This morning around 11:30, I received an urgent call from Ozzie, a friend who had spotted an unusual, dark object dangling from a branch about 50 feet up near the top of a spruce tree. When a wing moved feebly, he realized it was a RAVEN, and this bird was not being playful. He was in dire distress.
I dropped everything and rushed to the scene. It was hard to determine the why or how of this poor Raven’s predicament. His legs were crossed, and his useless feet were suspended just below the branch, trussed like a chicken. He spun slowly, back and forth, a wing protruding now and then to try regain balance. Fishing line entanglement?
With considerable effort, the Raven craned his head to look at us from his awkward position, a long, long look, then let his head drop back down. He was utterly helpless. How long had he been hanging upside down, dangling from that branch? How did he get so tangled up, and how did he land so awkwardly to get so stuck? How much longer could he last? We had to try to help this unfortunate bird.
And thus began the Raven Rescue. I started calling people who might help, left messages, and waited. When the person finally called back, it was a similar message: no access to anything to reach that high and no one available to assist.
Lunch hour proved a dead zone of inaction. The long hour passed as my stress mounted. I imagined the life of that magnificent, intelligent, playful, mischievous, and stoic Raven ebbing away. More phone calls, messages, and waiting after lunch finally led to the local tool rental guy. Yes, he had a 56’ lift and when he had a break in business he could meet me on site.
I rushed back to the site, equipped with a branch trimmer, nippers, heavy jacket, gloves, and towels, hopeful but fearful of what I would find 3 hours later. Was the bird dead? No! another Raven perched at the top of the tree, a few feet higher, giving him moral support and company. A wing opened up in a pitiful wave. Did they know that we were going to try to rescue him?
The high-lift had just arrived and upon assessing the situation, found that the bird was not 50 feet up but 75 feet! Was it possible to get closer to the barrier of alders below the spruce to stretch higher?
Ozzie also returned to the scene bearing a long-handled brush saw. We quickly loaded up in the high-lift’s blue metal basket and up we went. When the lift stopped at 56’, our hearts sank. So near, yet too far! Even with the extensions on the saw, the tree was out of reach. The upside down Raven calmly watched the crazy people in the weird machine below, wielding a long yellow pole. Was he disappointed? Did he know?
Down we went, so dejected, but wait! The lift moved over to a slightly more advantageous position and even higher up the bank, closer into the alders. Once again, we rose up into the sky. Yes! By stretching to the max above his head, the saw just barely reached the tree. Ozzie cut first one small branch, then other to gain access to the main trunk. He could not reach the Raven’s branch, but would have to cut the skinny trunk and let the bird fall.
The saw bound on the up stroke, making each cut even more strenuous; DOWN! reach up, DOWN! reach up, DOWN! Finally, the saw cut through the treetop trunk and in a flash, crashed into the alders below, branch, bird, and all.
Down we went again, jubilant this time, hoping that the crash didn’t kill him. We thanked the lift driver and dashed off into the alders to see what happened. The 5’ treetop was stuck in the alder canopy, as was the bird on a branch. After cutting the branch from the trunk, it was easy to reach up and grab the Raven. He in turn grabbed Ozzie’s finger and held on just to let him know who was Boss; fortunately it was only a pinch, cushioned by the thick glove.
Back in the open, we placed a towel over the prone Raven. Just like magic, he stayed still. I cut off the branch and then the looped string freeing his legs. Then it was time to untangle the feet. The first foot was clenched tight. It was hard to pry open the black, scaly toes equipped with sharp claws to access the string. But after carefully cutting the first few strands, the toes suddenly relaxed and opened up. Oh no! Did the stress just kill him?
No time to look; we kept cutting and unraveling what appeared to be kite string wrapped around and around and through. Bit by bit, the string fell away, leaving deep cuts especially in the palm. The other foot did not have as much string left, but the lacerations on the leg were bloody and numerous. Poor bird!
Operation completed, Ozzie carried the Raven bundle to a more open, grassy area and gently set him down. Released from the towel, the Raven immediately tried to fly, but fell forward, tail up, unable to use his feet. Then he just rested in a little bed of grass. After hanging upside down for so long, he needed to get the blood circulating again and get his brain reorganized. We watched from a distance, wondering about his chances of survival with bum feet. What an ordeal!
I ran home to get some Betadine and water, thinking he would be easy to recapture and treat in his exhausted state. But just before I left the house, Ozzie called to say the Raven had flown a short distance away and landed, his buddy or mate by his side. I abandoned the supplies and raced back.
What a beautiful and touching sight! The two birds were standing side by side in a nearby creek. The rescued Raven scooped up beakfuls of water to rehydrate while the cold, clear water soothed his swollen legs and cleansed his cuts. Raven had found his own medicine. High fives all around! Yippee!
The next day, Ozzie walked back to the site, wearing the same clothes. Now there were 5 Ravens. As he walked, one flew about 2-3 feet away at shoulder level. Then the bird and another Raven flew ahead and perched on nearby rocks, waiting for him. As he walked right up to them, they hopped off and coasted to the next rock to wait. Ozzie said this has never happened to him before. Although he couldn’t see the legs well enough to check for cuts and identify the Raven, he felt that the Ravens recognized him and they were thanking him.
Who knows? All is possible with Ravens.
On behalf of the Raven, his family, and friends, I thank all the people who provided leads and took time to make phone calls; Rolf for taking time off his busy schedule to provide the lift and for his skillful maneuvering; and especially Ozzie, who cared enough to call me, and without whom this misfortune would have certainly ended in tragedy.
Seward Sporadic Bird Reporter