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Vilya
12-04-2011, 10:19 AM
I happen to have a shape shifting character in my WIP, who will spend a lot of time in raven form. And was pondering the many ups and downs of that.

I have found a lot of general information, what they eat, where they live, etc. But that doesn't answer the question of how effective a weapon they would be, so.

Would a raven's talons (and is that even the correct term) be sharp enough to cut through human flesh, to really maim a person?
Are these talons so sharp h that in order for the bird to perch on a person they would need some kind of leather covering?
Is there a scientific reason that they perch when sleeping, or could they sleep another way?

Any and all help is appreciated.

Drachen Jager
12-04-2011, 10:46 AM
They could hurt a person, but unless they had a pretty clear shot at the face they couldn't maim anyone. Other than damaging eyeballs they'd be about as effective as a cat.

You wouldn't need a leather covering, it might hurt a bit, but if the raven was an intelligent person I'm sure they could just be careful and only leave minor scratches.

They perch when sleeping because they'd be eaten if they slept on the ground. Birds of almost all species sit down on their nests, so there's no reason why an intelligent raven couldn't sleep that way on the ground or in a tent or whatever.

GeorgeK
12-04-2011, 12:13 PM
Technically, ravens are birds of prey. They hunt. It's just that mainly they hunt by grabbing small rabbits and squirrels. they don't have the speed of falcons. Because of that they also scavenge.

I may be in the minority if Hollywood is indicative, but I don't like it when the shape shifters don't obey the conservation of mass.

Flicka
12-04-2011, 01:48 PM
Would a raven's talons (and is that even the correct term) be sharp enough to cut through human flesh, to really maim a person?


Ravens are scavengers, which means their beak and talons are designed to help them tear up dead animals, so if they want to inflict damage, I'm pretty sure they could do great damage with their claws. They're supposed to be able to tear open bodies of large animals with thick hides and pelt.

You know you get ravens at battle fields, right? They come to feed off the dead and they do a great job of that with their beaks and talons. In fact, the Vikings used "feed the ravens" as an expression for war. There are runestones which say things like "Ivar raised this stone in memory of his brother Björn. He fed the ravens in the East" which means that Björn went east to marauder and likely died.

Snick
12-04-2011, 04:39 PM
Ravens are much too small to do any significant damage to a human, unless they get the eyes.

I also think that the conservation of mass might be a problem. If the person weighs 150 pounds and converts to a large, 20 pound, raven, then what happened to the other 130 pounds. Fritz Leiber dealt with that problem in with respect to the Mouser. you might want to consider what he did.

NDoyle
12-05-2011, 07:21 AM
Ravens are not birds of prey. They are corvids, like crows, and thus are (believe it or not) songbirds--well, technically Passerines: perching birds.

As others have said, they're scavengers and could do some damage, but I also don't think they could maim. (A Harpy Eagle on the other hand... Ouch.) My boyfriend, who is an ornithologist, would be able to answer more specifically, but he's just arrived at Madagascar and will be out of easy communication for the next couple of weeks.

NDoyle
12-05-2011, 07:24 AM
A 20-pound raven would be huge! They usually weigh under 3 lbs, I think.

blacbird
12-05-2011, 09:43 AM
Technically, ravens are birds of prey. They hunt. It's just that mainly they hunt by grabbing small rabbits and squirrels. they don't have the speed of falcons. Because of that they also scavenge.

Ravens don't hunt much, if at all. I live in Alaska, and they are abundant here. They are almost total scavengers; I've never seen one with any kind of fresh kill. They scavenge roadkill and garbage, and have no fear of humans. But they are also absolutely no danger to humans. you can walk up to within 15 feet of one, or less, and they'll just look at you; if you get closer, they seem exasperated, and slowly hop or flap away. They are great imitators of sounds. I've been faked out a couple of times by ravens sitting atop light poles in parking lots, mimicing exactly the beeps made by cars being locked or unlocked by remote devices. Native peoples of the north regard them as sacred spirits in mythology. They may not have the speed of falcons (no other birds do), but they are agile and acrobatic flyers, and great fun to watch gamboling about chasing one another or even just playing in high winds, which they love to do.

The use of a raven as some kind of weapon actually seems to me rather silly. You might as well use a pigeon.

caw

frimble3
12-05-2011, 11:49 AM
The 'conservation of mass' problem might be affected by how the shape-shifting works. If it's a man/raven were-creature, yeah, that's a huge difference in mass. But in West Coast mythology, Raven's a trickster spirit, and just sort of changes. It's not that he's one or another, it's more like he's both at the same time.
One scene he's a being, plotting to free the Sun, the next he's a pine needle swallowed by a young woman, then he's the baby she gives birth to, then, he's flapping away, with the sun in his beak. He is what he needs to be.
If this fits your context, which I suspect it does not.

As to ravens being dangerous: They're really smart. If a dog can figure out how to shoot someone, I'll bet a raven could, too. Or at least drop a rock on them.

SquareSails
12-05-2011, 03:31 PM
Is your shapeshifted character the size of an actual raven? If he's an enlarged version, I'd say he could inflict some damage, even though a raven typically just uses those talons to perch and rip into food.

FWIW, a harmless looking chicken once gave my shin a whoopin'. (He was tasty.)

Lillie
12-05-2011, 04:24 PM
The best books I have ever read on ravens are 'Ravens in Winter' and 'Mind of a Raven' by Bernd Heinrich.

I recommend them. He is a naturalist who studied ravens for a long time.

He reckoned that they weren't any good at opening up a carcass. Once it's open they can scavenge, but their beaks and talons aren't suitable for opening it.
This, he believes, is why they often operate in proximity with wolves. In fact he believes that it is a mutually beneficial relationship between two sets of scavengers. The ravens lead the wolves to the carcase and the wolves open it allowing the ravens to feed.

So a raven beak wouldn't be that good as a weapon, although I've been bitten by a jackdaw and it can't half give a nasty nip and twist.
Also, the talons aren't that strong. Again, I have only had experience of jackdaws, but the talons are kind of scratchy rather than dangerous, and I've had one standing on my shoulder, my head, my hand, whatever. A raven is much the same only bigger.
Too scratchy for bare skin, but something a bit thicker is OK. A raven and you'd probably need something a little thicker than that. It depends on how much tickley sort of scratching you want to put up with.

They sleep standing up, on a perch. Usually on one foot. They tuck the other one up, and tuck their head down. They sort of shift their weight so the one foot appears to be in the centre of the body.

They don't sleep any other way than perching. If they are sleeping lying down, they are probably dead.
This is just how they are. They are made that way.

They make little noises in their sleep, little grunting calls, and they shuffle about on the perch. Maybe changing feet, it's hard to say.

Anyway, all this is personal experience of jackdaws. There are differences between jacks and ravens in diet, and some in behaviour, calls, signals, and intelligence, but on the whole a jackdaw is built the same as a raven, but smaller.

I had to clip ones nails with nail clippers. The toes are very bendy, not nearly as strong as you would think. A wild one would wear its claws down naturally.

If you can find 'Solomon's Ring' by Lorenz, he talks a bit about his pet raven, especially, if I remember right, about mutual grooming as bonding between them both.

GeorgeK
12-05-2011, 06:43 PM
Ravens are not birds of prey. .

It depends upon your classification criteria. Lumpers include them. Splitters do not. The local raptor club considers them birds of prey because they hunt kill and eat small mammals. Usually that means taking baby squirrels and rabbits out of their nests, when available. That is in keeping with old texts, but newer texts, probably since the 80's tend not to mention that they do hunt.

Drachen Jager
12-05-2011, 09:52 PM
They sleep standing up, on a perch. Usually on one foot. They tuck the other one up, and tuck their head down. They sort of shift their weight so the one foot appears to be in the centre of the body.

They don't sleep any other way than perching. If they are sleeping lying down, they are probably dead.
This is just how they are. They are made that way.

Not true. As I said before most species of birds lie down on a nest to keep the eggs warm. Often they sleep. I also have personal experience with a crow in my backyard that had a broken wing. It made a nest in a bush and slept lying on it's front. So I'm 100% certain they can sleep lying down, they just prefer the safety of a tree perch when they can use it.

WriteKnight
12-06-2011, 12:32 AM
I live next to a 'raptor preserve'. A huge field, or heath that is criss-crossed with field mice (Voles). Overhead on any day you will see falcons, hawks and RAVENS hunting the little buggers. Yep, seen a Raven grab one on the fly. Might be they'd PREFER eating from the left-behinds but it's pretty competitive out there. When they can't scavenge stuff in the dumpsters at the parking lots, they hunt.

And they are HUGE.

mirandashell
12-06-2011, 12:58 AM
I would imagine that ravens in urban areas do scavange much more than those in the wild. Purely because it's a lot easier. Considering how much food humans throw away.

Drachen Jager
12-06-2011, 01:22 AM
There don't tend to be many ravens in urban areas. Not around here anyhow, outside the city there are lots, but I think they're out-competed by crows in the more densely populated areas.

mirandashell
12-06-2011, 01:26 AM
There's quite a few round by me.

Crows, magpies, ravens... not many jackdaws.

Bushrat
12-06-2011, 03:13 AM
I don't think a raven would use its talons as a weapon. I cared for an injured raven for a few days, and his claws didn't seem like something that would inflict much damage.
The beak, however, is a different matter. On human skin, it could cause injuries - they can peck very powerfully, pinch and pull.

As Lillie said, Bernd Heinrich has two excellent books out about ravens.

Vilya
12-06-2011, 06:39 AM
Well thank you everyone for your comments. I had a suspicion that their claws weren't anything that could do real harm, but having not ever seen one up close....I had to know for sure.

As for the problem with the mass, I supose I was asking the reader to accept something that is not physically possible. And those of you who mentioned it are absolutely right. It is not scientifically correct at all. So I have taken it on advisement, and will think seriously about scrapping the whole thing. Though to be honest I wasn't really going for scientific integrity, but I also didn't know that it bothered so many people. Back to the drawing board again.

But that doesn't stop my MC from having a raven familiar. :)

Thank you all so much for your time.

Lillie
12-06-2011, 08:30 AM
Not true. As I said before most species of birds lie down on a nest to keep the eggs warm. Often they sleep. I also have personal experience with a crow in my backyard that had a broken wing. It made a nest in a bush and slept lying on it's front. So I'm 100% certain they can sleep lying down, they just prefer the safety of a tree perch when they can use it.

Yes, they sit differently on the nest, and of course they sleep 'lying' on the eggs. I was ignoring that as it didn't seem relevant to the question. That's a specific part of a ravens life, and I didn't think that the raven/person in the story would be having eggs.

If you have seen one sleeping lying down, then I can't argue with that. But it's very unusual and probably due to the injury it had suffered.