Scavenger Birds

by David Lilly
July 30, 2014



Here in Alberta we have three birds that everyone loves to hate. They are frowned upon and often shot for being a scavenger and a nuisance. The three birds are Ravens, Crows and Magpies.


All three birds are often seen on road kills, scavenging of off some dead animal, or preying on many of the smaller bird nests. They steal eggs and even eat the young from other birds. Is there any wonder some people don't like them.



One species is the Common raven (Corvus corax) also known as the northern Raven, one of two species in North America. Common Ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years. In the last few years they have increased their numbers.  Their diet consists of anything they can find, especially in the winter months. Anyone that has wondered into the mountains in the winter will see Ravens along the roadside scavenging in garbage left by visitors. Road kill will almost always have Ravens close by. The Common Raven is one of the most intelligent birds. It has the biggest brain. It is considered a spiritual bird in some cultures.



Magpies (Pica corvids) belong to the crow family and here in Alberta can be seen scavenging together. Although some people consider them a nuisance, I think they are a beautiful bird and difficult to photograph.


Crows are members of a widely distributed of the bird family Corvus. One difference Crows demonstrate  is they seem to flock together in large numbers. The Alfred Hitchcock movie conveyed Crow in flocks as sort of an evil bird attacking and killing people.

 All three birds are very difficult to photograph. Not only do they not let you get close but they also present some technical problems for the photographer.


Some advice on how to photograph these birds:

If you have your camera set to matrix metering , over expose by 1.5 f-stops. You have to be careful not to overexpose as the feathers reflect a lot of light especially on bright sunny days. If it is sunny you may want to follow the meter reading and change the exposure in post processing. In the post processing you will almost always have to increase the the light in the shadow area. They are relatively slow fliers so for flight shots a shutter speed of 1/1000sec will be fast enough. To photograph these birds I would recommend that you keep the sun to your back. Early morning light is always good.




If you see any one of these birds on a road kill for example, drive slowly and stop at the kill. They will return, just set up and wait in your car. Photographic opportunities will present themselves.


Although, three birds are scavengers they are birds and a must to photograph for any serious bird photographer.


David Lilly portrait


David Lilly is a professional nature photographer living and working in Calgary, AB he also teaches photo workshops. His photos have been published in PhotoLife, Calgary's Natural Parks, Alberta Nature Magazine and Fine Scale Military Modeler. Dave shoots with Nikon equipment. This is Dave's 9th article for the Canadian Nature photographer. David is also founder of the Calgary Camera Club.

David Lilly
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Phone: 403 236-8587 (Cell)

This is David Lilly's 9th article for the Canadian Nature photographer.


See David's other Bird Photography articles on the Canadian Nature photographer

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