A new book from Christopher Skaife is a beguiling, fascinating, and highly amusing account of the strangely magical birds.
I can make a passable imitation of a raven’s low, guttural croak, and whenever I see a wild one flying overhead I have an irresistible urge to call up to it in the hope that it will answer back. Sometimes I do, and sometimes it does; it’s a moment of cross-species communication that never fails to thrill. Ravens are strangely magical birds. Partly that magic is made by us. They have been seen variously as gods, tricksters, protectors, messengers, and harbingers of death for thousands of years. But much of that magic emanates from the living birds themselves. Massive black corvids with ice-pick beaks, dark eyes, and shaggy-feathered necks, they have a distinctive presence and possess a fierce intelligence. Watching them for any length of time has the same effect as watching great apes: It’s hard not to start thinking of them as people. Nonhuman people, but people all the same.