Name: Common Raven (Corvus corax).
General description of the track: Raven feet have three toes pointing forward and one toe pointing backward and can range from 3 3/4 to 5 1/4 inches in length. Toes two and three (on the inside of the foot) are closer together — a characteristic common to the corvid family of birds. Look closer for bulbous toe pads and talon marks in individual prints.
Where, when to look: Raven has the most eclectic habitat use of any Southeast bird. Tracks can be found year round from high alpine to intertidal bioregions. The best place to view raven tracks is your local parking lot after a light snow. When discovering these prints look for other sign such as food scraps, or wing marks in the snow.
Lookalikes, and how to tell them apart: Our other corvids — Stellar’s jays, magpies and crows — have similar track forms. The crow is the raven’s closest match, but its tracks are smaller, with feet that range from about 3 to 3 5/8 inches in length. Crows and ravens both walk, and hop, on the ground and leave similar track patters. Northwestern crows seem to frequent marine habitats while ravens are more diverse preferring urban, marine and forest areas.
More about the raven: The raven is so observable that one might ask why bother tracking it? While urban ravens are becoming steadily more uninhibited, their behavior in wilderness remains shy and spooky. Tracking can help one decipher lesser-known raven behaviors, such as prospecting for shrews and voles in the snow, or dealing with frozen carrion. Ravens have been known to lead wolves to a carcass. They are survivors, opportunists and are noted for their intelligence. In the book “Ravens in Winter,” Bernd Heinrich writes about this bird’s problem-solving skills.
“Ravens faced with a novel task, such as getting food that is dangling on the end of a string, were able to assess the problem and then use their feet to hold the string and pull the food up,” he wrote.
Stories about ravens are also an essential part of Tlingit oral history. The tales of the raven are full of life and lessons. Raven tracks seem to be part of everyday life.
• This tracks feature appears every other week during winter months and is compiled by members of Discovery Southeast, a local nonprofit offering a variety of programs for local youth aimed at educating and engaging students in their outdoor world. For more information on the organization, go online to discoverysoutheast.org.