How Ravens Collect Chick Feces At The Nest – I Had No Idea!

I photographed this nest of four Common Raven chicks on both of my recent Montana trips.   It’s been fun to watch their development and the behaviors of both parents and youngsters.


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Here you can see all four chicks – three of them begging for food from the parents who were perched nearby.  This shot was taken two days after those that follow.  The image quality of some of these photos isn’t very good but I found the behavior to be fascinating.



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When this parent flew to the nest I was mostly watching and not clicking the shutter.  I had no idea that I was about to see something new to me.



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Suddenly one of the chicks began backing up to the edge of the nest and I figured it was about to defecate over the side.  I was wrong.



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The chick presented its cloacal opening to the parent…



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and then its white excreta to the adult bird…



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which took it into its beak.



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I can’t be sure what happened next.  The adult may have eaten the wastes, which they often do.  Or they may be inside the bill to be discarded away from the nest.

Here’s what Birds of North America Online has to say about nest sanitation with this species:

“In Maine, parents of wild birds ate the feces of week-old chicks (BH); captive parents swallow feces of very young chicks (Gwinner 1965). Medium-aged young (2–3 wk old) defecate on rim of nest (Dorn 1972) or parents carry feces away (BH). Older chicks shoot runny feces over edge of nest (BH).”



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The adult flew off almost immediately after collecting the feces but I can’t tell if they’re inside the bill or were eaten.

But the point of this post is that I was quite surprised that the chick deliberately presented its feces directly to the adult and that the parent actually picked them up as they exited the chick.  I guess it was my assumption that the adult would remove them from the nest some time after they were deposited but in thinking about it, that would be very difficult to do given the unconsolidated mess involved.

From the looks of the nest I’m guessing that at this age the chicks often attempt to squirt outside the nest and we see the whitewash down the side as a result.

I suspect that some of my readers know much more about this than I do but in my naiveté I sure thought this little episode was interesting



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One more interesting observation –  last year this same nest was used by Swainson’s Hawks.  This image, taken on August 22, shows the two juveniles raised in the nest last summer.  They were quite reluctant to leave.  Another thing that fascinates me is nest recycling by different species.

Wish I knew more about it…


Note:  These photos were taken from a road while I was shooting from inside my pickup.  I never approached the nest. 



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