Raven Flight Observations

Two experiences with ravens that I’ll not forget.

1st memorable raven experience:

During the 1970’s I was greatly involved in the early days of modern sport hang gliding. One of the mountain launch sites, that became my favorite, was the ridge above the Soboba Indian Reservation, in Southern California.

One day, shortly after launching I flew into a very small thermal, near the mountain side. The lift was good in the thermal but the diameter was so small that my circling turns would take me in and out of it. The result of this was that I maintained about the same altitude, not gaining much or losing much with each circle.

A raven entered the thermal below me and seemed to stay about 100 feet below me as we circled round and round together. Back in those days I had a pretty good raven call (or croak) ability and I started calling down to the raven. It would look up at me and call back. This went on for quite some time until I got tired of flying in and out of this small diameter thermal and I flew away from the mountain.

I never in my life, either before or after, felt so much like a bird myself as I did on that memorable afternoon. We definitely experienced an airborne connection of bird and human.

2nd memorable raven experience:

I have a cabin in the Anza-Borrego Desert, of Southern California. It’s in a little isolated community surrounded by the state park with lots of open desert. In this little community we have several pairs of ravens but I can’t identify individuals so I don’t know how many live here.

Once, while enjoying a seat in the shade on a warm desert afternoon I observed two ravens sitting on top of a nearby power pole. Then I saw another raven approaching at a much higher elevation. This raven appeared to want to join the others on the power pole but it would need to burn off a lot of altitude to do so. If it went into a dive, to lose elevation, it would gain a lot of speed which would then translate to a lot of regained altitude, when it went to land on the pole and take it high above its intended landing.

What I saw then stunned me. The raven went into a flat spin, doing three revolutions. In a flat spin the aircraft, in this case a bird, has all of the flying surfaces stalled. It is like a flat rotating leaf falling. The drag created uses up a lot of energy so that the aircraft loses altitude rapidly but does not gain a lot of speed, so that when it ends the flat spin it does not regain much of the lost elevation due to stored energy. Aircraft pilots need to learn, not only how to initiate a flat spin but very importantly, how to end it. The raven did a perfect entry and exit from this flat spin!

I sat totally surprised to have observed something I had never seen a bird do before. To this date I have not seen it again. Oh, yes, and the other two ravens seemed to welcome the newcomer to the pole top. I wonder it said: hey guys, did you see what I just did?

Frank Colver