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

Mark Mallory

Iqaluit, NU

I was working in Ontario back in the 1980s. We were working on a project where we were examining the effects of acid rain on bog ecosystems. One of the aspects we were looking at was trying to determine the types of animals using the bogs and then seeing whether ones were more affected, whether the animal communities were different. One of the things we were looking at was small mammals – mice and shrews and things. We put pitfall traps into the floating mat. These were essentially plastic peanut butter two-litre jars sunk level with the surface so small animals could walk along and fall in. There was water in there and the animals would die quite quickly or sometimes we would find them alive. They were about 20 centimetres across the top and once they were sunk down into the mat, even though they were all white, they weren’t very easy to see. We didn’t have any markers around them. We just knew where they were. One day when we were working by the hydro line, my partner had gone in and has been noticing the last couple of days that we hadn’t been getting very many animals in the pitfalls, particularly in that region. We were thinking that was a bit odd because there was no reason to imagine why it would be any different at that point in time. When he went in, he happened to see a raven taking off from the far side near where one of the pitfalls was. When he went down, of course there was nothing in the pitfall trap. The next time we went in, he sat next to the bog and actually saw the ravens coming and checking where each of the pails was. These ravens had figured it out. The only thing we could figure is that they were watching us when we came into the bog. They’re pretty curious so they went to where they noticed us, and lo and behold, there are little goodies in the bucket. The other thing I was going to mention about ravens is that here and in Northern Ontario, they are fairly major predators of loons. At the time, loons were the focal species we were working on. They’re reported to take loon chicks if they can get them, and they prey on the eggs. Loons are quite predictable where they’ll nest. Usually if there’s an island, they nest close to the edge of the shoreline on a shallow slope. Presumably, if you’re a raven and trying to survive, smart ravens will figure out that if you circle around these islands, you’re going to find loon nests. We had one lake there where almost every year, presumably just when the male and female were changing who sits on the eggs, the ravens would be watching and as soon as one would slip off, they’d swoop down and get the eggs. You’d go there the next day and the eggs would be busted open and the contents gone. It’s a problem for loons and I’ve heard that ravens are a problematic predator for other types of ground nesting birds as well.