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A Conspiracy of Ravens

By Amy Renfranz (

Article Published: Aug. 1, 2013 | Modified: Aug. 1, 2013
A Conspiracy of Ravens

Ravens have captured our imaginations for thousands of years.

Photo by Amy Renfranz

As many of my dear readers know, I am currently in Yellowstone working as a guide for the Yellowstone Association Institute.

In the past few months, I have seen things that before I only dreamt about.

Yes, while many might dream of money, glory, fame or the perfect come-back for spiteful mothers-in-law, the young naturalist dreams of bison, fireweed flowers and the occasional caterpillar.

One creature that I am getting to know quite well during my waking hours in Yellowstone is the raven (Corvus corax).

Once, while walking through a picnic area, I spotted a raven that was perched at the end of an occupied picnic table. He looked like a fat penguin; feathers splayed out comfortably as a woman hand-fed grapes to him from her own plate.

I advised the woman that the raven is a wild animal that should eat wild foods. Even though my voice reflects no more authority than Winnie the Pooh’s, she apologized and put away the grapes.

As I went to walk away, stunned by the whole experience, I noticed the raven turn and glare at me. His beady little eyes seemed to be cursing me, my family, my unborn children. He flew away, but only after one loud croak that seemed, in my ears, to say, “I will get you for this.”

It is not surprising to me that a group of ravens is sometimes referred to as a “conspiracy.”

Ravens, which also live atop Grandfather Mountain and other great peaks in the High Country, are easy to distinguish from their American crow cousins because they are much larger. Their wingspan is about four feet across.

They also have shaggy throat feathers and a beak in the shape of a Bowie knife.

They are not as social as crows. It is typical to only see ravens alone or in pairs. Breeding pairs of ravens will often take over a territory. Their nests can be five feet across and two feet tall and are usually built in the crotch of a tree or below an overhang on a cliff.

Young ravens are born naked and blind, but give them a year and they will be just as cunning as their parents.

Ravens have been known to accomplish complex tasks, adapt quickly to new environments and covet shiny things. Here in Yellowstone, they break into tents, unzip sacks and fly into open bus windows. Anything for a snack.

It is always good to have an eye open for the raven. It is certain that he has an eye on you.

Amy Renfranz is a North Carolina-certified environmental educator, certified interpretive guide and a Yellowstone Association Institute-certified naturalist. Have a question? Email Amy at (

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