Courting Ravens

Posted By: Anne

March 08, 2012


Last weekend, while traveling up high in a wind-scorched and snow covered alpine valley, two ravens crisscrossed high in the sky, wing to wing, their calls echoed off the exposed vertical rock faces.  In a stark, otherwise lonely landscape, the ravens demanded our attention.  With our necks craned upwards, the raven in the lead repeatedly initiated a barrel-roll in flight.  We were indeed awestruck, but I suspect we were not the subjects this raven was concerned with impressing.

With the sun rushing back to the Northcountry at an astonishing 6 minutes per day, it might seem as if all creatures are reveling in solar cheer.  Overhead, ravens have been announcing their presence with greater frequency lately through an incredible diversity of vocalizations and aerobatics.  Yet they are not simply paying homage to the sun.  It is courtship season for ravens as they pair up, assert dominance of their territory and prepare to nest.  And for those of us on the ground, it’s a reminder that spring is on the way.

Ravens are ubiquitous in the north, and although their recognized name may be Common Raven, they are considered by many, including native cultures throughout the world, to be anything but a common bird.   Often Raven is referred to in traditional creation stories as the Creator, and sometimes, as in the Haida & Tlingit cultures of the Pacific Northwest, Trickster.  This latter reference recognizes the undeniable fact that ravens are perhaps the most intelligent of birds.  In fact, their brain is among the largest of any bird species, allowing them the ability to problem solve, manipulate other animals into doing work for them (such as alerting wolves of an animal carcass so the canines can open up the carcass and allow access for the ravens), and deceive onlookers by pretending to cache food.  Ravens are highly adaptable and have long been known to climbers on Denali since they have learned the rewards of digging up food caches from the snow along the popular West Buttress route.  They have come to recognize bamboo wands in the snow as a potential sign of a cache.

In my mind, this time of year is Raven’s time--a time for us to be awed by their impressive intellect, cleverness and vocalizations, by their aerial acrobatics, to be reminded that although they fly freely, they are as much a part of this wild land as the welcome long sunny days are to the spring. 


Make prayers to the Raven

Raven that is,

Raven that was,

Raven that always will be.

Make prayers to the Raven.

Raven, bring us luck.


            - From the Koyukon People



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Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.