Common ravens (Corvus corax) are human-subsidized scavengers and predators in the Mojave Desert. They have increased dramatically in number and have been implicated as contributors to the decline in desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) populations. Known patterns of increased fledging success near human developments suggested that food was the most likely resource subsidy received by ravens. Because ravens are opportunistic foragers with a generalist diet, we predicted that the types of resource subsidy provided by different kinds of human developments should be reflected in measures of diet composition of breeding ravens. We estimated diet composition from contents of raven pellets collected at nests and related diet composition to distance of the nests from roads and point sources of resource subsidies, such as towns or landfills. Ravens that nested close to point subsidies far from major roads had the greatest incidence of trash in their diets. Ravens that nested close to roads but far from point subsidies had a low incidence of trash and a higher incidence of presumably road-killed mammals and reptiles. Ravens far from both roads and point subsidies had more plant material and arthropods, and ravens close to both roads and point subsidies had more birds and amphibians. Diet diversity was not related to distance from roads or developments. Fledging success was correlated with diet composition, such that birds with diets consistent with trash or road-kill subsidies fledged the greatest number of chicks. Our results suggest that ravens forage opportunistically on foods available near their nests, and different kinds of human developments contribute different foods. Improved management of landfills and highway fencing to reduce road-kills may help slow the growth of raven populations in the Mojave.
Additional publication details
Diet composition of common ravens across the urban-wildland interface of the West Mojave Desert