Years ago my family spent our summers at a little cottage (which Vermonters call a “camp”) on Lake Iroquois.
One day a raven showed up on our deck, walked around, nodded at us, and flew off. He became a regular visitor. We called him Poe. The neighbors down the road－a lovely gravel road overhung with interlacing tree branches－called him “The Judge.” Other folks along the road－he visited ALL of us－had different names for him. But he seemed to spend more time with us than with them. Maybe it was because of the cactus on our deck that he liked to peck at.
We read the numbers off the band on one of his legs, called the University of Vermont, and were referred to Dr. Bernd Heinrich, whose studies of communication in ravens was world famous (among raven-folks, that is). He told us that he was studying the homing instincts of the ravens, wanting to know if they would keep his yard as their home territory, or if they would fly off and never return. “Just let him be,” he advised.
At any rate, one day Poe showed up with his legs horribly tangled in fishing line. He could fly, but because his legs were bound together, he couldn’t walk, and his hopping was impeded because his balance was off. If I’ve ever seen a cry for help, Poe was giving one. I called Dr. Heinrich immediately, and he said he’d be there as quickly as he could drive the back roads.
When he arrived and walked down our gravel path toward the camp, Poe began ducking his head and spreading his wings. Dr. H mimicked the action, and the two of them carried on what looked like a conversation of ducks and bows and wing(arm) flapping.
I handed Dr. H a big bath towel. He wrapped Poe in it, and I was astonished that Poe immediately settled down. “When he can’t move his wings,” Dr. H told us, “he just relaxes.” I think it also helped that Poe knew who was holding him.
I brought out my nail scissors and, while Dr. H held Poe, I snipped the fishing line. The skin around the multiple tangles of line was horribly swollen, so each individual length of plastic wrapped around his leg had to be cut separately, working down through the layers of line.
As I worked, Dr. Heinrich explained that ravens frequently get caught in cast-off fishing line when they grab up fish that were once hooked and somehow broke the line, trailing it through the water after them as they swim. Ravens use their feet to manipulate a fish as they eat it, so when a raven catches a fish that has fishing line attached to it, the raven can easily get the line wound around first one foot, and then as it tries to disentangle itself, around the second foot as well.
It wasn’t a simple operation. It took me about 20 minutes to get it all off, although it seemed like hours. I was drenched in sweat by the time I finished.
Dr. H checked Poe carefully and announced that once the swelling was gone, Poe would most likely be fine. “A few more days, though,” he said, “and Poe wouldn’t have made it.” He took Poe home with him for recuperation.
Last night, my son and I drove to Georgia Tech to hear Dr. Heinrich speak about his research “From the Bees to the Birds: Animal Communication.” He changed the title on us, though, and said he rather talk about bees and moths.
I took copious notes, and I’ll be sharing some of what he said over the next few days.
And, by the way, before the lecture, my son and I had a chance to speak with Dr. H. We mentioned Poe and the fishing line, but he didn't remember it at all. What was the adventure of a lifetime for us was just all in a day's work for him.
BEEattitude for Day #513:
Blessed are those who question “why,” for they shall be surprised by some of the answers.
The teeny details:
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