fredag 13 december 2013

Ravens' cage anno 1829

Last week, Mathias, Ivo and Can attended the ASAB winter meeting in London. The meeting focused on recent research on The Evolution of Behavioural Mechanisms and was held in the Zoological society of London. Next to the Zoological Society is London zoo, where this 19th century raven cage can be found.

However beautiful, it's good to know that contemporary London zoo considers it too small to house ravens or king vultures. (Click on the picure to read the sign).


torsdag 21 november 2013

Visit by Sydnytt

Yesterday, Bernard Mikulic from the regional tv-news Sydnytt visited the research station. It seems as if the ravens are getting used to media, because they were quite comfortable with both Bernard and his camera!


onsdag 20 november 2013

Approved by the county administrative board!

This week, the raven facility was inspected by the county administrative board, which functions as a representative of the state in their respective counties. According to the The Animal Welfare Act (SFS 1988:534) all animals kept in captivity "shall be treated well and shall be protected from unnecessary suffering and disease. Animals shall also be accommodated and handled in an environment that is appropriate for the animal and which permits natural behavior" (CAB:s web site), and it is the task of the county administrative board to control that this is complied. The inspector was very nice and proficient, and she was impressed by the spacious aviaries. Of course this made us happy, but also a bit sad, as one could wish that many more animal enclosures would keep a better and bigger standard.


fredag 8 november 2013

Naturhistoriska riksmuseet

This week Mathias was in Stockholm to give two talks at "Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet". The museum has just inaugurated a permanent exhibition called "Djuret människan" focusing on the similarities and differences between humans and other animals. Apart from the talks Mathias has also contributed with information to the exhibition...and do you recognize the loving couple on the big screen behind Mathias? Yes, it is Siden and Juno.


tisdag 22 oktober 2013


Slowly the new parts of the facility are being finished. I've spent the last rainy days painting the lecture room in the attic, and today Kenneth, our nice and skilled electrician, is installing the electricity. Kenneth has done all the electrical work on the facility, which is both raven and rat safe.
Can is also here today to spend some time with the ravens and discuss the upcoming article writing with Mathias.  At the moment Can is spending a month with the neurobiologists at BMC to learn how to dissect and study bird brains.


fredag 18 oktober 2013

Anniversary talk

During the LUCS 25th anniversary, Mathias gave a talk (in Swedish) on how the similarities between corvid and great ape cognition can tell us more about how complex cognition has evolved. See the talk here!


fredag 11 oktober 2013

Last recordnings for the radio documentary

Today Lotta Malmstedt was here to record some additional audio for her radio documentary. She has spent half her summer going through and organizing interviews and recordnings, and just wanted to add a few missing details.
The ravens have grown quite accustomed to Lotta and her gear by now, so she was even able to record some parts inside the aviary.

We are looking forward to the programme!


torsdag 10 oktober 2013

25th Anniversary

The LUCS logo - made of sugar and plant soil - in front of the King's House in Lundagård.
Two weeks ago, the department of Cognitive Science  - LUCS - celebrated its 25th anniversary. This was manifested by two days of great lecturing open to the department and the public. One of the invited speakers was Frans de Waal, the world famous primatologist, and as he and Mathias know each other, he was invited to visit the ravens.

Close encounter with the ravens, and Frans got some bites to show the audience during his talk.
A brief cup of tea in the cabin. Lotta Malmstedt from the Swedish radio, joined to get some more material for her documentary.

måndag 16 september 2013


Sketching for the paper
Speaking of the playfulness of the ravens  - I've been going through some films to find representative snapshots for a paper on subadult raven play - and it really is hilarious!

Once this paper is submitted, we will start on another study on play - the earliest form taking place in the nest, when the chicks are only a few weeks old. We filmed Juno's and Siden's chicks in the nest this summer, and now it's time analyze the data. A quite time consuming job as it is done frame by frame, but since temperature is dropping and it is raining heavlily it might be quite nice anyway.


torsdag 12 september 2013


From my work at the Centre for Animal movement research at the Biology department in Lund, I have learnt about amazing aerial accomplishments in the bird world. For example, the great snipe that can make up to 6800 km nonstop flights when migrating, or the common swift that spends almost it's entire life on the wing - even eating and sleeping.
Ravens are no famous long distance migrants, but when it comes to flight acrobatics, they must be among the top birds. Maybe that is partly due to their playfulness - chasing each other with incredible speed, dropping items from high altitude and then rapidly dive to cach them again, or rolling and spinning in the sky. (See for example: or

Ten years ago, ravens were rarely seen in this area, but in recent years, the raven population in southern Sweden has increased, and now we have lots of wild raven visiting. Likely, our ravens attract some of them - especially the vagrants, young ravens who has not yet paired up. But for the last two yeas, a raven pair has breed no less than 600 metres from our aviaries, and during breeding season, we can hear the chicks beg for food and the adults communicating with each other and our ravens.

It is with mixed emotions we watch them fly over us, as it somehow stresses the limits and boundaries of our own aviaries. It is a comfort, though, that the ravens in our aviaries quite often fly themselves out of breath. Including the runway, the aviary complex streches about 35 metres, and while play chasing they just fly through the runway, makes a quick circle, and then back through the runway and into the next aviary. Or, they just bump into one of the big rafters with their feet - similar to a swimmer's turn  - and immediately fly off again.

It is a special experience, walking through the runway as one of the ravens are passing, just centimetres above you head.


onsdag 11 september 2013

Wary looks

You could tell by the wary look from Rickard, that it was long since I brought the camera to the aviary.
Siden was the first to get used to the camera, but Juno was still not convinced.
It didn't take Rickard too long either - my pockets and rubber boots were far too interesting.
Little Tosta, the boldest of the three young, immediatey flew off to a safe distance when I tried to take a picture of her going through my pockets...and again, notice the wary look.
Somehow it seemed a lot safer when I was on the same side as the ravens  - opposite of the camera.
...and after yet a few minutes, the camera was just one of those interesting objects that could be either eaten...or destroyed:)


måndag 2 september 2013

Autumn's first lab meeting!

Can, Ivo and Mathias
This Friday, we had our first lab meeting at the corvid research station. The two PhD students Ivo Jacobs from the Netherlands, Can Kabadayi from Turkey, Mathias and myself. Ivo started his postion in January and Can arrived from Ankara only last week and formally started yesterday. It's great to have them here, and we are looking forward to some great research coming from them soon!

We started off discussing this semester's work, studies, papers, courses and meetings....
...and then turned to the more physical side of running a research station. For example scrubbing away algea from the wood besides the aviaries. When wet, this green growth literally can break your back, so we had a go at getting rid of it. As you can see, quite back breaking as well, but not as acute as a slip.
Before dinner we did a short excursion to Vombsjön, which is only ten minutes by car from the station. Both Ivo and Can has been to Sweden before - taking courses at the Biology department - and thus knows a lot more bird species than we do:)


tisdag 6 augusti 2013

Busy summer!

Not much blogging this summer, but it doesn’t mean that there has been nothing going on.
The three raven chicks did fledge eventually, which was somewhat a shock to the young parents. Tosta, presumably the only female among the three, was first out of the nest. We found her on the ground one morning – missing most of her tail feathers. It turned out that the unexperienced parents were bewildered by having one of their chicks on the ground while the other two still in the nest, so they tried to drag her back. Pulling out tail feathers as a result. The next chick, a huge male called Gorm, came two days later. And now the parents had learned, so he only lost one or two feathers. And as you can guess, when Flygg, the third chick (also a male) fledged, the parents didn’t crumble a single feather. Siden and Juno continued to feed the fledgelings for a few weeks, and also allowed us to feed Tosta, who is the only of the three that will come near us. And after yet a few weeks we integrated the two aviaries, which was a totally undramatic business. We had expected fights and maybe injured chicks, but they immediately seemed to accept each other which was a great relief to us. And the hierarchy in the group is unchanged, with Siden as top bird and the young ravens at the bottom. As it should be.

We have also carried out a caching study – a cooperation with Oxford – comparing ravens, new caledonian crows and jackdaws. This was when the ravens were still separated, but Siden, Juno, Rickard and None all accepted to be individually tested in the runway.

In early July we attended the third conference of Comparative cognition in Wienna, and right now Mathias is attending the Behavior conference in Newcastle. In fact, at this very moment he is preparing his talk in his hotel room:)

Apart from this, we have done some construction work around the facility, and the plan is to do the painting and finish up by mid September. 

I will be back with some fresh pictures soon!


fredag 17 maj 2013

Nearly fledging?

The nestlings are growing less chicky and more juvenile - preening themselves and curiously observing the surroundings. Usually ravens fledge around the age of 5-6 weeks, so we are waiting anxiously for the first young out of the nest. See them preen (and yawn).

Siden is surveilling my doings with the camera.
Juno is on her way with yet another meal.

Love bite

This is what a gentle love bite from a raven looks like.

tisdag 14 maj 2013

fredag 10 maj 2013

Growing fast

The three raven chicks are growing fast - already feathered on parts of their bodies. We believe that the eldest of the three is about four weeks old. Still, the parents favour proteine for their young; heart, liver, minced meet, shrimps, fish and eggs is part of their diet. With added vitamins anc calcium. And it seems to do the trick!

fredag 3 maj 2013

Visiting students

Today we were visited by students from the course in Ecology of behaviour/ethology at Lund University. Mathias usually gives some lectures on this course, and the students come for a field trip to the raven facility.

Without the extra human friendly Siden and Juno, the raven group was a bit more scared of new people, and the students stayed inside the cabin until the birds had calmed down.

The assignment for the students was to decide the dominance hierarchy of the group, which is not necessarily an easy task. For exapmle, the lowest ranked bird of the whole group is None - but as she is friendly with people and not afraid of them, she was merrily hopping around, vocalizing and displaying. And as the others are more afraid of visitors, no one tells her off, and it's easy to get the impression that she is a dominant bird.
To not disturb the breeding pair, we had sealed off their part of the aviary from the visitors, and it turned out fine. No alarm calls or attacks - they just continued with their time consuming task....feeding their young who seem to grow by the minute!

Anders Brodin, Professor Evolutionary Ecology (course coordinator) & Mathias

måndag 29 april 2013

Number of nestlings

For a long time, we have been quite unsure of the number of nestlings. And now, all of a sudden we can easily see all of them when they are being fed. Three hungry beeks stretching upwards...


torsdag 25 april 2013

Building and painting

Since the breeding season started, we have not been able to work that much with the ravens. Firstly, there is much more group dynamics than usual, which make it harder to interest the them in experimenting. Secondly it's much more difficult to separate them, since Juno and Siden has occupied one whole section of the aviary complex.

The door to the old pig stable

Instead, we have put some time and effort into enhancing the facility, and a grant from The Royal Physiographical Society has made it possible  to convert a part of an old pig stable into much needed research facilities!


The renovated part will house one area for preparing and keeping raven food, analyzing fecal samples and keeping research equipment.

 We are also constructing a small indoor aviary in case any bird should be injured, or for any reason should need to be kept apart from the others. This aviary could also be used for experiments where sensitive equipment, like an eye-tracker, is used.

On the second floor (although we don't yet have any stairs) a part of the old hayloft has been converted into a spacious area, suitable for seminars and meetings.
The only downside is that it probably will take ages to paint...

onsdag 24 april 2013

Radio documentary on corvid research

Today we are visited by Lotta Malmstedt from the Swedish National Radio, P1 Documentary. She is making a documentary about our research, which probably will be broadcasted early winter.

tisdag 23 april 2013

Feeding nestlings

Raven chicks

We have been waiting for Juno to realize that her eggs will not hatch, and that life in the aviaries should go back to normal again. For ravens it can take several years before they find a partner and manage to breed successfully. It is quite common that young raven couples have to practise nest building a few times before the nest meets the required standard, and also that the female has to learn how to incubate properly. As far as we know, and we did ask around in the raven research community, succeeding in raising chicks in the first adult year is unheard of.

So imagine our shock, when we heard faint tweets from the nest last week. The eggs had hatched after all! To make it even more incredible, Siden and Juno are siblings (if we didn’t mix them up when they were small) and we have never seen them mating. It is quite common that ravens form sibling pairs during the early years, or even pairs of the same sex, so that has never been an issue. Moreover, sibling mating in birds is not totally uncommon, and if they are able to buffer out the sometimes negative effects of combining closely related genomes, the strategy can even be rather successful from a biological perspective.  On the other hand -  if the gene mix should be bad– the eggs normally wouldn’t hatch. So either, Juno and Siden are not siblings, or Juno and Rickard has been mating – or the gene combination of the chicks are perfectly healthy. We will still have to see what happens next.

As soon as we realized that the eggs had hatched, we ran to the store to buy the best chick food, extra vitamins and calcium – to provide the young parents with as nutritious food for their chicks as possible. And they are so capable! When new food is brought, Siden immediately caches most of the food, and then flies off to the nest to feed Juno and the chicks. Still, we don’t know if they will manage to properly care for them, but at least they will have a good chance.


måndag 15 april 2013

Course in wildlife rehabilitation

This weekend we attended a course in wildlife rehabilitation, given by Katastrofhjälpen - a nationwide non-profit organization taking care of injured birds and other wildlife. The aim of the organization is to rehabilitate injured animals so well that they can be released and reproduce in the wild. If the injured animal is beyond recovery, it is euthanised to spare it from further suffering.
Many of the animals taken care of are birds, and we learned a lot about rehabilitating different species by two enthusiastic teachers who had more than 80 years of experience between them!

Among the things we learned, was how to fix injured bird wings.
We also practised how to tube feed starved or dehydrated birds.

fredag 22 mars 2013

On the nest

 Juno has started to sit on the nest, and for the first day she didn't come down to feed when I brought the daily meal. Siden did, though, and then flew directly to the nest to feed Juno.

onsdag 20 mars 2013

Winter creatures

All humans I know consider the ever falling snow as an outrage. I mean, it's late March! The ravens wouldn't agree. Lying on the back in the powdery snow while your partner is preening you - what else is there to wish for?