We don't often think of song birds, or the passerines, as predators. Some people are aware of the shrikes, or butcherbirds, as being just that. Tiny birds of prey, which sometimes hang out at feeders, picking off redpolls and the like. They earned their moniker "butcherbirds" from a habit of impaling their prey on thorns or barbed wire.
Many people don't realize that Ravens (and the other corvids) are passerines as well. In other words Ravens are our largest songbirds. And while many of us realize that they predate nestlings and eggs of other birds, it may come as a surprise that they'll hunt down, kill, and eat large adult birds. It certainly came as surprise to me.
Yesterday morning I received a call from a friend of mine, whose growing interest in birds I have been nurturing here. He called to say that about a half hour previous (his phone was in use) he had witnessed a Raven chasing a duck. He wasn't sure about the type of duck it was as it was at a distance, and he watched them go over by my office and then out towards the Hamlet garage.
I was intrigued to say the least. Different birds chase other birds all the time, harassing predators, perceived threats and rivals, so that in itself wasn't all that unusual. But a duck of any species here this time of year would be very unusual. There are eider up at the Floe Edge, but that is 100 kms away right now. And there was the question about just what species of duck was being chased. So, being as it was coffee time and there were also vague rumours that gulls had returned, I hopped in the truck for a quick look.
I drove out along the bay, past the dump, and then into the dump, casually counting Ravens there and looking for anything. As I drove back into town there was about a dozen Ravens in the middle of the road squabbling over something. When I got closer they scattered, but one tried to drag off what they were fighting over. I then realized it was a bird carcass.
The bird they were fighting over was an adult male King Eider. It's head was gone, and it had been partially consumed (gutted if you will) but it was clearly a recently killed large, apparently healthy, duck. Although no one apparently witnessed it actually being killed by Ravens, the report of the chase and finding them eating a freshly killed bird sure seem to indicate that.
I've since talked to a couple of people who have witnessed Ravens chasing, killing, and consuming ptarmigan. Add the story of the Gyrfalcon that was brought down and being pecked at by three Ravens last fall, and it appears that at least some of the Ravens up here do not just wait to scavenge their food, but actively hunt for it. At least part of time.
Seems like the butcherbirds aren't our only songbirds of prey.