So I’ve had a crazy week as I’m now hand-rearing a Raven chick! On 16th April, I collected an 11 day old Raven chick from a specialist breeder at another Zoo, which we are hand-rearing and then training to perform in shows at the Tropical Butterfly House. He weighed 503 grams, with pin feathers that had appeared in the 4 days leading up to when we picked him up; Raven chicks grow rapidly, and I was shocked to hear from the Keeper that all 3 Raven chicks he was rearing had been putting on 30-40 grams per day!
Ravens are highly regarded for their intelligence and feature in mythology; in fact our baby’s name ‘Odin’ is inspired by one of the myths. In Norse mythology, there is a God named Odin, father of Thor, who had two Ravens; Huginn (from Old Norse meaning ‘thought’) and Muninn (meaning ‘memory’ or mind’) who brought Odin information. There is also a legend that England will not fall to a foreign invader as long as there are Ravens at the Tower of London!
Ravens are Corvids, the family of bird that includes species like Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies, all of which are omnivorous and scavengers. Ravens are omnivorous and often scavenge for food; eating carrion (dead animal carcasses), grains and berries, small invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals and birds, and even human food leftovers. Because of their ‘less than picky’ approach to food, Corvid babies can be reared using various diets.
Our baby was raised for the first 6 days on ‘pinkies’ which are new born mice, as well as a mushed up mixture of scrambled egg, dog biscuits, cat meat (meaty cat food in jelly as opposed to cat biscuits NOT actual cat) and small amounts of fruit with water added. He is now 16 days old and is being fed skinned chopped day old chicks, as well as the ‘mushy mixture’ as before. Feeding is every 2 hours from 8.00am – 10.00pm, he is quite a demanding baby too and will call out “Caw caw!” when he’s hungry!
It’s been fascinating to watch Odin change and grow so much in just a few days, he weighed 503 grams when I collected him, and this morning weighed 700 grams!! The irridescent blue-black feathers are starting to emerge and he has downy fluff all over him, and I’ve also noticed in the last two days that his beak and claws have become noticeably sharper and he is getting a stronger grip.
Observing his behaviour is really interesting; watching him stretch, yawn and just generally fidget around is such a privilege and really makes me smile! Keeping a close eye on him is important to ensure he is comfortable and healthy too; for example, if his beak is slightly open, he could be a little too warm, and if he stretches his wings out to the sides and pants – he is definitely far too hot! Monitoring Odin’s behaviour regularly means we can react quickly to his needs, such as reducing or increasing the temperature for him, or changing any soiled substrate if he’s done one of his spectacular stinky poops!!
Odin’s ‘nest’ is comprised of a large box filled with sawdust shavings, shaped with a dip in the middle, with tissue paper covering the sawdust (so that he doesn’t ingest it or get it stuck on him), and twigs of various sizes. The twigs are vital to prevent him developing splayed legs – they provide something for him to grab onto with his feet – splayed legs are often caused by a substrate which is too flat or ‘slippy’, causing the bird’s feet to slide out to the sides when they put weight on them.
When Odin is fully grown, we will be able to teach him all sorts of things – Raven’s can talk/mimic (although their vocal chords are not as highly developed as those of parrots, so it sounds kind of robotic, a bit like a Mynah bird or Starling), and are renowned for their problem-solving skills, which we hope to demonstrate in the shows using various props.
Ravens live for typically 10-15 years in the wild, but may reach up to 40 years old. I may not be working with Odin for his whole life, but I’m really glad to be part of the start of it!