Animal care technician Megan Buemann, with blind raven ambassador Dougal as he shows off for the camera at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. (Mandy Moraes photo)

Dougal the blind raven enjoys role as ambassador at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Bird helps animal care technicians teach visitors about his species

In 2018, a small fledgling raven was found on the ground and brought into the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre.

The on-site veterinarian, Dr. Malcolm MacAdie, soon assessed that the bird was blind and that he’d been abandoned by his parents and left to fend for himself. Though still able to make out shadows and movement, it was unlikely he could ever see well enough to survive on his own.

Centre founder Robin Campbell began glove-training the fledgling so he could become a permanent resident and part of their ‘non-releasable’ viewing area. Campbell then named the fledgling Dougal, which means ‘dark stranger’ in Scottish Gaelic.

Dougal is now one of four learning ambassadors at the centre and part of their education program. He is a Common Raven, which can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, including most of Canada and the western United States.

He’d been chosen because of his personality and the fact that he took to glove-training quickly. As a learning ambassador, he interacts with crowds on a near-daily basis and helps animal care technicians educate visitors about his species.

While he is capable of flight, he will often fall directly to the ground or into a tree and injure himself. This can also happen if there is a sudden movement made towards him.

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In the wild, ravens can live up to 20 years, but in captivity, that can be doubled, said Megan Buemann, an animal care technician.

At only two years old, Dougal has a long life ahead of him.

“He’s still like a toddler right now,” said Buemann.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, ravens are one of the most intelligent birds in Canada. Buemann said ravens can have the intelligence of a seven-year-old, and that Dougal’s enclosure always has toys for him to play with.

“He definitely knows how to work the system.”

Dougal has a wide range of sounds he can mimic, from a car horn to human speech. But his favourite sounds to respond to are deep male or children’s voices.

His day-to-day handlers are Buemann and Derek Downes, another animal care technician, though Buemann believes he “holds a special place in his heart for Robin”.

An omnivore, Dougal’s favourite food for the time being is raspberries, but he also enjoys canned dog food, raw red meat and hard-boiled eggs. Wild ravens have been know to eat other bird’s eggs and small mammals.

Each morning Dougal is taken from his enclosure, where he feds and sleeps, and released to explore the rest of his space. Depending on his mood, he might have a bath, talk to nearby visitors, or respond to wild crows within earshot. For an hour a day, he’ll spend time with either Downes or Buemann on the glove to socialize and “hang out”.

Dougal is an adoptable animal through donations on the NIWRC website, though he remains at the centre. Depending on the adoption package, donors can receive a matted colour photograph of him, and a personalized adoption certificate.

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