North·Video

How ravens survive at –50 C

The infamous northern scavengers have adaptations that make them quite impervious to extreme cold.

The infamous northern scavengers are quite comfortable in extreme cold

The infamous northern scavengers have adaptations that make them quite impervious to extreme cold. 6:18

While even lifelong northerners are tempted to moan about temperatures of –50 C, the hardy raven soldiers on.

What makes this notorious northern scavenger so comfortable in frigid temperatures?

Bird biologist Bob Bromley says ravens have "a big list of adaptations that enable them to survive" in this environment.

Ravens are "super-efficient furnaces," said Bromley, with high metabolisms that generate a lot of heat — so much so, that their long, bare legs are used in warmer times to cool their superheated bodies.

Specialized feathers on the nostrils keep in moisture, and the beak is adapted to breaking apart frozen food.

"They have to carry an axe with them on their face," said Bromley.

Ravens are hardy, smart, and adaptable — and if they aren't, they die off pretty quickly in northern temperatures. (CBC)

Those are just a few of the reasons why ravens dominate northern communities like Yellowknife, home to a record number of ravens in Christmas bird counts.

"They're a big, robust bird that's super-curious and super-smart," said Bromley.

But it's not only Yellowknife where ravens have found their niche. Ravens can be found everywhere from the snowy mountain passes to hot and dry deserts, Bromley said.

"They're a very successful species around the world," he said.

Even with their cunning adaptations, ravens have to be strong to survive a northern winter. Bromley says this time of year is often the hardest — and those young ravens that can't handle the cold die off pretty quickly.

It's a tough life, but there are some perks, said Bromley: "They certainly don't have much competition here."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now