Remi the Raven: An Enrichment Success Story
Our fascination with ravens extends deep into history and continues into the present day. Whether depicted as wise or a trickster, an omen of good or one of evil, ravens have enjoyed an important place in human mythology.
In reality, Common Ravens are among the most intelligent animals on earth. They appear to have abstract thinking, something researchers previously believed only humans and great apes were capable of. They can plan for the future and can use tools either alone or in collaboration with others. They are able to delay gratification for a greater reward at a later time - something most human children are not capable of until out of toddlerhood. Their intelligence has been likened to that of a four or five-year-old child.
Most ravens live their adult lives in bonded pairs and are seen in groups only during their adolescence or when rearing a family. Yet they do exhibit a need for social interaction. When the Museum’s current resident raven Remi lost her enclosure-mate Onyx in 2019, her behavior changed dramatically. Although Remi had previously exhibited comfort with a couple of Museum volunteers, the closing of the facility due to Covid-19 left Remi adrift. Like many humans, her behavior changed in response to her environment. Alone, with no consistent interaction with her caregivers, she became increasingly fearful. She avoided most humans and became very agitated when they entered her enclosure. When left on her own she “paced” in one area, and pecked at a single spot on the wall. A simple change, like enclosure cleaning or freshening her water, caused her to panic dramatically. Her quality of life was going downhill, and intervention was needed.
A handful of Museum volunteers got together and created “Team Remi”, forming a plan to work closely with this amazing bird to increase her trust of her caregivers, decrease her nervousness, and most importantly improve her quality of life. Volunteers committed to spending time in Remi’s enclosure daily. During those times volunteers offered Remi enrichment and encouragement - perhaps a food treat or a puzzle to solve, maybe something as simple as hiding food for her to pull from the nooks and crannies in her space, or even just sitting with her and “chatting.” During each session, volunteers recorded their actions and the responses of the bird.
In the beginning, around the middle of July, even the entrance of formerly trusted team members would cause Remi to panic, pace and vocalize loudly. Although she would interact briefly with some team members, her behavior as a whole continued to indicate that she was not comfortable. But over a very short time team members were gratified to see small changes - and then much, much bigger ones. Only a little over two months into Team Remi’s intervention plan, Remi is truly a “changed bird”. She engages with volunteers when they are present, taking food from the hands of most of them, and expressing curiosity rather than fear in the goings on in adjacent enclosures. Recent additions of novel items or changes to her space show her to be observant, curious and less fearful. When volunteers are not present with her, she shows every indication of comfort - engaging with her environment on her own, hiding food (called “caching”) for later, grooming herself happily on a perch, or peacefully gazing off into the valley at the 100-mile view. Team Remi is rightly proud of their accomplishment at improving the quality of life of this amazing animal!
Remi the Raven joined the Museum's education team after she was found illegally captive in a private home. She had suffered an injury and not been taken to a wildlife rehabilitator, so her injuries healed incorrectly and she is unable to fly or survive in the wild. After being evaluated by a vet and rehabilitation specialist, Fish and Wildlife made the decision to place Remi in a safe place where she could provide education for the public about conserving our natural resources, and the importance of getting animals to a qualified rehabber should they be injured. Remi fills that mission daily at the Museum. Stop in and see this amazing bird and learn more about her, and about all the animals in our care!