By Eric D'Aleo, Naturalist
One thing is certain; nothing ever goes to waste in nature. This seems especially true in the winter when food is scarce. Something that was once passed over by an animal when food was abundant may now be an important source of nutrition even if it is carrion. However, some wildlife never turns away from this free meal. These animals we call scavengers. When we think of scavengers several species may come to mind -- turkey vultures, carrion beetles, and fly larvae to name a few. However, many predatory animals may scavenge for food at some time during the year, particularly in winter. Here in New Hampshire scavengers may include fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum, bobcat, coyote, and eagles. Two additional birds often seen scavenging on Science Center property in the winter are ravens and crows. Both of these opportunists feed on a variety of food during the summer including fruit, grain, small invertebrates, bird eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion. But during winter their diet is more limited and they scavenge more often.
Both ravens and crows have been seen scavenging through the Science Center's compost pile searching for food. They seem to prefer to visit the area at different times with the ravens most often seen earlier in the morning than the crows. When looking at images from the same location of the two birds it’s easier to see the difference in their physical appearance.
The raven is clearly larger than the crow and has a thicker, sturdier bill. The crow’s bill is more slender, which makes it more challenging for it to feed on carrion since it’s harder for it to puncture the skin of a dead animal, squirrel sized or larger. The raven’s bill, being larger and heavier, is better able to handle the force needed to feed on an animal carcass.