Nature’s Clean Up Crew

No need to wait once a week for these scavengers to make their round.

Some species don’t get enough credit for the work they do to help keep the environment neat and tidy. Species that feast on dead and decaying plant and animal matter are called scavengers, a.k.a. nature’s clean up crew.

Scavengers play a crucial role in the environment; they help break down organic matter and recycle it back into the ecosystem as nutrients. They also keep potentially dangerous diseases and bacteria at bay by consuming the animal carcasses along the roadside, your favourite outdoor trail, and many other locations we might not even be aware of.

Take a look below at some of Canada’s most popular scavengers and some that just may surprise you.

Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

Turkey Vultures are scavengers in the truest form and feed almost exclusively on carrion (dead animals). Their keen sense of smell helps them detect gases from carrion along the roadside and beneath closed tree canopies. Their stomachs have strong acids that help kill off dangerous toxins and microorganisms, which helps minimize the spread of diseases and bacteria associated with carrion.

Butterflies

butterly

Butterflies are scavengers too! Several species of butterflies have been found huddled on mud, urine and dung, and on the corpses of dead animals and fish as they lick for vital salt and minerals.

Red Fox

red fox

Red Foxes have a stomach of steel and can eat almost anything from voles, mice, squirrels and rabbits to reptiles, wild fruits and garbage. But they will also readily eat carrion any chance they get.

Pine Martens

pine marten

Pine Martens have a cute appearance with a little round face and pointy nose. They are also very effective predators with sharp, curved and semi-retractable claws that help them climb trees. Just like many species, Pine Martens are also opportunistic predators that won’t pass up on free leftovers.

Coyotes

coyote

You can count on Coyotes for scavenging on the leftovers from wolf kills. Coyotes are opportunists and will eat just about anything from small prey animals, deer, wild fruit to dead animals.

Common Raven

raven

This bird has adapted to living in many different habitats across the country and with that comes being able to adapt on what food is available. Ravens are mostly opportunistic omnivores and are known to prey on sick and dying animals and scavenge their carcasses.

Wolverine

wolverine

Wolverines are more of a scavenger than a hunter and usually depends on other animals, like wolves, to make the kill for them. But when push comes to shove, Wolverines will hunt their own prey.

North American Lobster

lobster

North American Lobsters do their part to keep the sea floor clean. These bottom-dwellers feed on crabs, shellfish, starfish, marine worms, sea urchins, slugs and snails – either alive or dead! They certainly do their part to help recycle the nutrients within their habitat.

 Black Bear

black bear

Black Bears take advantage of whatever grub is available. They need to forage up to 20 hours a day to increase their body weight for winter and will eat both plants and animals, including carrion.

Snapping Turtles

snapping turtle

Snapping Turtles play an important role in the ecosystems as scavengers. These turtles helps keep our lakes and rivers clean by eating a heavy diet of carrion and recycling the nutrients back into the bodies of water.

The Raven: Meet one of Canada’s most intelligent birds

Humans from all over the Northern Hemisphere have always been fascinated by the Northern Raven, including us.

In turns revered or despised, this large, black songbird has rarely left anyone indifferent!

raven

In North America, it held a central part of many Indigenous myths and traditions, depicted as a trickster, a healer, a messenger, a teacher and even the creator of all life. But when Europeans came to these shores, they brought along their fear and superstitions about the raven, believing that this bird was preying on farm animals and destroying crops. Because of this, the raven had been exterminated from areas of Canada, including the southern Prairies!

Ravens vs. Crows

Since then, Northern Ravens have made a comeback, and are doing well in most of Canada. Because of this, many Canadians have observed these amazing birds before, but they can be easily confused with another well-known corvid (the crow family), the American Crow.

The easiest way to distinguish the raven from its relative the crow is by its larger size. Ravens can have a wingspan of a metre and a half, but a crow’s is under a metre. The raven has a wedge-shaped tail when spread, while the crow has a fan-shaped tail.  If you observe them from up close you may notice that the Raven has a much thicker bill and a ruff of throat feathers called “hackles”. But other than its striking appearance, why has the raven always stirred up such strong impressions?

raven

While these cosmopolitan birds are known to inhabit all sorts of habitats — forests of all types, grasslands, mountains, coastlines, deserts and even the Arctic tundra! — they live quite comfortably alongside people, in our towns and cities. Ravens also have a very diverse diet, eating just about anything they can find, from plant matter and invertebrates to eggs and other animals. They even scavenge carrion! Ravens are social animals, spending their adult life guarding their territories in mated-for-life pairs which may gather with others to socialize and hunt. Ravens live for up to 20 years, rarely becoming a prey to other animals.

The Trickster

But the most astounding fact about Northern Ravens is not their adaptability. These birds are thought to be exceptionally smart animals!  They are keen opportunists and excellent problem solvers, being able to use tools to get what they want. They learn by observing, and can even teach other ravens about what they’ve found out.

grizzly bear with corvid

As most social animals are, they are good communicators and are known for playing and even tricking other ravens. They also use a great variety of cries and calls (sometimes imitating sounds from their surroundings) in order to give information to other ravens. They even manage to interact with other species, for example calling wolves so that they kill a prey the ravens spotted and leave the leftovers for them to scavenge on!

The more we study the Northern Raven, the more we discover how unique this bird really is. This, in itself, is enough to understand why our ancestors were so taken by it!

Find out more with the latest video by Hinterland Who’s Who, available soon!