June 2020

Vol. 48, No. 3

Field Note: How a Common Raven Caches Donuts

Brian Cassie

A raven buries donuts in the mulch next to a Dunkin' in Foxboro. All photographs by the author.

Easter morning, clear and cool, I drove over to Route 1 to see if maybe some interesting birds could be seen from my car. At the Dunkin' where I pulled onto Route 1, a Common Raven sailed across the road in front of me. "Great start," I thought, and pulled into the Dunkin' parking lot for a look at the raven. It was 7:00 am.

In the next thirty minutes, I watched that raven in amazement. The store has a dumpster off to the side of the parking lot and it was open at the top. The raven landed on the edge of the dumpster as I watched and then dropped down into the dumpster, out of sight. It reappeared in about twenty seconds with a donut in its beak, looked around for a few moments, and then flew off across the parking lot and over some buildings to the south beyond my field of vision. In two minutes, it was back at the dumpster, diving for donuts. Again, it flew away with its prize. Twice more, at two-minute intervals, it got a donut and flew off with it. That was four donuts so far, a lovely Easter feast.

Three donuts are buried and completely covered with mulch.

But this raven was just getting started. For donuts number five, six, and seven, it procured the donut in its beak, flew down to the mulched edge of the parking area, put the donut on the mulch, dug a proper-sized hole in the mulch with its beak, placed the donut in the hole, and covered it over with mulch, using its beak to finish the process. Just remarkable, and all with me as a front row viewer! The first attempt at donut caching was less than perfect and the hole the raven made was a little undersized, so it had to put the donut aside twice to get the hole right. The second and third holes were dug to the proper dimensions on the first try.

The raven fit a donut snugly into the hole it dug before covering it completely with mulch.

The depth of the hole in the bark mulch for each donut was just fractionally greater than the thickness of the donut, yet the donut at the end of the burying process was fully covered with mulch and not visible.

After the first donut burying, I got out of my car and talked to an employee named Lisa, who had watched the whole process from her car while on her break from work. She said she never would have believed it if she hadn't seen it herself.

The raven was done with burying donuts for the time being. Donut number eight was placed on the roof of the building. Donuts number nine and ten were flown off to be cached with donuts one through four, presumably.

By now it was 7:30 and I made a quick dash to Jonathan Glover's house to alert him to what was going on. Jonathan more or less instantly joined me (separate cars in this time of social distancing, of course) and we got back to the Dunkin' at 7:43. When we arrived, a Fish Crow was perched on the dumpster, a Northern Mockingbird and two Tufted Titmice were fluttering around the edge of the dumpster, and the raven was nowhere in sight. It showed up in a couple of minutes, grabbed another donut from the dumpster, and flew up to the roof of the store briefly and then off to the north, out of sight.

I returned at 10:50 and found the dumpster lid closed, the gate around it closed, and no birds to be seen. I asked for permission to take a few pictures and the fellow inside said, "No problem."

First time I've ever seen a bird burying food. It was some awesome Easter Parade.

Follow up:

April 16: one of the mulched donuts was gone at 6:30 this morning, presumably collected by the raven. The other two were still in place.

April 17: the second of three donuts was gone as of 6:45 this morning.

April 22: at 8:30 this morning I found the last donut exposed and half eaten; it was too worn to be picked up whole. No raven in sight.

April 23: As of 7:40 this morning the last part of the last donut was gone.

Common Raven © Amanda Brannon.

A Silent Raven

A raven with a donut in its bill
Is quite still.

With a donut in its beak
It can't croak…it's lucky to creak.

B. Cassie

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