(too-loo-gak): Inuktitut (the language of Inuit) word meaning raven

Marino Casebeer

Yellowknife, NT

Shortly after I go to work each morning, there used to be this big horrendous bang and I would look out my window and see nothing. One day after a computer crash I was standing at the window wearing off my frustration of not being able to make my computer function. I was looking at the Gold Range dumpster and I noticed the lid was shut. I always thought the staff never shut the lid because the ravens had strewn the garbage all over the alley each day. The lid was always open during the day. Here it was in the morning and it looked nicely closed. As I was stand there, I noticed that as if by magic, the lid was coming up until it flipped over the side of the dumpster. As it banged, all these ravens flocked out, flying off in every direction. There were probably a dozen to 16 or so – as many as could fit in the surface area of the dumpster. A few minutes later, they came back and proceeded to empty out the garbage. Now I had an explanation for the mysterious morning bang. I made a point of coming the next morning at the same time to watch. I noticed the lid was open a little over a foot by overflowing garbage. I noticed ravens flying into the bin, which I had seen around town before. I didn’t think that was all that significant. For the next 20 minutes, one raven after another flew into the dumpster. I noticed there was a lot of motion. I could see there were six ravens under the lid looking like they were flying in a stationary position, right up against the lid with their wings going. I noticed that each raven that came in joined them. As they were doing this, the lid was working its way up. Eventually, they lifted the lid up and it crashed. I came back for three or four days and they did this every morning. They opened the lid and emptied the garbage. That’s the end of that.

I used to do the circulation deliveries. Part of the run was at the airport. I noticed especially in the spring and fall, I would see almost like a scene from the movie, The Birds. They would leave their roosting place at the sandpits precisely at 5:30 and head into town. I noticed they would disperse to their various spots: the Northern Store, the Liquor Store, apartment buildings. They’d break up into their smaller groups but they always came into town as a group.

As I got to know them, I could recognize them individually. I saw that what I refer to as the urban ravens would stay in town all year round no mater what the temperature. I also noticed each fall that a large number of sandpit ravens and dump ravens would gather at this time or the middle of September and move into the bush. That was part of the rural raven group. They’d eat caribou. The urban ravens behave very differently. They live off urban garbage. Their entertainment involved people’s domestic pets and their garbage containers and they seem to like to watch people walking on the streets. From their points of view, they seem to like to frighten people. Rural ravens don’t seem to be interested in people. I’ve never seen in the bush a raven taunt a person – like mimicking human noise and making loud screams or a chuckling sort of noise.

The Northern Store raven was probably the most prolific people scarer. My daugh4er Jesse and I were passing by the Bay and there was this horrific scream as if a kid had just been hit by a truck. We looked around and couldn’t see anything. We carried on and when we got to the corner, we crossed the street and heard it again. This time, we looked in the direction and saw the raven screaming. We found it to be very human. We watched it for the next 20 minutes or half and hour and watched it do the same thing to many passersby. Not always screaming, sometimes other human conversational noises. It almost sounded like murmurs people make in their sleep with octaves and levels. It sounded like it was saying Hi Joe but you couldn’t quite make out the Joe. That raven had a crippled wing and couldn’t fly very well. It had grey feathers on the edge of its wing and some on its head so it was quite distinctive. Every winter, it would spend its days standing on the roof of the Northern Store. It was there four years in a row before we didn’t see it again. That was also the time they closed down the Northern Store. Maybe it didn’t like the closure.

I’ve gotten used to the various flying demonstrations of the raven. They put on air shows better than we do. I noticed about 20 ravens flying about the Diamond Plaza., there were half a dozen perched on the edge of the roof. They were flying in a circle. A raven would land on the edge of the roof in the line-up and the whole line-up would move over until the one at the edge of the roof fell off. The one that fell off would let itself free fall until three or four feet about the ground and then swoop back up and do a simple circle and get in the line-up. We watched that for two hours.

These things show an unusual characteristic of organization which people don’t usually attribute to birds. People call them birdbrains. I think that’s unfair to birds, especially ravens.