March 16, 2004


Dear Brian,

I want to thank you for your assistance in helping me locate the owner of the African White-necked Raven I spotted on Feb. 22. I never would have believed that a bird-sighting in NJ would lead me across country to Ravenia Youngman, and ultimately to you, the one person who could help me find its owner.

 As a journalist and author, I just couldn't resist sharing such a good story and its happy ending with my readers. I've received many comments on the article, which ran in The Beacon, a Packet Publication, on March 11.

 But, there was much more to the story than what was published in the paper. Here is the story of Precious, the African White-necked Raven in its entirety:

 It all started about 1:00 pm, on Feb. 22 when my husband, Frank, and I went down to the ShopRite Superstore in Trenton, NJ. The complex is located on a major road and because it was a beautiful day, we parked at the outer edge of the lot. If not for this long walk, I don't know if the bird I eventually spotted would have grabbed my attention.

 As we were taking the groceries back to the car, I heard what sounded like a crow that was calling non-stop. I even commented about the noisy crow. But when I looked up, all I saw was what at first appeared to be a black vulture soaring overhead. Then, I realized it was this bird that was making the noise.

 I know that vultures don't "caw," so naturally it grabbed my attention. I wound up walking toward the car looking up at this bird, not paying any attention to where I was going.

 The first thing I noticed was that the bird had leather leg straps, indicating it was possibly a show or hunting bird.

 Then, as it soared overhead, it turned and I could see a large white patch on the back of its neck, something that wasn't visible from its underside.

 I knew right away that this bird wasn't native to this area, or even the eastern part of the US, so I turned to the Internet for help as soon as I got home. I was hoping to not only identify this beautiful bird, but maybe even locate its owner.

 I didn't have much to go on. This was an extremely large bird, about the size of a black vulture. It appeared to be all black, with a large white patch at the base of its neck, near the top of the wings. It was making a typical "caw-caw" call of the crow/raven family.

 I knew that simply reporting to the police or media that I'd spotted "a strange bird" wouldn't get me anywhere. I had to know exactly what I'd seen before I could try to find the owner.

 It took me two days on the Internet to identify the bird as an African White-necked Raven (WNR)- a very large raven native only to central-south Africa. 

 I learned that these birds are about 22" long with a five-foot wingspan. This is a huge bird, the size of the black vultures I see here in central NJ. The females are even larger. The most noticeable thing about these birds is the large white patch on the back of their necks.

 One Internet site said: It seems to show a playful side and can frequently be spotted indulging in aerial acrobatics. Where it is found around human habitation it is frequently quite tame.

 So now, I knew what type of bird I'd seen and it really made me crazy, because I knew someone had to be looking for this bird. I also knew that I had to be convincing and accurate in my description of the bird, or no one would believe me.

 "Sure," I could hear people say. "You saw a bird native to Africa flying over your grocery store in central NJ two days ago."

 So, I wrote a detailed description of the bird and the circumstances surrounding the sighting and started sending out E-mails.

 I contacted the Philadelphia Zoo, Great Adventure, and every group I could find that might put on bird shows. No one was missing an African White-necked Raven.

 So, further research on the Net turned up a website for Oracle, a WNR that was owned by Ravenia. I knew it was a long shot, but I E-mailed her on Tuesday, and asked if her bird was missing.

 She E-mailed me back saying no, it wasn't her bird but she had forwarded my E-mail to the breeder she had gotten Oracle from - Brian Blazer of the Corvid Ranch in Alabama!

 You contacted me immediately. I couldn't believe it when you told me you had not only bred this bird, hand raised and fed it, but had sold it to someone in Plainsboro, NJ. And the bird was missing!

 You notified the owner as soon you he got my E-mail Tuesday night, and you also sent me the owner's name, etc. so that I could contact him, too, giving him complete directions to the ShopRite and my hopes that the WNR was still in the area after two days.

 So, at this point, I was just thrilled to have found the owner and hopefully reunited him with his bird - but the story got better.

 I got a call from Robert Wednesday night. He told me that the bird was named Precious and she was about 6 months old when she got away from him. He said that although she was trained to come to his whistle, a hawk had attacked her and she'd disappeared. That was Oct. 3! Robert had searched everywhere, put ads in the papers, and notified everyone he could think of.

 He couldn't believe it when he got my E-mail and phone call, because in the five months Precious had been missing, my call was the only one he'd received.

 But, more amazing than that was the fact that Precious had learned to forage for herself and was able to survive our unusually cold, harsh winter this year.

 Robert went on to say that he'd arrived at ShopRite at 6:30 am Wed. morning, and sure enough, there was Precious soaring overhead. She'd evidently been living in the ShopRite area for some time, eating out of the dumpster.

 After living in the wild for so long, Precious wouldn't land on Robert's arm, although she did come to his whistle, circle over him and come down within a few feet of him. He also got her to land in the parking lot when he coaxed her with some food. But, he wasn't able to catch her.

 After that, Robert made the hour-long drive back to ShopRite twice a day but he never saw Precious again until the next Saturday.

 That day, after searching the skies, he went in the store and got a cup of coffee and a bagel. While he was eating his bagel in the parking lot, he heard her call. He found her behind the store, foraging for food. Although Robert enticed her with pieces of his bagel, he wasn't able to get close enough to catch her. 

 Robert ran to his car and got her food and water bowl and was finally able to coax her close enough to eat from his hand. He was then able to capture her, put her in his car and take her home.

 Robert said that some of her feathers were a little rough and she was on the thin side, but otherwise she was just fine. He also said that Precious won't be having any more adventures until he brings her here to meet me.

 I wonder what my four cats will think when a two-foot high bird with a five-foot wingspan comes to visit?

 In closing, I want to thank you again for being such a caring, conscientious person. I also greatly appreciated your on-going E-mails inquiring as to whether Precious had been captured. If not for the kindness of Ravenia in forwarding my original E-mail, and your conscientiousness as a breeder, this beautiful bird might still be on the loose.

Sue Kramer

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