March 16, 2004
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
the Philadelphia Zoo, Great Adventure, and every group I could find
that might put on bird shows. No one was missing an African
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.
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!
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Robert made the hour-long drive back to ShopRite twice a day but he
never saw Precious again until the next Saturday.
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.
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
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.