There were three rauens sat on a tree, downe a downe, hay downe, hay downe, There were three rauens sat on a tree, with a downe, There were three rauens sat on a tree, They were as blacke as they might be. With a downe, derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.
–“The Three Ravens” (excerpt), Thomas Ravenscroft c.1611
Many cultures and traditions consider three crows — and especially three ravens — richly symbolic. They may be “portents or harbingers of doom or death, because of their dark plumage, unnerving calls, and tendency to eat carrion.” But at least one Druid tradition also believed they were symbolic of welcome changes (death to one phase of your life and the birth to another). Goodbye 2020, hello 2021?
So we here at City Wildlife were THRILLED when we witnessed three ravens just behind the Center, by the Blair Road Community Gardens. Someone heard their characteristic throaty call (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/sounds#) and the entire staff all rushed to the parking lot in time to witness them flying overhead. Ravens can be told from crows by the shape of their tail feathers: crows have straight, fanned tail feathers, ravens’ tail feathers are wedge- or diamond-shaped.
Having confirmed our birds were truly ravens, we reported the sighting to Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist Dan Rauch of the Department of Energy and Environment. He replied that “ravens (have) been moving into the regions, which began about 10 years ago as they moved down the Potomac Gorge from Frederick,” and that “there were at least 3 nests in the District of Columbia last year,” with a possible fourth near Oxon Cove.
Back in 2016, a nesting pair was reported for the first time in nearly 100 years along the Potomac River (https://citywildlife.org/return-of-the-ravens/). They’ve otherwise been noted just a handful of times in the District, but “likely were chased off by development or hawks or bald eagles.” Ravens typically nest on mountains or cliffsides, but it appears that they are adapting and slowly beginning to repopulate urban areas. And since ravens do not migrate, once a new territory is established, they will usually remain in a chosen area. What luck to have a trio right here in our own backyard, practically tap-tap-tapping at our Center door!