Bird #442 — Chihuahuan Raven

corvus (crow) cryptoleucus (from kryptos, hidden, and leukos, white)

Sunday, October 19, 2008 — 8:30 am

Johnson City, Texas — Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Since we had a free trip to San Antonio, we decided to take a few extra days and see the sights. My sister and I are both into history and enjoy touring president’s homes, so we got up early on Sunday morning and drove 60 miles north to Johnson City to see LBJ’s boyhood home and ranch.

We arrived about 20 minutes before the park opened. We wandered around by the visitor center and enjoyed the coolest weather of the week. Or at least I enjoyed it. My sister mostly complained about it (just kidding). It was probably 55 degrees, but it warmed up quickly. I was trying to get a photograph of a Mockingbird when I heard a bird calling on the other side of the parking lot. I knew it was a raven, but which one?

The Common Raven and the Chihuahuan Raven look very much alike, differing only in size, range, call, and the color of the base of the neck feathers (this last field mark is almost useless because how often do you get a look at the base of feathers?). Identification is tricky because the two species overlap in almost all of their characteristics. I’ve seen Common Ravens many times in northern Wisconsin and other places and am familiar with their call. (I’ve even had conversations with them upon occasion.)

This bird’s call was a single-syllabled croak that sounded higher and hoarser than the Common Raven’s while still sounding raven-like. I soon spotted the bird on top of a phone pole. I got a brief look at it with my binoculars and was moving closer for a photograph when it took off. I snapped a quick shot.

Chihuahuan Raven - Johnson City, Texas - October 19, 2008

I thought it was probably a Chihuahuan Raven, but wasn’t sure. A few minutes later, a ranger drove up. He raised the flag in front of the visitor center while my sister looked on. She mentioned the raven and he told her it was definitely a Chihuahuan. They’re rare in that part of Texas — the extreme eastern edge of its range, but the Common Raven has never been seen in the area. I checked the ranges of the two birds in my field guides and on the internet and listened to recordings of their calls and I’m convinced.

We saw the bird again about half an hour later and half a mile away as we toured the Johnson Settlement. It called a few times and flew overhead. I snapped another photo which, for identification purposes, is absolutely useless.

Here’s my sister and the ranger having their own little flag-raising ceremony to which I wasn’t invited.

Visitor Center — Lyndon B. Johson National Historical Park. The raven flew right over the building moments earlier.

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3 Responses to Bird #442 — Chihuahuan Raven

  1. siri says:

    To focus on the species of the raven in question is like trying to ignore the elephant in the room. Shouldn’t we discuss your Dolittle-esque behavior? How do (and why would) you have conversations with ravens?

    Not only am I haunted by the image of Roger exchanging high-pitched yet hoarse, monosyllabic croaks with random winged creatures, I also shudder at the slightest possibility of those croak exchanges being meaningful to either party or both.

    Out of curiosity, what is the difference between a series of monosyllabic croaks and a multisyllabic croak? For example, when you hear five successive croaks from a raven, how you do you know if they’re:
    1. Five monosyllabic croaks,
    2. One monosyllabic croak followed by two bisyllabic croaks,
    3. One trisyllabic croak followed by a bisyllabic croak,
    4. A phlegmy cough, and one rare quadrisyllabic croak, etc.?

    For the first time, I find birding interesting. Pretty soon, I may find myself writing on my (currently nonexistent) blog something along the lines of, “I was trying to get a photograph of a pelican when I heard some clucking noises on the other side of the parking lot. I knew it was a Cuckoo, but which one?”

  2. Roger says:

    The pelican photos are coming in a week or so. Stay tuned.

    And as for whether a raven is giving two monosyllabic croaks or a bisyllabic croak, well, that’s one of the things I talk with them about.

    Ane final note — Why weren’t you in church at 10:00 am on a Sunday?

  3. siri says:

    Your diversion tactic didn’t work.

    So I prefer Saturday services … You talk to birds!!!

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