Its multitude of calls will occasionally surprise even the most ardent observer. A presence throughout all of Alaska, they are one of the most visible animals within the state. Winter or summer, fall or spring, one can see their jet black figure flying above or calling, perched atop a spruce tree. The raven is arguably the most notable bird in Alaska. Each traditional culture within Alaska has an origin story that features the raven and it is a constant presence throughout oral myths. Functioning mainly as a scavenger, the raven doesn’t do much hunting on its own. Instead, it looks to feed off the kills and success of others, feasting on carrion and whatever scraps they can find.
In urban areas, this search encompasses another food group, trash. The highest concentration of ravens can be seen travelling through Alaska’s urban areas. Known as town ravens, the birds fly into the area during the day, hanging out at dumps, trash bins and anywhere they can find unsecure food like substances. At night, they retreat into the forest, flying as much as 70 miles to roost in a spruce tree, before continuing the cycle all over again the following day.
Despite being located 240 miles from the nearest town and boasting a year round population of about 20 individuals, Coldfoot, Alaska is home to many of these town ravens. The area was host to a former town, during the gold rush era back in the early days of the 20th century. Today, it is not so much a town as a service area, primarily serving as a truck stop and hotel for anyone visiting the area or for those who are passing through. The commercial nature of serving food to others and maintaining rooms yields to a lot of trash. Enter the ravens.
Ravens flock from all across the forest of the southern Brooks Range, collecting in Coldfoot during the day. They perch in large numbers atop buildings, waddle around in the parking lot and fly overhead in search of scraps. In such a remote locale, one would think that bears would be the primary issue concerning trash. But bears rarely pose an issue. However, if you leave a dumpster open, it will inevitably draw in ravens, who will proceed to tear apart bags and eat just about anything, from old food to nitrile gloves and other cleaning products. If the dumpster isn’t available, the barrel that holds old fryer oil becomes the gathering spot, where the ravens peck at the ground in hopes of coming across a drop or two of spilled oil.
With wilderness beginning outside Coldfoot’s confines, the ravens are able to secure larger amounts of food than elsewhere. A closed dumpster leads to a flight over the forest in search of a meal. No activity in the forest leads the birds to Coldfoot in hopes of obtaining scraps. However, not all ravens are so fortunate to benefit from the close proximity of these environments.
Walking around Coldfoot Camp and its buildings, one is bound to eventually encounter a raven that refuses to fly away. Its refusal isn’t a result of a lack of fear, but is due to a broken wing. Reggie the Raven, named by a local resident, takes to waddling and hopping around Coldfoot. This area with its urban like amenities is the only thing that allows Reggie to survive. It wouldn’t be long in the forest before Reggie would die of starvation. Like the urban areas, the Coldfoot ravens head to the forest in the evening. But likely under some structure in the vicinity, Reggie remains. There have been many times where I figure Reggie has finally died, only to eventually encounter him on some pathway in the area. Town ravens sour people’s opinion of the bird, yet it’s hard not to be filled with some sort of compassion or joy when coming across an individual like Reggie. It’s been months since I’ve seen him, but I’m sure Reggie is still somewhere around Coldfoot, waddling around a pathway in search of food, surprising those he comes across.