Cash Me if You Can: The Adventures of Tracy Aviary's Common Raven

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If you have been following the news here in Salt Lake City over the past week, you are probably already aware of the uplifting (who doesn’t love a happy ending?) story of our bird show ambassador common raven, Cash. And what a story it is – with so much drama and suspense, heartbreak and suspected tragedy, and the ultimate happiest of happy endings we could hope for… with a little comedy thrown in for good measure through the stories we’ve been hearing about her from people who encountered her during her time up at the Capitol Building.

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What can I say about Cash? I could start off by saying I have often referred to her as one of the most influential birds of my two-decade career working with birds, and her recent adventures just underscore that. A couple of years ago, I was asked, as part of a biography questionnaire, to describe my most challenging or favorite behavior I have ever trained or collaborated on. And my answer, as follows, pretty much sums up how I will always feel about Cash. “Not really one behavior, but every behavior I have worked on with our common raven, Cash. Corvids, with their delightful mix of insatiable curiosity and sometimes overwhelming apprehension, can be all at once challenging, confusing, delightful, frustrating, and rewarding creatures to work with. Cash is all of those things and more. She has a large repertoire of behaviors - from collecting money on a donation box, to recycling, caching, and nest building demonstrations, to silly behaviors like playing Connect-4 and stacking cups, but not one of them has come easy! I've worked with her for weeks, and sometimes months, helping her overcome her incredible apprehension for novel things and establishing behaviors I've taught to other birds in just a few sessions - but we always come through in the end. She has made me a more environmentally aware teacher than any bird I've ever worked with and is a daily reminder to me of the power of perseverance, creative thinking, gentle patience, and never, ever giving up!” To this day, I can’t really put it any better than that!

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Cash is five years old. I’ve worked with her for almost her entire life. She came to us from our friends at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, in late summer of 2014, at just a few months old. She had been brought to them as a fledgling, having been raised and unfortunately imprinted by humans. As such, she was unable to be released to the wild, they contacted us to see if we could take her in, and we were happy to provide a life-long home for her here at Tracy Aviary, as we do for many non-releasable native individuals. And so began my relationship with Cash. As with all our ambassador birds, establishing trusting bonds is the most important aspect of our collaboration. People often ask us why our birds don’t fly away when we bring them outside, and my answer is always that it is the relationships we have them, our respect for their choices, and the control we always give them over everything they do or don’t do that makes staying with us the choice they make. While I know with certainty that Cash would never choose to leave us, life sometimes throws curve balls; her being chased away from us by wild Cooper’s hawks and ultimately getting lost was quite the worst of curve-balls we could ever imagine. However, when we found her (thank you with all my heart to Richard Piatt with the Utah General Attorney’s Office for contacting us to let us know where she was), that relationship and bond is what brought her flying back to me almost before I even saw her! While we can never really know what any individual (other than ourselves) is thinking, her body language and behavior suggested she was just as happy and excited to see me as I was to see her (and that was a whole lot of happiness and excitement, I can tell you). A testament to the relationship we have forged over the years! We are overjoyed to have her back home at Tracy Aviary where she belongs and I look forward to many, many more years of friendship with this wonderful, funny, inspiring bird; many, many more years of learning with and from her; and many, many more years of watching her inspire an appreciation for ravens and other corvids in guests to Tracy Aviary who have the honor to meet her! If you’ve never met Cash, I encourage you to come down and visit us – she is a regular star of our fall/winter bird shows; you can also meet her in our Private Corvid Experiences which will be starting up again in the fall! She is a character you won’t soon forget!

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- HELEN DISHAW, CURATOR OF BIRD PROGRAMS