Yukon Nuggets

1985 Yukon Nuggets

The Raven


The Yukon's official bird is certainly not only found in the Yukon. It's found all across the circumpolar world and ranges as far south as the mountains of central America. Still, if you're going to choose a emblematic bird, it might as well be the smartest, funniest, coolest bird in the land.

Know anyone who doesn't have a raven story to tell? I don't. We had a German Shepherd in Whitehorse a long time ago. We tied him to the clothes line so he could range at will around the back yard without heading down the street or into the bush. How ravens would torment poor Rockey, who never came to realize that his chain would let him run only so far. But the ravens knew how far the chain would go, and would croak as they ate his stolen dog food just out of range. More than once he nearly choked to death as he came to a shuddering stop while the ravens, if they could show glee, did so.

Smart. These birds are smart. And gregarious. They know humans are good providers of nutrients - garbage cans, grocery bags left unattended in pickups, dog mash left in the backyard. Ravens know how to find this stuff, and that's why they hang around. Ravens are the largest of all songbirds. They are members of the crow family and thus related to magpies, jays and nutcrackers. As with much bird life, not a lot is known about their communication systems. But some researchers say they have the most complex vocalizations of all birds.

While most birds breed in the spring, the Raven breeds in winter. The young are hatched in winter, often in communal roosts. Most bird watchers say they have never seen a baby Raven. That's because when they leave the nest, the three-week-old chicks look as big as, if not bigger than, the adult. A lot of feathers on a tiny body.

Ravens are likely monogamous. They take one partner for life. Or so bird biologists believe. But then, anything about a bird as smart as the Raven is open for debate. For example, do birds play? Like kids? When you watch Ravens in groups of ten or more soaring and diving with the wind currents over some Yukon sidehill, it's hard to imagine anything at work but play. Nor, as one lucky photographer found out when he took a series of startling pictures, can it be anything but play.

The series of photographs show a solitary Raven on a snow-covered sidehill. At the top, it curled into a ball and rolled twenty or more feet down the hill. This happened six times before the playful bird quit - perhaps dizzy from all that rolling down the hill. The photos are proof that this is not another urban raven legend.

So it seems the Yukon's official bird is a gifted creature with a complex lifestyle suitable for the large range of options available in the Yukon. Now, if we could only find one complaining about the weather. Nah, they like the weather.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.