Jackson Hole, WY News

On March 10, a tableau right out my window. Sitting together, a male and a female raven. I’m pretty certain they are a pair because the male was preening his mate gently, talking in her ear, and although she never moved, she knew he was there.

It put me in mind of some words I penned awhile back in the March 30, 1994, Jackson Hole News.

“Here’s an interesting natural history observation made a few years ago and related to me. I’m happy to share it with you. It also concerns ravens.

“It was made by one who keeps his eyes open for the usual as well as for the usual and makes mental or actual note of each. He never saw this behavior before. I’ve never seen it; no one at the Jackson Hole Bird Club ever did, and so far I haven’t found a reference to it. Maybe it’s a first record.

“On a trip to Flagg Ranch from Jackson, he noticed a lone raven walking alone out on the icy-snowy surface of Jackson Lake about 150 yards from shore. He though it a little odd to see a lone bird since ravens are pretty often in obvious pairs by March. About an hour later on his return, he did see two ravens on the ice but was surprised to see that one appeared to be dead — lying on its back, upside down, feet in the air. A posture suggesting a dead bird.

“Shortly after this sight was confirmed, the ‘dead raven’ rolled over and got to its feet. At this point both birds walked around each other for a little while and then commenced preening each other. (This particular behavior is not uncommon with ravens; this is called ‘allopreening’ and is a recognized courtship behavior. See it, and you will recognize it.)

“There’s more.

“After this went on for a little while, one of the ravens lay down on its back whereupon his companion (surely its mate) also lay down — head to head. On their backs, beak to beak. They remained in this position for about two minutes, rolled over and got up and commenced preening each other once more.

“Among his other reaction to this observation, my friend wondered about the vulnerability to predators a bird would experience when placing himself on his back — even in this situation where its field of view is virtually unlimited. Ravens are remarkable birds.

“It would be fair, before going on to other matters, to mention that there is a reference to a hand-raised raven that at 18 years of age became, well, attracted to a macho Vietnam veteran, sometimes rolling on its back, ‘often while simultaneously grasping objects in its feet,’ and generally indicating female mating incitation display toward him.

“I don’t even want to think about it, let alone discuss it.”

Field notes: It takes almost an act of faith to look at a window half-covered with snow and think, “Spring!” But it will come.

Beverly Boynton was pleased to see a rough-legged hawk perched in a tree on March 4 on Ditch Creek Road. Since we haven’t had observations of overwintering rough-legged hawks in the valley, presumably because of the heavy snowpack, this hawk is likely on its way north to its breeding ground.

Mike Hardaker reported activity of chickadees, magpies and a chipping sparrow on Friday at the Polo Ranches in South Park.

There are scattered reports of red-winged blackbirds, rosy finches waxwings, robins, flickers and a downy woodpecker. By next week there should be bluebirds making an appearance.

The decline in porcupines in recent decades is perplexing. It’s nice to hear of one seen by Jennifer Dorsey on March 4 on Antelope Flats Road north of Kelly.

An unconfirmed rumor has it that at least one grizzly bear is already out of its den in Grand Teton despite the heavy snow cover. Put your bear spray where you can get at it.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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