Story and photo by Claudia Duckworth.
I’d like to introduce you to PWCs first education corvid, “Corax.” He belongs to the family that includes crows, jays, Magpies and nutcrackers. Corax is a raven and his designation in the ornithological world is Corvus Corax or Common Raven. Corax came to the PWC Center in the Spring of 2012 as a nestling whose nest and nest mates had been destroyed. He was injured, but, as always, we hoped he could eventually be returned to the wild.
Despite our efforts, Corax could not fly adequately to survive in the wild and the decision was made to include him in our education program. Corvids are notoriously difficult to train because, despite being among the smartest of animals, they are extremely wary of new things and change.
PWC is fortunate to have a young wildlife trainer, Karen Johnston, on staff who was experienced with education animals and was willing to work with me and Corax. Neither of us realized the time and energy it would take to earn this bird’s trust. Karen was faced with training a wild raven and a novice handler. We built a large aviary since Corax can fly in a limited way and developed a plan. Plan A quickly changed to Plan B, to C, and so on.
Karen was experienced with raptors and many other species but had not worked much with corvids. Everything frightened this bird: a new glove, a different bowl, a moved perch, including having him on the glove, walking around, an essential event for an education bird. Everything caused visible stress. At times, we were discouraged thinking we would have to give up and find a new home for a bird that we had come to know and care for.
At about the year mark, with time running out as Karen prepared to start nursing school, we had a breakthrough! Thanks to her skill and determination, it appeared Corax had achieved what David Jackson of “Zoo To You,” has described to us as “learning to learn.” Now, it was Karen and I who were wary. We’d been on a roller coaster ride of two steps forward followed by ten steps back. Was it real? I can only say that, so far, it is!
This journey will continue and we will have to ask our audiences to understand and help as Corax progresses. Karen has agreed to continue to work us into her busy schedule. For me, it has been a most happy adventure of getting to know two engaging fellow beings: one small, black and feathered and the other tall, slender and wise beyond her years.