over the years I think they have learned to trust us with the babies and we always let them see and chat to their young so that they understand what is going on. Anyway on getting up to the nest I discovered that there were only four hatchlings, there was no sign of the fifth egg. I lifted the four young from the nest and put them two at a time into the buckets and passed them down to Shelley. Mum and Dad were very noisy but showed no signs of attack, they quietened down once they realised we were doing no harm. Two of the young were the right size for rings but the smaller two were not big enough so we decided to give them another couple of days and try again. Tarquin and Tilly were silent as I put the babies back into the nest. Two days later we went in again and this time the remaining two were the right size. I went up to the nest again two days later to make sure all the rings were still in place, which they were. I will now leave them undisturbed until Friday 13th when I am going to remove them all for hand rearing.
Play, a good case for hand rearing
For one thing I want to give Tarquin some rest after building the two nests and feeding Tilly and the young and also because the hand reared birds seem to have more confidence in captivity and seem to experiment with their surroundings a lot more than the parent reared young. They seem to enjoy and crave human interaction. They enjoy the games and mind expanding activities that we do with them, things that their parent reared brothers and sisters don’t seem too bothered about doing. I think in captivity mum and dad teach their young how they fit in to the social structure and where to find their food, which is there every day. So once the pecking order is sorted out there is not much else to worry about, the hand reared birds are quite different, their big objective is to get as much playtime as they possibly can and if it's food orientated then all the better.Food is not an essential part of play, in fact, I think we are the important factor in their play. You can see their eyes light up as soon as they see or hear you and they are looking all around to find something that they can bring to you to start a game with. In fact, there is extreme jealousy as to who gets to you first with something to play with. I have seen three birds locked together in battle over a twig that one of them had brought over to me. I had to physically unlock all three from each other so that we could get on with the game at hand, which was, who can give me the stick and then beat the others in getting it off me again.
The Poop pick game
One particular game that Mystic, Precious and Dylan love to play whilst they are up the garden is quite peculiar but also very funny. As we have four dogs, it's become a daily ritual for me to every morning wander around the garden and do a poop scoop from the night before. I generally let the birds out and pick up my bucket and trowel. As soon as I have picked them up, the birds are off to find the poop, they stand buy it and all point at it with their beaks. The moment I try and scoop it up they try to pinch it and run off. They will then put it down and wait for you to try again. If they fail to get it in the first place then they are all off to the next bit, they never miss any. If they go off and find different bits then its who can get me to their bit first by tugging at my jeans or getting under my feet to steer me in the desired direction. They will also deceive each other by standing and pointing with their beaks as if they have found some poop. When the others rush over the deceiver will rush off to where he knows there is some and wait for me to arrive. No doubt some reading this will think it is a thoroughly distasteful game but the ravens love it and it sure makes the poop pick much more fun for me.
Aviary expansion needed
Well with the new arrivals the time has come to expand the aviary complex some more, we already have five aviaries and two more are needed. I dare not attempt any aviary building whilst the youngsters are still in the nest just in case mum and dad are put off by the task at hand.
Well the day has come to remove the four little ones, it’s a good job that I am not superstitious as I am scared stiff enough as it is. It’s a massive responsibility removing the young and becoming both mother and father to them and after last year I must say that I nearly changed my mind. I found myself physically shaking as I removed them from the nest, Tarquin and Tilly were making a bit of noise but were not unduly upset.
I had previously made a deal with a friend called Caroline (who had a raven called Zoffi who was showing signs of being lonely) to sell her one of the babies as a companion for Zoffi and I would use the money to try and purchase another raven from Brian (the guy who we got Tilly from). Tis would introduce some new blood into the scenario and provide hopefully a good breeder.
Frodo, Bilbo and Smeagle
I got the babies into my office and Caroline took her one who she named Zaberdak. Our three were to be called Frodo, Bilbo and Smeagol (from Lord of the Rings). It was awful letting one go, it really did bring a tear to my eye and nearly a change of heart. Caroline had strict instructions on becoming a raven mother and after Zabadak had had a feed they were off. Within minutes the other three were begging for food and taking huge amounts. They were fed with minced quail and day old chicks and the faithful Go Cat along with plenty of calcium. I was determined that this year there would be no calcium deficiency and there was not. All three did fantastically well from the off and didn’t look back once. They all had their own nests next to each other in my office which is pretty much the hub of our household (along with the kitchen), so they got to socialise with every visitor to the house. A great deal of my time was spent skinning and mincing the quails and day old chicks. In fact, the kitchen resembled a scene from a horror movie, which I guess is where you see most ravens, other than at the Tower of London.
It wasn’t long before they were leaping from nest to nest and screaming the house down for attention and food. It was more like the first time I did it with Shadow and Spirit but with more people around. I decided to put leather anklets on them so I could use jesses with them for training. A good friend of mine, Wayne, made the anklets and jesses and helped me fit them. The birds took to them in no time. There were a few moments at first when they tried their hardest to get them off but it only lasted a few minutes. We took them out into the garden on a regular basis so they could explore and to let mum and dad see what was going on.
Mystic, Precious and Dylan (Dinks) were very jealous of the attention that Frodo, Bilbo and Smeagol were getting so we had to rotate time in the garden so that they didn’t meet face to face. Dylan lived in my office with me but Mystic and Precious had been moved to an aviary just outside my office to make way for the hand rearing of the new guys. I guess they saw the new guys living in the office with me and were out to get them. Once Frodo, Bilbo and Smeagol could fly I moved them into the nursery aviary just outside the kitchen and moved Mystic and Precious back inside the office. This restored peace and tranquillity back to the neighbourhood.
Gollum and Gandalf
It was at that time that I gave Brian Redhead a call to see if he had had any baby ravens this year and he had some that he had hand reared himself as their parents had escaped the aviary and deserted them. I told him that I wanted to buy one and arranged to go up to the Lake District to pick him up. Another friend of mine Mike Nolan had also arranged to buy one as company for his raven so it was agreed that I would pick up both birds. My Mother and Father were due to make a trip to Scotland to see my father's ill sister Mary. I had always got on well with Mary so it was decided that I would go along with them and pick up the birds on the way back. We decided to stay at the Lake District on the way up so I could look at the birds and meet them and also to stay at the same place on the way back so I could pick them up. When I saw the birds I couldn’t resist so I bought two. They were nowhere near as tame as any of my birds, in fact, they were completely scatty and freaked out the moment they saw me. They were going to need some hard work and lots of patience to win the trust of these guys. I wondered what Shelley would say, there was no way I could come away with just one bird for myself. It just wouldn’t be right, as it was I had to leave two with Brian because I didn’t have enough money to buy them as well. Anyway welcome to the family Gandalf and Gollum. Mike's bird was a lovely female, which he called Bindi. Both of ours were males. I introduced Gollum and Gandalf into the nursery aviary with Frodo, Bilbo and Smeagol. They were only two weeks older; they were scatty and not really hand tame at all; they interfered with my training of the other three because they wouldn’t settle with anybody in the aviary. I considered taking them out and housing them in a different aviary but I decided to stick with it believing that the other three would eventually lead the way. Gollum was by far the most scatty of the two but eventually they settled and are now almost as tame as the others. I am delighted with their progress, they definitely learnt an awful lot from the others and realised in the end that they had nothing to fear. Gollum makes some very affectionate purring noises to me that I have never heard from another raven.
The next part of the story is for Shelley to tell as it happened whilst I was away on my trip, though I will add a couple of comments at the end.
The Day I Lost My Shadow
May 24th 2007, Steve had gone to Scotland with his parents to see an aunt who was very ill in hospital. That evening, I prepared the raven's supper and went out the back door picking up the keys to the aviaries up off the desk where they are always kept. After feeding them all I came back in and put the keys back on the desk. The following day, Michael needed to get something out of the shed, the shed key is on the same ring as the aviary keys because you need to go through the shed to get to the door to Shadow’s aviary. There is another door at the other end of the aviary which was only used when the aviary was used as a nursery for Mystic and Precious. Since moving Shadow and Taboo in to there, that door was no longer used. Michael noticed the aviary keys were missing. We all went in to a panic. Michael couldn’t get in the shed and I wouldn’t be able to get in to the aviaries.
We searched everywhere but the keys were nowhere to be found. Mystic, Precious and Dylan were out in the garden and the back door was left open on a few occasions so the dogs could come and go. Mystic is well known for sneaking in and pinching things which she then takes out to the garden. We can only assume that she got the keys and has buried them up the garden!
Michael had to take all the bolts off the aviaries so that I could get in to feed the ravens but we couldn’t get the lock off the shed without actually cutting it off. It was decided, after speaking to Steve, that we would remove the lock from the other door to Shadow’s aviary. I fed Tilly and Tarquin then headed for Shadow. Although she is a hand reared raven she was spooked and very jumpy when I went to open the door she did not know. The door was very stiff so I had to really pull it to get it open and with this I slipped, Shadow panicked and flew straight out the door over my head. First, she flew to the back end of the garden landing on one of the other aviaries but then took off over next door.
My heart sank, I was mortified and the tears flowed. I ran back in to the house and screamed at Michael that Shadow was gone. Michael went running up the road to see if he could spot her and I went next door. Suzy let me go in the garden to see if there was any sign but there wasn’t. She said that Dave would be home soon if I needed any help.
I jumped in to my car, I wanted to get my mum from the farm down the road so she could help me. As I drove down the road a big black bird flew out from the side and landed in the middle of the road about 100 yards in front of me, it was Shadow. I slowly pulled my car over to the side of the road, Shadow flew to the other side and landed on a wall just inside someone’s front garden. I got out the car calling her and she obviously recognised my voice as she turned and looked at me. A car came down the road at such a speed Shadow flew off and landed on top of the house next door. I rang Michael to come and join me but just after he arrived Shadow took off over the back of the houses. Michael agreed to stay there while I went on to the farm. I found my mum and tried to explain what had happened through the tears.
Steve kept trying to ring me but I couldn’t answer the phone. It was going to break his heart once told and the fact that he was so far away meant he couldn’t do anything to help. My mum answered the phone and told Steve I had gone to the shop. Mum suggested I went home and got food in a dish that Shadow would recognise. On my way I rang some very good friends of ours, Ed and Janette, they said they were on their way.
I got the food and got back in the car. Just as I was about to pull out the drive, Dave from next door came out to ask if he could do anything to help. I gave him my mobile number and said if he saw Shadow to please call me. Our two girls, Faye and Siobhan, were walking back up from the woods. I didn’t realise they were even out looking. Dave said he would give my number to Suzy then bring Faye and Siobhan down to where Shadow was last seen. When I got back to the spot, Ed and Janette were already there and started knocking on doors. People were fantastic letting them go in to their gardens to see if there was any sign. I decided it was time to ring Steve, he was heart broken.
Janette came out of one of the houses saying the lady there had just seen a big black bird fly across the back but still we couldn’t see her. I decided, as Shadow was still somewhere close by, I would go back to the house and put some food on top of her aviary. When I got home my mum was already in the garden doing just this. Janette rang me, they had spotted Shadow and it looked as though she was heading in the right direction towards home. I got in my car and headed back. We had stopped so many different people in the street and a couple of them rang me on my mobile to say they had spotted a big, black bird.
On my way back to where Janette had seen Shadow, Faye and Siobhan rang, they could see her. She was on a small dirt road right in front of them being attacked by two big carrion crows. A lady had come out of her house hearing the commotion and scared the crows away from Shadow. I jumped out of my car and headed towards the girls, the crows just kept coming at her. Shadow managed to fly up on to a garage roof.
Siobhan rang Steve to tell him we had her in sight and were trying to get her down. The man who owned the garage came out of his house so I told him what was going on. He gave us access to the back garden to see if we could get any closer to Shadow from there. He even got ladders out for us. Michael went up a ladder at the back of the garage but Shadow would not go to him and the crows still kept coming at her. Janette decided to get Steve on the phone and put him on loud speaker. All we could hear was Steve’s voice “Come on Shadow, come on darling, come to daddy” I can just imagine the looks that Steve was getting from any people around him at the time. Shadow recognised his voice and slowly walked towards the sound but then the crows would come again and scare her. Thankfully she only flew on to the roof of the house next door.
One last swoop from the crows was enough to make Shadow take off and fortunately she was so exhausted she landed at the side of the road. Ed, Faye and myself went running towards her. There was a car coming speeding down the road so I just stood in the middle of the road screaming for the car to stop, thankfully it did. Armed with a blanket Ed continued towards Shadow, once he was close enough he managed to throw the blanket so it covered Shadow completely and I ran in and jumped down next to her and scooped her up in my arms.
I could hear Janette shouting down the phone at Steve, “They have got her, they have got her.” I jumped in to Ed’s car, shouting at everyone out the window “my car, my keys, my fags please find them and bring them home!!” Ed pulled off not realising Siobhan was hanging on to the back door handle trying to get in. We screamed at Ed to stop and let her in. That could have been a bad end to a very bad evening!!
We pulled in to the drive way at home, I jumped out the car went running to the door, it was locked! So I sat on the step holding Shadow tightly wrapped in a blanket in one arm and rang Steve, and just cried with relief and joy while waiting for someone to get back and let us in.
Shadow is back in her aviary with Taboo, thankfully no injuries from those crows. The lock has been sawn off the shed door and replaced so she can be fed the way she is used to. That other door is out of bounds for as long as Shadow resides in that aviary!!
Steve’s little bit
My Mother, Father and myself, along with Topsy and Roderick two other members of our family had just sat down for a meal in a hotel restaurant after visiting Auntie Mary in hospital when my mobile phone went, It was Shelley, in a terrible state, informing me that Shadow had escaped, I immediately lost my appetite and sat with my head in my hands wondering what I could do. It was agreed with my Dad that as soon as the meal was done with he would drop me at Inverness airport and I would fly home and help find Shadow. Mum and Dad would also pick up the three ravens on their way home the next day. My mobile went again and it was Janette, a very good friend that was helping Shelley to try and find Shadow, she informed me that they could see Shadow on the roof of a house and wanted me to talk to her over the phone on loud speaker. Of course, I was shouting for her to come to daddy come on my Shadow come to me, I decided to go outside into the car park as the restaurant had stopped eating and was looking at me, It carried on outside and I was getting very strange looks from guests and passers by. In the end she was caught and I was jumping around with joy and punching the air and thanking God. I went back into the restaurant to tell the good news, Mum and Dad must have told the story because there were lots of cheers and clapping at the good news from all the guests that were eating. I still couldn’t eat my dinner and went outside again but this time for a ciggie, the hotel manageress walked out and told me off for smoking on the hotel premises but added that she would let me off as I was an English raving lunatic, she smiled and pointed at my tee shirt which had a picture of a raven and the words raven lunatic on it. She added that I must be a Scotsman at heart to love ravens as they all moved to Scotland hundreds of years ago when the English were exterminating them all. I guess with a surname like Burns there might be some truth in that. I am sure this experience contributed to me buying two birds from Brian instead of just the one.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you that helped to find and catch Shadow, our friends Ed and Janette, Chris (Shelley’s mum), Siobhan and Faye, Michael, and Dave and Suzie next door and the people that we didn’t know and especially my dear wife Shelley.
Welsh Raven Rescue (Taff)
Whilst I was in Scotland I had a call from Mike Nolan informing me that there was a bird dealer that he was talking to that needed to urgently find a home for a recently rescued raven. I told him straight away that I would give the bird a home. I was told that he could not sell the bird as it was rescued and that he would be happy with a £50 donation. I rang Shelley to ask her to call the dealer and arrange for us to go and pick the bird up when I got back. It turned out that there was also an African pied crow that needed a home to and we agreed to give it one. We went to Wales the next weekend to pick the birds up. When we got there it was obvious that the raven was very ill with a terrible case of bumble foot on his left foot. The poor bird was obviously in a great deal of pain and his foot was so swollen that he could not even put it to the ground. He looked very lethargic and not very interested in life at all. We asked how he came by the bird and the story we were given is that he let himself into a friends aviary that had white-necked ravens in it. He told us that he hadn't noticed the bad foot till we arrived. The whole story sounded a bit far fetched to us but it was obvious that the raven needed urgent medical treatment or it would die, so we gave our donation and left with both birds.
The pied crow was fit and healthy and in very good condition.
On the way home we rang our vet Steve Cooke who told us to take the bird straight there when we got back in the area. We had been travelling for about four hours and were just coming up to Reading on the M4 (nearly home), when the clutch went on the van. I managed to get to Reading services and then had to wait for Michael to come to us with some tools to either temporary fix the van or give us a lift with the birds to the vet and then home. We spent a long while trying to fix the van and eventually got it home but not in time to see Mr Cooke. We took the now named Taff to the vet early the following morning. Steve checked over Taff and it was not good news; he was only a few days away from a very painful death. It was explained that it was a very nasty case of bumble foot and that there was a chance that Taff would lose his foot and even if he didn't he would always have bad arthritis and probably never be completely free of the infection. It could also flare up again at any time. Taff was put on a course of antibiotics but things only improved a little bit. After ten days he was given a different antibiotic and things started to get better slowly. After about a month the swelling had decreased by about a half and he was starting to put a little weight on the foot, landing was a big and painful problem for him. We took him back to see Mr Cooke who was pleased with his progress and whilst examining the foot managed to pull out the whole dead abscess. It was enormous, almost the size of a marble (I still have it in a bag for some reason). Taff's foot started to bleed and needed a bandage on it for a few days but things got much better from there and he can now land and put his full weight on his foot. The foot still looks swollen when compared to the other but he is using it very well. It was agreed with Mr Cooke that Taff could never be released as the infection would probably come back at some point and it wouldn't be fair to let him die that slow horrible death. He has settled in very well and seems to be enjoying his life with all our other ravens. We now think Taff is a female so we are thinking of introducing her to Tequila.
Crowella and Percy
The lovely African pied crow, was named Crowella by our daughter Siobhan. We built (or should I say Sharon built ) an aviary for Crowella just outside my office in our small conservatory. It looks directly into the nursery aviary where Frodo, Bilbo, Smeagol, Gollum and Gandalf (who we had put into the nursery aviary when I got back from Scotland) are. Crowella seemed to spend all day, every day flirting with the ravens and vice versa. Taff was in a cage in my office now looking much better and in need of an aviary so he could use his foot more. We decided to introduce Crowella into the nursery to see if she got on with the ravens and let Taff have her aviary until a bigger one could be built. At first all went well and Crowella was the centre of attention with the lads. After about a month they were starting to play to hard with her (we were assured that Crowella was female by our dealer friend) and we decided to move her out in case she got hurt. We put her in another aviary up the garden a bit. We were a bit worried that she was on her own and a little removed up the garden and decided that we should look for a mate for her. No sooner had we made the decision, then blow me down the phone went and it was a chap called Matt (now a good friend) who had been given our number by Mike Nolan. Matt had a tame hand reared male pied crow called Percy that he needed to find a home for. We, of course, immediately agreed to take the bird and off we went to Reading to get him. What a character Percy is, he is one mad hatter, absolutely crazy and vocal about it to, so lovable and funny, at times. I wondered if he was insane, or more to the point was I? He really reminded me of the crow I had as a boy called Caw who I mentioned earlier in the story. Anyway whilst we were picking him up from Matt, a crow fanatic, he told us so many stories of crows, jackdaws, jays and magpies that he has rescued over the years. He had us in fits laughing when he told us that he has a deal with the local farmers in the area that trap and kill any member of the crow family. He gives them £1 each for every live bird and then goes to collect them all and takes them home with him and then releases them, fantastic! I tip my hat to you Matt you are a good bloke. I remember talking with Shelley on the way home and we were saying how we should offer a rescue facility to the entire crow family and not just ravens, things were about to get very interesting. We introduced Percy to Crowella and they get on ok. I wouldn't say like a house on fire as Percy much prefers human company to that of his own kind but Crowella has settled very well with Percy and seems happy. Percy is the noisiest bird that lives with us, you only have to walk into the garden and he starts calling and shouting for attention, it's almost impossible to walk past his aviary without stopping to give him a treat and to have a chat, mainly to shut him up. We got quite worried at one point because our ravens started to imitate Percy's calls, you couldn't tell the difference, it was mad. Fortunately, they have got a bit bored with it and it's not too bad now, he really is a truly incredible little chap. We love him dearly.
Maggie the Magster
Having decided to offer a rescue service for the rest of the crow family we decided to have a look at who else was doing such a thing. After searching on the net we found no one else that rescues corvids. I spoke with my friend Mike Nolan and he gave me the number and web address of Corvid Aid, who it seems are the only registered charity for corvids in the UK. I called them up and spoke to Vanessa who runs it on her own. I explained who I was and what we had decided to do and she was delighted. She told me that she had a young magpie in need of a home. The poor little chap had nearly drowned in the latest bout of flooding. A member of the public picked him out of the water virtually dead, he showed a few little signs of life and was sent over to Vanessa. She brought him round by tube feeding him for a week, after two weeks he was recovered but too young and tame to release. I immediately said that I would give the bird a permanent home. The problem was that Corvid Aid was in Yorkshire and we were in Berkshire, about four hours drive each way. As it turned out Mike's wife Sally was making the trip anyway to pick up a crow that they had agreed to home. They picked up Maggie for us and brought her back down for us. Shelley and myself went to pick her up, I couldn't believe how tiny she was. I was used to ravens. She couldn't fly as her wings had been clipped but she was a bundle of fun and into everything. We decided that she could live in the living room with us. It wasn't long before she was chasing the dogs around and pinching tufts of hair from their behinds as they were clambering over each other to get out of the way. I could not believe that one tiny magpie that couldn't fly was able to frighten the life out of four fully grown dogs, she didn't show any fear of them at all. She would just chase them the moment she clapped eyes on them; she was so fast on those little legs that she always caught the dogs unaware making them jump. It was a constant source of amusement for the whole family. Once she had established herself as boss the chasing stopped and the dogs could relax again in the living room but they will not make any eye contact with her for fear that they will be chased. At dinner parties she would come up on the table and go from person to person begging for a little food and hopping from head to head all around the table.Se took to a friend of ours called Wayne and loved plucking hairs from his head. Everyone soon fell in love with Maggie, now known as Magster, we can' wait until this years moult when she will get her flight feathers back. What a wonderful bird, I had no idea they were so much fun.
Lucky the Luckster
We had had Magster for about a month and I was sitting in my office (the green room), Mystic, Precious and Dinks (Dylan) were out in the garden playing as usual, when the whole garden suddenly erupted in noise. Every raven in the place was screaming at the top of their voices. I ran out into the garden to see what on earth was going on, only to see Mystic and Precious playing tug of war with a wild bird that they had somehow caught. One had hold of the head and was trying to pull it off whilst the other had hold of a leg and was trying to pull that off. I screamed at them to let go and to my surprise they immediately did. The poor bird just laid limp on the ground. I rushed over and scooped it up into my hand, it was a baby magpie and he was still alive. I brought him indoors and he slowly started to come round. They had obviously hurt his leg but at least his neck was ok. They had managed to pluck just about every feather from his head, the poor thing was in shock and I was worried that he might die if nothing was done. I quickly got a spare cage in from the shed and put it right next to Magsters and put him in it with water and food. I covered the cage on all sides except the side where Magster was, so that the only thing he could see was Magster. Magster immediately started to talk and murmur to him and after a few minutes the bird started to relax a little knowing he was safe. We decided to call him Lucky, as that's exactly what he is. He was limping badly on one leg and bald as a coot on and around his head and generally looked a bit sorry for himself. After a short while the two of them were chattering away to each other. Lucky was obviously not ill but battered, so we decided to put them together and they get on great, Lucky's leg is now ok but his head is still bald, we are hoping that this years moult will sort that out. Lucky has also become a cherished member of the family, he is not quite as tame as Maggie but he is getting there. It has been fantastic getting to know the magpies, they are such brilliant little characters and seem to love all the attention that they get and seem to be highly intelligent and playful just like the ravens.
Trouble and Strife
Vanessa at Corvid Aid had four carrion crows that had been rescued and they all needed a permanent home. We decided that we would give a home to two of them and that we would try and find good homes for the other two. I decided to ring a couple of my oldest mates Steve (Cudge) and his father Brian, these two guys I knew were corvid lovers as I had heard many stories of their rescues. In the distant past they had rescued many a crow and rook from a rookery that Brian used to patrol every day in the nesting season. He would pick up all the birds that had fallen from the nests along with all the disabled ones, he would take them home and raise them. It had been a long time since either of them had had a bird but they both jumped at the chance of giving a couple of crows a home. I called Vanessa and told her we could home all four of them. She was delighted as she was running out of space for any new birds that came in.
Sharon quickly built an aviary for the two we were having and Brian and Steve got busy preparing their respective homes. Shelley and myself drove up to Yorkshire to pick the birds up. We would stay in a B & B overnight and pick all the birds up the following morning and drive them straight home. We were also to pick up an owl that Caroline (the lady who had Zaberdak) was going to give a home to.
Vanessa had told us the bird's stories. Our two were members of a family of four crows had been rescued as babies from the M1 motorway bu a family who took them home and tried to raise them. In the end it got a bit much for them and they passed three of the birds to Vanessa and decided to keep one as a family pet. It turned out that our two were brothers to the crow that Mike had given a home to a few weeks earlier; we decided that we would call them Trouble and Strife, Trouble had slightly deformed feet, they turned inwards and he couldn't move around or grip perches as well as his brother Strife.
Steve's bird Chestnut was covered in white feathers and had been found buy a falconer whilst out walking. The bird was down on the ground and being attacked by a large group of crows, he intervened and rescued the bird from certain death. Brian's bird Morrigan had been hand reared buy a guy who I believe passed away, the bird had arrived with Vanessa a very unhappy chap who was unable to fly and depressed. Vanessa had had him quite some time but he didn't get on with any other birds and was very unhappy generally. We had made Brian aware of this and he was keen to take on the challenge of making this bird a happy one.
We had agreed with Vanessa that she would clip all their wings (with the exception of the owl) to help them settle in to their new homes. I helped her do that and we were off on our way home. Steve, Brian and Caroline met us at our place when we arrived back and the birds were distributed and taken to their new homes. Trouble and Strife were put into their aviary, which had been built on my patio next to the shed. This turned out to be a very bad place to build the aviary.
Well Trouble and Strife were certainly the right names for these two birds because that is exactly what they were. They seemed to struggle settling into their new environment, they still thought they could fly and would launch themselves into the air at every opportunity and one by one they broke all their tail feathers falling to the ground. I had put a thick layer of bark chips on the floor to soften their landings but after a couple of weeks they began to settle and were showing signs of being happy. Then one morning we had torrential rain and the patio in a matter of a few minutes flooded to about eight inches deep. I first thought that Trouble and Strife would be up on a perch in the dry but thought I should go and check just in case. When I got there all I could see were their heads poking out above the floating bark chips and they were screaming at the top of their little voices. I rushed in trying not to make any waves on the water in fear that they may drown. I slipped onto my backside and the consequent wave lifted them out of the water and into the relative safety of my hands. Thank God, it was not planned that way, getting back to my feet with one in each hand was a tricky business but I managed it and got the birds into the house to dry off. This was not the perfect start to our lives together. It was clear that I had to move the aviary up onto the lawn and abandon any future plans for aviaries on the patio; I also decided that it had been a terrible mistake to clip their wings and I would not do that again.
They soon settled in the aviary once it was on the lawn and they became very tame indeed. Trouble still struggles with his balance but I am hoping that will get better when he grows new flight and tail feathers once he moults. I have totally bonded with these two birds and they with me, it is a marvellous relationship with them showing all sorts of loving gestures and noises towards me. I have learned to love them very much and I am tempted to say that I believe that a box standard carrion crow makes the best possible pet bird that someone could hope to have. They are loving, forgiving and an absolute pleasure to be around and they also seem to have that same remarkable intelligence that the ravens and magpies have.
Sadly, my aunt Mary in Scotland, died and I had to travel up to Inverness for the funeral. There was going to be a family get together at a hotel the night before the funeral, which was to be held on the Friday morning. We were to fly up on Thursday and were to return on the Saturday. Right at the last minute my brother informed us that he needed to be back home on the Friday night, so we changed the flights to get us all home by then. It was a rare occasion for my Mum and Dad to have my brother, sister and me to themselves so we wanted to all travel together. About twenty five of us from all over the country made the trip and we had all sat down for an evening meal at the hotel on the Thursday. Ravens funnily enough had come up in the conversation around the table and the rest of the family were keen to hear how things were going with my black feathered friends. The story of Shadow's escape had done the rounds and they were all wanting an update and as you can probably tell I hate talking about ravens. I told how we were now offering a rescue service for all the crow family, as I was telling them all about our magpies and crows, my cousin's wife took offence at what I was saying. She blurted out that they were vermin and should be trapped and shot as they were on her land. I was a bit taken back by this dark age Neanderthal outburst of attitude and asked why she felt so strongly about it. She said that particularly magpies decimate the small songbird population before they can even get out of the nest. I asked if she fed the songbirds and she replied that she did. I also asked if she fed the magpies and crows and she said, "Of course not I trap them and kill them." I replied that it was no wonder that they eat the songbirds if no one is feeding them. I carried on to explain that we feed the wild crows and magpies every day as well as the songbirds and come the breeding season we get none of that going on. It's great to see them all feeding together in harmony. She scoffed at what I was saying and replied that we were interfering with nature. In my way of thinking so is she by trapping and killing them, I know which I prefer. I thought I would try my friend Matt's approach and offered her £5 for every live bird that she trapped, she argued that she would rather kill them. I was gob smacked that such backward thinking still exists in this day and age (and this lady is a vet!!!), I must introduce her to our vet Steve Cooke some day. In my opinion we should all respect all nature and appreciate that for it to still be here at all it has had to adapt to the changes human beings have made on its environment, live and let live is the way it should be. I sometimes wonder that if there is such a thing as vermin that it might actually turn out to be us humans. I was actually quite shocked at her attitude and called her a blood thirsty bitch, which I promptly apologised for in the morning. We agreed to not talk about corvids any more.
Regarding the issue of magpies decimating the songbird population, there is a good leaflet made by the RSPB about magpies. They can find no evidence of this, in fact, quite the opposite is true. Where there are magpies doing well there are also songbirds doing well. The leaflet also points out that it is fully legal to trap and kill them and to break up nests with or without young in them. It may be legal but does that make it right? Not in my opinion. We all know that magpies and crows rob the young from smaller birds nests in the breeding season, its always been that way. If we can't bear to see it then start feeding them; they only do it because they are starving and have young of their own to feed.
Spooky goings on
Thankfully that wasn't the only conversation had around the dinner table that night. One of my cousins was telling us that he had just read a book relating that some cultures, including the North American and Inuit tribes, believed that crows escorted passed away souls to the afterlife and on occasions when needed would bring them back as well. Of course, crows and ravens have long been associated with death and burial ceremonies. I always assumed that it was because they might get a bite to eat from some unsuspecting corpse.
In the morning we all got into the relevant cars and headed in a procession to the crematorium. I was in the second car from the front of the procession and as we turned in to the long drive down to the car park a solitary crow flew down from the mountainside and glided just in front of the first car all the way to the car park and perched on a small tree right where we parked. We all noticed him and comments about last nights conversation were made, he just sat there looking at us, we hung around and had a ciggie for a couple of minutes and then went into the service. The service lasted about thirty minutes and we all drifted back out to the cars and he was still there, perched on the same branch, he hadn't moved. We all got into the cars to head off and as the first car pulled away he leapt into the air and flew in front of the car all the way to the main road and then off he went into the mountains the way he had come. Well I must say it was a bit spooky and got me thinking for a while, angels, surely not??, It was certainly noticed by everyone there.
I had also taken a book to read whilst I was away called Crow Country by ????? and it was about jackdaws and rooks. I figured that as we were now offering this rescue service I had better educate myself about these two corvids as I had never had either, not even as a boy. What a great book it is and well worth a read. I got home late on the Friday night and went to bed looking forward to a lay in the following morning. At 8am Shelley's mobile rang and it was a lady from Basingstoke that had found a rook that couldn't fly and could we go and rescue it. Again it felt a bit spooky, firstly getting home that day early and secondly having read the book about rooks and jackdaws. Anyway, we leapt out of bed and within a few minutes we were off with cat carrier and nets. We had put our number onto the British wildlife rescue site offering our services for corvids and this was the first call. When we got there it turned out to be a little jackdaw and he didn't look well at all. He could not fly or walk in a straight line, he was bumping in to everything. He looked either drunk or blind, he was also covered in grey feathers. I had taken some re-hydration fluid along and a water dropper. I gave him some and we were on our way back with him, Once we got him back I tried him with some food but he was not interested at all. I put him in a cage in the living room with one perch to try and keep him still, but he could not even stand on the perch without falling off. There was no blood in his droppings so I wasn't sure what was wrong. I decided to carry on with the fluid every half an hour, just a few drops at a time. I had to force his beak open to get the drops in, he didn't look much brighter by the evening so I tried again with some food but he was still not interested, We decided to cover the cage and let him sleep for the night.
I was dreading what I might find in the morning but to my surprise when I took the cover off the cage he was still alive and on his feet standing still (he couldn't do that the night before, he would just stumble and fall over). As I was filling the water dropper to give him some he hopped up onto the perch and took a deep drink from the water bowl that I had filled with the fluid. He could balance on the perch as well, fantastic progress, within an hour he was eating for England and within another hour he jumping around all over the place. We even had him fly around the room. We named him Jack just to be original. He stayed indoors in the cage for a few days building up his strength and then we put him in with Trouble and Strife in their aviary, they accepted him with no trouble at all. If he carries on doing well and he gets his feathers back to the right colour then he can be released come the spring.
We had only just got Jack in with the crows when Shelley's mobile went and there was a lady in Winchester whose children had found what she thought was a rook just standing by the side of the road next to his squashed mate. They had taken him home to try and help him but the poor thing just got worse and worse. They had him for a couple of days outside with their chickens but he just wouldn't eat or drink, it was also bitterly cold. She waited for her children to go off to school and then she rang us as she was convinced the poor thing was about to die. I told her to fetch him indoors into the warm and I told her how to make the re-hydration fluid and how to administer it and that we would be over to fetch him in about an hour depending on traffic.
Shelley stayed at home to look after the office, I grabbed a cat carrier and some fluid that I already had made up and Sharon drove, we made it there in forty minutes. It wasn't a rook it was another jackdaw and he looked bad, very bad. He was laying tail up and head down in a box hardly breathing or moving at all, he almost looked dead, he could have only had a few minuets to live. I picked him out of the box and force fed him with a full dropper of the fluid while the kind lady made us tea. While we were drinking our tea the lady asked what we would do with him and I said that if he survived and was fit enough we would re-introduce him into the wild. She said , "You must promise me that you wont eat him." I was a bit taken a back, and asked what on earth made her think that we might eat him? She told us that her next door neighbour regularly has rook pie and goes to great lengths to acquire rooks for his pies. I was horrified and promised her that we would not eat him but try and save him instead. I gave him another full dropper just as we left. I saw him blink a couple of times and move his head a little on the way home so I knew there was some hope.
He had another dose of the fluid as soon as we got in, I felt down his breast bone and I nearly cut my finger on it, this bird hadn't eaten for a long time. I rolled up some small pieces of mince meat and force fed it to him.I carried on with fluid and mince every half an hour all day long and well into the evening. His eyes and head were alive but the rest of his body seemed to have shut down ready for death.There had been no droppings to inspect all day long and I was very worried about the poor little fellow, then suddenly he flapped his wings and let rip with one heck of a dropping and got to his feet. He was very wobbly and was just falling and rolling around. He couldn't get his balance at all but at least he was moving, that was a start. I left him in a covered cat carrier next to the radiator to sleep till the morning. He was much brighter the following day and his balance was slowly returning. I was still force feeding him fluid and mince meat every half an hour. About midway through the afternoon he started to eat and drink for himself. I was over the moon and now confident that he would make it through. We had decided to call him Winny from Winchester but when I rang the lady to tell her of his progress she informed me that the children had named him Chip so we stuck with that. Within a few days Chip was well enough to join Jack with Trouble and Strife.
Buddy and Lovey
Just a couple of days later I got a call from Vanessa at Corvid Aid explaining that Trouble and Strife's brother had found his way to her. The family that had been keeping him had been having a nightmare. He had been badly attacked by other crows and was then got by a cat and he could no longer fly. They decided to give him up and took him to Vanessa. We, of course, said he could come and live with Trouble and Strife and we organised for Sharon to drive up to Yorkshire to get him. On her way back she popped into home to pick up something and found a little collared dove lying outside her patio door. She only noticed because her dog was sniffing around him. She picked him up and brought him over with the new crow, now named Buddy. Buddy didn't look to phased by his experience or the journey and is completely tame. I bonded with him in a few seconds. He really is a friendly bird, he begs like a little baby flapping his wings every time I talk to him. I introduced him to his brothers or sisters (we don't know yet) and they seemed to know each other instantly. On the other hand the little dove didn't look too bright at all. It was very lethargic and wouldn't even stand up. It just crouched in the corner of the cat carrier I had put him in for the night. I decided to keep him away from all the other birds just in case he had a disease called Canker which affects doves and pigeons and is catching to other birds. I decided to give him some magic medicine, that good old re-hydration fluid and leave him for the night. Sharon held him and I managed to get about three full droppers of fluid into him. I lifted the cover from the carrier in the morning and he was up on his feet, still in the corner but up on his feet never the less. I got some more magic fluid into him and by lunch time he was walking around the carrier. I brought a cage into the green room and put him in it with a single perch to see how he did. He was very wobbly at first and fell off the perch a few times but by the evening he was perching, eating and drinking on his own. He seems too tame for a wild bird, generally a sure sign that something isn't right. We named him Lovey Dovey and kept him in the cage for a few weeks to build up his strength. I think come the spring he may well be strong enough to release.
Re-Hydration Fluid (how to make it)
Vanessa at Corvid Aid told me how to make this magic medicine, and magic is what it seems to be, it seems to be able to bring any bird back from the brink of death, I absolutely swear by it. Just fill an eye or ear dropper with the fluid and open the birds beak with a finger and thumb and drop a few drops into beak.
Shamus and Murphy (2 dodgy Irishmen)
It was about this time that we got a call from a lady called Katia who lived in Ireland, she asked if we would give a home to two disabled rooks that she had rescued earlier in the year from a rookery close to where she lived. How could I refuse after the two jackdaws? It seems there is some order and planning going on here (perhaps from the moment I found Tarquin). I thought I should go along with the flow and anyway I was looking forward to meeting some rooks after reading Crow Country. I, of course, said that we would be delighted to give them a permanent home. Katia had seen our web site and thought it would be the perfect place for her two rooks to live, she had already scoured Ireland for somewhere for them to go but hadn't found anywhere suitable. She asked if she could visit and have a look at our set up and I agreed. A week or so later she flew over and came to visit, she liked what she saw and it was agreed that I would build an aviary for them to share with the jackdaws as they were the two most sociable of the corvid family. I agreed to have the aviary finished in two weeks and then she would drive them over.
Sharon got to work building the aviary and it was a pretty awkward one as we had trees growing up through it, Sharon persevered and it was ready, complete with ramps for the disabled. Katia and her partner arrived with the birds in two small cat carriers, humans and birds were worn out after that journey. I must say I am proud of Katia and her partner for making such a trip to home their two rooks; there are a lot of people that wouldn't have bothered. When they had arrived it was evening and dark so it was decided to release the birds into their new home early the next morning. We went out for a meal that evening and they stayed locally and first thing we introduced the birds, they went scatty bouncing off the wire getting tangled in the bushes they didn't seem tame at all. Katia explained that she had tried to keep contact with them down to a minimum as she was planning to reintroduce them into the wild until she realised they were both disabled. I introduced the jackdaws and we left them in peace to settle down.
A couple of weeks passed and the now named Shamus and Murphy didn't really settle at all. They would freak out the moment you went any where near the aviary and if you went in they went absolutely berserk in fear for their lives. It was clear that this was not working, the birds needed to be humanised for their own good, it seemed pointless keeping two disabled birds if they were frightened to death of me. I figured that they were too far up the garden and in too large a space. I decided to bring them close to the house into a smaller aviary that the crows were in. I moved the crows into the conservatory aviary. They started to calm down straight away and are getting better day by day. Closer to the house they see many more people and are in the middle of all that goes on, they are taming down very nicely now. When they are fully settled I will move them back to the original aviary. We haven't had them long enough yet to get to know their personalities but I am looking forward to it.
5 Nests 14 eggs
Well Tarquin and Tilly are at it again. They have built two nests and again chose the original one, Tilly laid 6 eggs and only five hatched. On the ninth day when I went to ring the babies there were only four in the nest. It was a bit sad that they didn’t all make it but the remaining four were all a good size and the rings fitted perfectly. I had decided to raise them all from 15 days old. I decided to rear them in the office with me and have everyone in the house involved so that the birds would be fully socialised. We called them Blue, Black, Amber and Red, which luckily coincided with their ring colours. All went well from the moment they were brought in; they took to feeding within a couple of minutes. I had decided to raise them in one nest this time so that they were fully socialised with each other as well as with everyone in the house. Once they had grown enough to start moving around the nest it became clear that Red was having some trouble with his legs, he couldn’t get to his feet like the other three and always ended up doing the splits and stuck with his legs splayed either side of him. I decided to line the nest with some foam to try and help him to get a grip. To my great relief it worked straight away and he was able to get up and move about the same as the other three, he still struggled when he was out of the nest for the daily weigh in and on a shiny surface. They were all putting on weight every day and things were going well.
They seemed to alternate when it came to the pecking order of the pack. Black was the first leader and was the biggest of them at 1st weigh in but was soon replaced by Blue who was the smallest at first weigh in, then it was Amber’s turn to take control and poor old Red just kept his head down and got on with it. I doubt myself that Red will ever lead the pack as I think the problem with his legs in the beginning ruined his street cred with the others. These guys were fantastic; they seemed to love everyone in the house and still kept that special bond with me. Every time someone walked passed them they were fed, they seemed to respond to everyone’s voices individually, these birds were highly socialised and very friendly.
By five weeks old they were all over the office and causing havoc, they were pooping all over my computer and ripping up every bit of paper they could find. I had decided to keep these birds inside for a good while so that they stayed friendly to everyone.
Finally the day came when they wanted to leave the nest for good so I transferred them into a vey large indoor aviary. Red was not as good on perches as the others and I had to cover them in astro turf to give him the grip he needed. His legs seemed to naturally stray in opposite directions until his legs were so far apart that he would have to jump into the air and re-land to regain his composure. I think it was a muscular problem that he had because it doesn’t show itself these days and we’re six months further on.
In the end the birds got quite restless being indoors most of the time and I had to move them to the nursery just outside the kitchen. It was also bedlam in my office and impossible to get any real work done with the 4 babies and Mystic, Precious and Dylan (who continue to do very well, they are 3 years old now). The babies all seem very happy and content in the nursery now and I can take anyone out there with them and be confident that they will remain friendly. I have to say that the nursery is very tricky to clean out because all 4 of them insist on perching on me all the while the cleaning is going on. Blue has taken to sitting on my head from start to finish; he doesn’t even want to get off when the job is done and it’s time to leave. I think he would happily sit on my head all day long.
It’s a bit of a nightmare
In the meantime while all this was going on…..
Love is in the air
It certainly was as another 4 pairs of our ravens had started to build nests. I couldn’t get nesting material quick enough, they were shouting at me to get it quicker. There were nests from Tyrell (one of the 70s and now seven years old) and Isis (a three year old female). They built a fantastic nest and laid five eggs and then forgot to sit on them so nothing happened. I put it down to Isis being too young and in-experienced.
There was also a nest built by Tess and Tamara (2 of the 70s and now both 7 years old). I was very hopeful that these would be successful. They also laid 5 eggs and Tess seemed to be sitting them. She sat them for five days and then stopped. She seemed nervous about approaching the nest at all. I went in to check the nest and found one of the eggs broken. They had left a hole in the centre of the nest and the egg had fallen in it and got stuck and then broken, probably by trying to get it out. I removed the broken egg and filled the hole with nest lining and waited to see what happened. Tess went to investigate and messed up all the lining and covered the remaining eggs with it. I decided to remove the now stone cold eggs to see if they would lay again and they did but six this time and Tess started sitting. She sat them for 18 days and then stopped. She was three days short of the 21 and the sitting had been intermittent with some fairly large amounts of time between sits. I wondered what was going on. I wondered if Tamara’s disability had stopped him fertilising the eggs (Tamara had had the tip of one wing removed after an attack from ravens in an adjacent aviary).
I left the eggs for the day and was about to remove them and try to finish them in an incubator when she threw them out of the nest and broke them up. On examination the eggs had been fertile, this was clear by evidence of blood vessels forming inside the shells, but none of them had formed into a chick. I was glad that the eggs were fertile as Tamara is very happy with his mate Tess and it would be bad news for them to try every year and not produce any babies. In the end I put the failure down to in-experience and bad luck. Tarquin and Tilly had had a dry run the year before they were successful, so I am very hopeful that next year they will produce young.
There was also lots of activity in the aviary next door as Willow and Petra (2 4 year olds) proceeded to build the biggest nest that I have ever seen. It was a castle more appropriate for a pair of Golden Eagles than a pair of Ravens; they just kept building it higher and higher until they almost reached the roof. They could only just get in it, they made no attempt to line the nest or even to give it any kind of shape, and it was just a massive pile of sticks and twigs. Every time I took in more building material they used it all in a few minutes. They never stopped making me smile with their confused behaviour; they obviously didn’t know what they were doing at all. I think they were just too young and un-committed to the whole thing, a bit like teenagers in love. They were obviously too young to bring up a family. In the end they didn’t know what to do next so they dismantled the whole thing and just got on with playing. It may be a couple of years yet before they actually manage to do the deed.
Meanwhile, Shadow and Taboo were busy nest building too, Shadow is 4 years old and a lovely female (and the 1st raven I hand reared) and Taboo was one of the 70s and 7 years old, poor old Taboo had started life at the top of the 70s and was the most dominant of them but over the years had slowly slipped to bottom of the ranks and was in very bad spirits till I put him in with Shadow. That made all the difference and we now have a very happy and fruity bird, in fact he was so fruity that he drove Shadow to build the nest. I have no idea why he didn’t build the nest, he just kept passing twigs to Shadow until she finally got the message and starting building. She had a valiant attempt but the nest didn’t really take shape how it should. The base construction was good but the lining skills were not present. In the end the whole thing collapsed onto the floor. She had a half hearted attempt to re-build but gave up in the end. Shadow was too young and Taboo was feeling very randy. I think next year may well happen for them, I hope so for Taboos sake.
Next year’s re-introduction plan
All in all next year could be a bumper year for our ravens and I fear we will run out of room and hours to hand rear them so I am planning to re-introduce some of next years babies back to the wild. I think it would be very fitting as Tarquin was rescued from the wild for his bloodline to go back into the wild; that really would be an achievement. Obviously I will not be able to hand rear any of the young that are to be released and it will take some very careful planning including tracker devices so that I can check they are ok and managing to carve out a living for themselves once released. I imagine its going to be some hard work but well worth doing even though it’s a life of risk for the birds concerned. I know already that I won’t get a night’s sleep because of worry for many weeks but I am looking forward to it never the less. I am considering releasing them in my local area so that they can come and visit if they are finding things to hard out there in the world of natural selection rather than the world of community love that my birds currently enjoy. It never ceases to amaze me how the birds that I rescue or hand rear convert to love so easily and more than that thoroughly enjoy it. It must be so hard for a bird that has enjoyed these things to be released back into that life of struggle between survival and death.
I can’t help thinking that when man was given dominion over the animals to look after and cherish them back in the Garden of Eden that it was the way it was meant to be. Maybe all this food chain stuff is just a temporary thing. I hope so for their sake and ours and I look forward to the day in the future when the whole animal kingdom is being protected and looked after by mankind. First we must learn to look after ourselves before this could ever happen.
If there is anyone out there that would like to help with our re-introduction in any way whether it just be a matter of support or to donate some tracker devices then please get in touch. I could really do with the help.
In my 19 years of looking after ravens I have had some of the best dreams I could imagine. I regularly dream that we are all out flying together and having fun, flying in formation. I would know the position of every raven in the formation and we would carry out rescue missions. I remember a dream where there was a pair of crows in small woodland being stalked by a pair of owls. The crows were young and didn’t understand what was going on. The boys and me were flying overhead and could see what was going on and without a word said we banked of to the right to go and intervene. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do except me so I just watched and the owls were driven from the woods and the crows were saved. A couple of days later I was brought two young crows to hand rear that had been abandoned by their Mum and Dad.
There was a dream I had recently regarding Dylan (Dinks) who has been mentioned earlier in Tarquins story, he had had 2 pins in his legs and went through a particularly hard time as a baby. I was dreaming a pretty normal dream and was through in the flat next door talking to Shelley when all of a sudden the garden erupted into fireworks. I wondered what on earth was going on and ran to the windows. The whole garden was full of fireworks, jumping jacks all over the lawn and rockets thudding into the ground. There were also lots of strange animals prowling around including hyenas, then I noticed Dinks on the end of the lawn dodging the fireworks and trying to escape the animals that were out to get him. In this dream the only way out to him was through a small window at ground level. I crawled out through the window and got stuck half way but I could just about reach Dinks and grabbed him around the neck and pulled him to safety inside. I was still stuck in the window when a hyena walked up to me and opened his mouth to bite my face off. This was enough to wake me up with quite a start; in fact I jumped straight out of bed and started pacing the floor. I looked out of my bedroom window to see if I had left Dinks out but there was nothing everything was quiet. I looked out the front and again all was quiet. I got back into bed to go back to sleep and I thought to myself that I had better go and check on Dinks just in case. Dinks sleeps in my office in a large cage. When I got there he was hanging off the perch by one leg with the other caught up in some astro turf that the perch had been covered with. I, of course, went straight to his assistance. It was only when I went back up to bed that it occurred to me that the fireworks grabbed my attention and the hyena woke me up and me being stuck in the window was Dinks stuck on the perch. It was a truly amazing experience and to think that Dinks had the ability to interrupt my dream because he was in trouble staggers me to this very day. It seems like an experience that is more fitting for a North American Indian to have had. It is clear to me that there is a spiritual connection between me and my birds, it’s fantastic and I would not trade it for all the tea in China.
Cocka my little Hero
I wasn’t sure whether to tell this part of the story now or put it into the 2008 rescues section of the story, but as I am talking about weird happenings. I thought now would be the spot. Cocka was a Magpie that Siobhan, my youngest daughter found in the middle of the road. He had been hit by a car and was very badly injured and was as good as dead. It was the early hours of the morning and Shelley went to pick him up and bring him home. He was in such a bad way that I decided to make him comfortable and warm and make sure he had a full belly so that he could die as comfortable as possible. I managed to get some rehydration fluid into him and a good deal of food, laid him on a hot water bottle and put him into a cat carrier for the night and went to bed not expecting him to be with us in the morning.
To my amazement he was still alive when I got up and was looking bright eyed. I examined him and found that the impact of the car had completely twisted his whole body on the right hand side. He could not stand and had no co-ordination at all he would just flap around all over the place. He could not bend his right leg or wing and was generally in a terrible state. We got him through the weekend and took him to see our vet, Steve Cooke. Steve said there was nothing he could do for the poor lad but that we should stick with it hoping it was peperlectic spasm that could possibly pass. We stuck with it another 2 weeks but his life was terrible, we were giving him physio on the leg and wing about 4-8 times a day and it hurt him every time and keeping him clean was an ongoing nightmare.
In despair we took him back to see Steve who could see a small improvement and asked us to stay with it which we agreed to do. The poor little fella just could not stand at all; he would stack it to the right every time you put him on his feet. I decided that I would put him into a more confined space so that he had something to lean on when I stood him up and for the first few days he just leaned on his right side and frequently fell over and flapped around until he was stuck, generally on his back.
After a while he started to stand and balance for himself, he couldn’t walk but he could stand. We carried on like this for a couple of weeks and then he took his first steps, very clumsily and would always fall after a couple of steps. Slowly but surely he was starting to walk and stand better. It was truly amazing to see and he had become so tame trusting us completely no questions asked.
After a while I decided to put him into a larger enclosure to see how he got on, he seemed to go back to square 1. I had to put back into the smaller cage for another couple of weeks and then tried again and he managed to stand and walk without leaning on anything, a real milestone had been reached. He started to improve a little every day and before long was walking standing and even running from time to time. I then gave him some perches and he was on them leaping perch to perch within a day. Slowly but surely his body untwisted and he was starting to straighten his right wing. I put him in with Maggie and Lucky just outside my office and he was getting on great.
It got to my birthday and I had been invited round to my eldest daughter’s house for lunch with Nina, Michelle and two of my grand children. When I woke up that morning I had a feeling that something was not right. I thought that it must be the fact that I was 51 but the feeling didn’t go away and I started to realise that it was connected to the birds. I walked around all the aviaries and checked every bird and all was well. It came to the time to go to lunch and I checked again and all was well. When I got to Nina’s and sat down for lunch I had a terrible feeling of dread come over me, it nearly moved me to tears.
I finished my lunch quickly (which was a shame as it was the first time ever that my girls had invited me over for lunch on my birthday) and rushed home. I went straight out to check the birds and to my horror I found Cocka drowned in his water dish. I was heart broken and extremely shaken up; I loved that little fella so much. I couldn’t believe it had ended like this, it was so tragic having come this far. I felt very frustrated that I hadn’t stayed home because of my strange feeling, I knew if I had been there his life may have been saved, I would have heard him splashing about from my office chair. I just failed to make the connection between my feeling of dread and what was to occur. I felt inadequate but learned that I must take such feelings very seriously in the future.
|© Steve & Shelley Burns 2007|