An employee of the Audubon Society of Portland since 1992, director of conservation Bob Sallinger always wanted a raven. Twelve years ago, his wish came true.
In 2008, a 3-week-old corvid that had been taken illegally from the wild was brought to the organization’s Forest Park wildlife sanctuary, which rehabilitates birds before re-releasing them. Audubon staff, including Sallinger, tried to introduce the hatchling to adult ravens who seemed willing to raise the avian infant. But the baby bird kept waddling back to sanctuary staff. He had imprinted on the humans, and couldn’t adapt to life outside the sanctuary.
Sallinger decided to name the raven Aristophanes, after the famous Greek playwright who wrote The Birds, one of Sallinger’s favorite pieces of literature. A decade later, Aristophanes, or Ari to his handlers, has become one of the sanctuary’s longest and most beloved residents.
“He’s just an awesome bird,” says Sallinger. “He’s kind of like a very curious, adventurous 5-year-old. He’s an incredibly intelligent bird.”
Ari’s cage sits near the Wildwood Trail at the top of Balch Canyon, where he can be found constantly exploring his surroundings and cooing to staff with a soft, almost humanoid call that sounds like he’s saying, “Hey.” Sometimes, wild ravens call to him from nearby trees. Audubon employees have to work constantly to keep Ari entertained, whether it’s by rearranging the perches in his cage or putting his food in boxes for him to open. But according to Sallinger, Ari is happiest when he can work with handlers outside his cage.
As cute as it sounds, Sallinger emphasizes that there is some sadness to the story of Aristophanes. “In an ideal world,” he says, “he would be free.” But since imprinting is irreversible, at least Ari is appreciated by his adoptive species.
“People love him,” says Sallinger. “That’s part of the message of Aristophanes—to help us keep wild animals wild, here’s what you can do. And he’s a great ambassador for that.”
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