Time to Talk Trash!
You’ve seen them. . . they are rather hard to miss these days! Their loud, scratchy ‘caw-caw-caw’. . . the whooshing noise as their wings cut through the air; they perch atop power poles, buildings, lamp posts, Joshua Trees, rock piles; have you guessed what it is? The common raven, Corvus corax. These large black birds are the largest members of the crow family and are renowned for their intelligence. In California’s desert however, ravens are not always a welcome sight – especially for the desert tortoise, a threatened species and the state reptile for California.
Most people know
- Desert tortoise numbers are low, and they are a threatened and federally protected species
- Habitat loss due to fragmentation and climate change are big problems for tortoises
Most people don’t know
- That ravens are a major predator of desert tortoises
Did you know
- Ravens were once a migratory species but are now found in the Mojave Desert all year long
- Raven populations in the Mojave Desert increased by over 700% between 1969 and 2004. This growth has been disproportionately greater than other predatory birds in the California desert (USFWS 2008)
- As more people make their permanent home in the Mojave Desert, we inadvertently provide subsidies for ravens, allowing their populations to experience explosive growth. These subsidies include things such as:
- New food and water sources including landfills, unsecured trash receptacles, illegal dumps, road kills, man-made water features and irritation systems
- Plentiful nesting sites such as building tops, power poles, billboards, telephone poles, bridges, etc.
Why we care
- We care because ravens are a major predator of juvenile desert tortoises and currently present a significant threat to the survival of the species
- Desert tortoises are a keystone species in the Mojave Desert. Many desert species rely on the tortoises’ burrows for their survival, so the loss of a single tortoise can have a catastrophic impact
- The last remaining grizzly bear in California (our state animal) is found on our state flag. Humans hunted this species to extinction in our state. Let’s not see the fate of our state reptile follow in the California grizzly’s footsteps
How you can help
- One of the easiest things you can do to help protect and save the desert tortoise is to COVER YOUR TRASH! This will help to start re-balance the scale and give the desert tortoise a better chance at survival
- Ravens have strong beaks and a very intelligent mind – they can easily tear open a bag of trash, and even flip open the lid of a trash can. Please make sure all your trash finds its way into a trash receptacle with a secure lid. This not only dissuades ravens from relying on human provided food sources, but it also helps to keep our Mojave Desert clean and beautiful for us all to enjoy
- Coalition for a Balanced Environment
- Hardshell Labs
- Transition Habitat Conservancy
- Hardshell Labs News Video embedded
- USGS movie embedded
The Living Desert gratefully acknowledges a generous $20,000 grant from Edison International.
Take part in our annual Mojave Maxine Contest and predict when she will make her debut.
Students (K-12) in nine southern California counties have the opportunity to participate in the contest.