There are fewer ravens in Hay River at this time of year.
But ravens don’t migrate, so where do they go, and why?
It is all related to the supply of food and the nesting habits of the iconic birds of the North.
“What happens every spring is the ravens leave the inhabited areas, and they go elsewhere to be further away from people, basically,” said Suzanne Carriere, a wildlife biologist specializing in biodiversity with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Yellowknife. “There’s food now outside town. In the winter, within town there’s more food. There’s garbage.”
Carriere said ravens will also nest in March and April.
In smaller communities, they may stick around with their young.
However, Carriere said that in bigger towns like Hay River and Yellowknife, the ravens need their space when they nest so they disperse around town and outside of the communities.
“Some of them nest in town but then they won’t nest near each other. So they need their space, and so they’ll go elsewhere. They have their habits, they have their spot that they like,” she said. “They scoot out of town to their nest site and they do whatever they have to do there. They make a nest or renovate the old one and nest, and that can start in March.”
Carriere said the ravens might start to come back to town in June, although possibly not.
“They might not come back in June even because if there’s food outside town they’ll stay,” she said.
Carriere said it is unknown how far exactly the ravens might go when they leave a community.
“They can go pretty far,” she said. “They’re scavengers mostly. So to them to come from Hay River to Yellowknife is not a big deal, and they carry on beyond Yellowknife. And the Yellowknife ones probably go out all the way to the tundra.”
She said it is not a migration.
“It’s more like a dispersal,” she said.
Carriere said the ravens will return to the communities the minute there is some snow and a bit of bad weather.
When not dispersed, the ravens concentrate in the bigger towns and in areas where there are the most people, she added. “For example, if you map the population of Yellowknife and the population of the Christmas Bird Count ravens, they match.”
Carriere said those huge concentrations of ravens in a community is a winter thing.
On Jan. 2, the annual Christmas Bird Count spotted 338 ravens in Hay River, mostly in the vicinity of the landfill.
Gary Vizniowski, a birder in Hay River, has noticed there are fewer ravens around at this time of year.
“I’m out birding all the time,” he said. “At the Christmas bird count, we can see up to 300 ravens at the dump. You go out there now there’s probably less than 100.”
Vizniowski doesn’t know if Hay River ravens have a favourite place to leave for in the spring.
And he said there are always some ravens around town, especially on the back roads.
“You’ll see a couple of them and you’ll see a few flying around,” Vizniowski said. “So they’re always present but not in the numbers.”