A magical encounter with scheming ravens.

In November, Canyonlands National Park is nearly deserted. So when we reached Big Spring Canyon Overlook, we decided to ignore the “No Parking” sign and stop to take a few quick pictures.

Common raven perched on a white and orange road barrier. Photo by Kit Dunsmore.
The first raven I saw. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

As I got out of the car, a common raven (Corvus corax) landed on the barrier at the end of the road. He was roughly thirty feet away, so I took a picture with my phone. When he continued to sit there, I crept around the car to get my sketchbook and cautiously opened the door.

I needn’t have been so careful. Before I could pull the book out, a second raven arrived, landing on the ground right behind me. We looked at one another for a moment, then he flew even closer, perching on the driver’s door, which Kurt had left open.

Common raven perched on an open car door. Photo by Kurt Fristrup
The second raven, boldly perched on our car door. (Photo by Kurt Fristrup)

I was standing less than ten feet away, but the raven seemed totally fearless. I sketched him, convinced that this bold bird had been fed by visitors before and was expecting a handout.

Kit Dunsmore sketching a common raven, which is perched on an open car door. Red rock landscape in background. Photo by Kurt Fristrup.
Kit Dunsmore drawing a cooperative common raven. (Photo by Kurt Fristrup)

But I know not to feed wild animals. It’s dangerous for them to get too comfortable around humans. I apologized for not giving him something to eat and kept drawing.

I expected the raven to fly off at any minute, so I drew as fast as I could. Five minutes became ten. Ten became fifteen. Then I noticed that the raven was cocking an eye at the front seat of the car, and I caught on.

Common Raven perched on open car door. Woman in foreground. Photo by Kurt Fristrup
This raven is clearly checking out the inside of our car! (Photo by Kurt Fristrup)

This bird was not begging. He was scouting. He was looking into our car to see if we had left something to eat lying around.

As soon as I realized this, the first raven landed on the passenger side door (the window was rolled down). He leaned forward, scanning the interior of the car. There was no doubt about it. They were casing the joint. One bird was keeping me busy by modeling while the other looked for loot.

Both ravens are in this shot, one on the car, the other on the barrier. I haven’t figured out what they’re up to just yet. (Photo by Kurt Fristrup)

Fortunately, all our food was neatly packed away in bags and a cooler in the very back of the car. Apparently there wasn’t anything in the front worth stealing.

When my model began pecking at the rubber gastket on the door, I shooed him away. We got back in the car, rolling up the windows tightly, because the ravens were still hanging around. They even followed us back up the road to the Slickrock Foot trailhead and watched us closely as we got ready to go for our hike.

One of our two friends watching us at the Slickrock Foot trailhead. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

Both Kurt and I were astonished by this encounter, then amused. As we set off down the trail, we discussed what we would do if they boosted the car while we were gone. It seemed completely feasible that they could pick the locks and drive off with the car, and I imagine they would have, if they’d known exactly how much food we had in the back.

How do you feel about ravens? Are they smart? Devious? Clever? Annoying? Share your thoughts in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Canyonland Ravens: Beggars or Thieves?”

  1. I love this story. Animals are so much more tuned in to us than we are to them. I’ve been humbled from time to time by various species.

    1. Thanks. I do think that there is a tendency to underestimate the ability of animals to reason. I have heard some amazing stories and had experiences of my own like this one that left me full of respect for all living things.

  2. Fun read! We were there mid-October and did Slickrock Trail as well. I’d bet those were the same two characters that had made a mess of the back of someone’s truck. Looked like owners had left a bag of trash in the back (!) and two Ravens had (no doubt easily) gotten into it. Found your blog from your post on FB Nature Journaling group (which I also enjoyed). You’ve inspired me to write (and draw) more. Thanks!

    1. It’s so cool that you saw the same ravens! (Or at least probably did.) I can totally believe that they would rip open a trash bag, especially if it was easy to get to.

      I’m so happy you found my post inspiring! I have been inspired by so many teachers and artists online, it’s nice to think I can pay it forward.

  3. I love this story and your blog that includes the sketches. If you are on Instagram, you might be interested in following @thedailyjames. A pair of ravens, which have been named James and Margaret visit a home in LA daily and the episodes are lovingly posted. It’s a joy to behold.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I will definitely check out James and Margaret. I think I’m going to be hooked on ravens after this. 🙂

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