Raven populations are thriving in the Coachella Valley. This is perilous for local wildlife!Sonora Walton, Conservation Intern July 24, 2021
The California desert ravens were once occasional occupants of the Coachella Valley. In the past we were merely a stop for them on their migrating path. However, their population has grown seventeen times larger within the last fifty years and most now occupy the Coachella Valley as their permanent home. This immense population growth has occurred because ravens have been privileged with a multitude of supplemental resources such as food, water, and nesting sites provided by our desert cities. Ravens find food from people who feed them intentionally and unintentionally with food from open trash cans or dumpsters; they find water from overactive or broken sprinkler systems and man-made ponds; and they find many new potential nesting sites on our power poles and infrastructure. While these extra resources allow ravens to thrive in a human-dominated ecosystems, they have ultimately disrupted the natural balance by eating any animal smaller than them and endangering other native wildlife species while also trashing our own human communities. It is ultimately up to us to reverse the problem and put our desert ecosystem back into balance.
Ravens are the largest members of the crow family and have become a nuisance to our community. Ravens have been deemed one of the world’s smartest birds, with their intelligence levels matching those of dolphins, chimpanzees, and five-year-old humans. This intelligence has helped them thrive in our human-made ecosystem. Local restaurant managers have even witnessed ravens opening partially closed dumpster lids themselves to access discarded food. The overabundance of ravens has been a problem for the community as they throw trash everywhere and create an unhealthy and unappealing environment.
Ravens cause problems not only for our human community but also for other local species. Ravens prey on owls, lizards, small mammals, other small birds and reptiles, and our state reptile - the desert tortoise. Native to our local deserts, the desert tortoise is federally listed as a threatened species and may soon become endangered due to the survival challenges they face including extreme levels of raven predation. Ravens have learned that young desert tortoises, who have soft and easy-to-puncture shells until around five years of age, can make for a yummy snack. Now that countless desert tortoises are being eaten before they reach reproductive age, they are no longer re-populating at a rate that can sustain the species’ survival. As raven populations continue to soar, desert tortoise populations will continue to suffer.
To approach a solution to this problem, The Living Desert leads the ‘Time to Talk Trash’ campaign. This campaign is a way to engage our community in resolving the raven population problem. Learning how to ‘raven-proof’ trash containers with tightly secured lids, picking up litter, encouraging the discussion of raven subsidy concerns with friends and neighbors, and reducing watering time to avoid run-off are all ways to contribute to a solution. Please visit www.CoverYourTrash.org to learn more.
We at The Living Desert are bringing this campaign into the community through our restaurants here in the Coachella Valley. Since June 2021, we have been surveying a randomly selected group of 73 restaurants along Highway 111 from Palm Springs to Indio to determine whether their dumpsters are typically open or closed. Once five baseline surveys are completed, we meet with restaurant managers to encourage them to maintain closed dumpsters and let them know why it is important for our community, and especially important for helping local wildlife. Restaurants who achieve at least 80% dumpster closure will receive a Gold Star Award.
A publicly displayed Gold Star Award allows restaurants and other businesses to share with their community that they act and care for our local wildlife and encourage their guests to do the same. With the cooperation of restaurants, businesses, and other community members, the ‘Time to Talk Trash’ campaign and message can reach our community and bring greater collective action toward addressing the raven overpopulation issues we face today. Please work with us to encourage restaurants to keep their dumpster closed to protect our beloved local wildlife – and be Gold Star Awardees as a consequence!