Every spring, the NFL Draft allows teams to restock their supply of young talent in hopes of finding the right mix of athletes to lead their teams for years to come. The Ravens operate under this same planning philosophy and welcomed ten new members to the family during the draft last April, including Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco and Rutgers running back Ray Rice. But just as their maneuvering on draft day would indicate, the Ravens were not satisfied with just these red star studs. And although General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Director of College Scouting Eric DeCosta were not involved, the Ravens organization selected two additional baby birds to join our feathered flock that weekend, and you can just about guarantee they will be a part of the team longer than anyone whose name was called in New York.
Without further adieu, join me in welcoming to the Ravens – two baby ravens. That's right, as much as we love Poe; we now have two members of the Ravens family who actually belong to the species. (They technically belong to the Corvidae family, but only you ornithologists* *out there probably care about that.)
The two birds, who are among a rare breed of African White Nape Ravens, were born on April 26, 2008 and will be raised and trained by Daniel Walthers of Commerce, GA. Walthers, who has worked with exotic birds for over 30 years, starting at the age of 9, jumped at the chance to train these ravens for the Ravens.
"It's unbelievable to be able to educate people about this bird," said Walthers. "There really is not a smarter bird on the planet."
Don't expect the birds to share play-calling duties with Cam Cameron, but according to Walthers, ravens are smart enough to not only obey commands, but have also been shown to be able to figure out puzzles. As a result, ravens have been used for commercial purposes that require a more specific skill than just flying in the background or returning to your shoulder. In fact, one raven appropriately named, Hollywood, was used in the movie *The Pirates of the Caribbean *to perform a stunt that required the bird to take an eye out of a pirate's skull.
Daniel and his wife, Teresa have already begun working with the birds despite the fact that they are less than six weeks old. They will actually live in the family's lower level of their home, although they will spend just as much time outside on their 40-acre property and in the very same living quarters shared by Daniel, Teresa, Christina (age 10) and Matthew (age 8). Who knows? They may even be invited to watch a few preseason games to get ready for the year ahead.
The two birds, however, will be kept separate throughout their training period so that they learn to bond with Daniel and Teresa, rather than each other. The goal is for them to look to the Walthers for comfort, almost as a parent, so that they trust them and look to them for guidance during performances. And although ravens are known for their smarts, it is their intelligence that will make them so difficult to work with.
"When you fly a bird like a hawk or an eagle, all they think about is food," explained Daniel. "You can have one of those birds fly up in the sky, come back and hit the lure. All they think about is food." (Hear that Philly fans? Are you listening Seattle? Your mascots don't sound so mighty now, do they?)
A raven, you see, is much more inquisitive than most common birds and is always thinking. Imagine Ray Lewis eyeing up Peyton Manning on a 3rd and 7. So the training requires much greater control over the environment right from the start.
Ravens fans, however, won't have to wait that long to get a glimpse of their new namesakes. The organization will maintain continual coverage of their progress and growth on BaltimoreRavens.com throughout the summer, and according to Ravens Marketing and Promotions Coordinator, Heather Blocher, the ravens will be on display as early as training camp, with plans for the birds to perform at the start of the season.
"The fans will have the opportunity to meet them in person and grow to realize how intelligent, social and special the raven is." Added Ravens Vice President of Marketing, Gabrielle Dow, "Whether it is a photo op, listening to them talk or learning something new while at training camp or on Ravenswalk, we hope to offer our fans something interactive and fun through this experience."
Although they will only be 3 months old at the start of camp, Walthers claims that they will appear to be fully-grown birds after just 8-10 weeks. This is a survival of the fittest scheme at work as their rapid maturation allows ravens to leave the nest early to avoid being eaten by predators. One can only hope Flacco and Rice digest their playbooks as quickly to avoid being eaten by any Bengals or Jaguars lurking later this year. But before the theatrics, a more pressing concern must be addressed – what to call these beautiful birds. That will be left up to you.
Starting Monday, June 2, 2008, Ravens fans will have a chance to submit potential names for the two ravens, who not only share the same trainer, but shared the same nest when they were born. You could choose to name them after Ravens players of the past, present or future: Goose and Gregg? Ray and Reed? Flacco and Rice? Perhaps an homage to Baltimore's football roots with former Colts thrown into the mix: Berry and Unitas? Moore and Mackey? Why not brand them after some other notable Baltimoreons? There has to be a clever connection to Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair/bird's nest. Or you could consider catchphrases from Charm City's lexicon: Old Bay and Natty Boh? Hampden and Highland? Hon and, well, Hon Too?
No matter what approach you take, these birds will be ready for their routines this September, although their performances should prove to be anything but routine. Walthers won't reveal his plans just yet, but he will say that the bar will be set high for these amazing animals. And considering that the average raven can live until the age of 60, RavensNation should have the chance to watch these birds soar beyond the bar for years to come. The plan has been hatched, it's time for these ravens and those Ravens to take flight.
Daniel Walthers has been working with exotic birds and animals for more than 30 years, including horses, camels, emus, parrots, toucans, cranes, raptors and of course, ravens. He has put on shows with more than 15 birds at a time and has focused much of his career on educating people on the animals he trains. A resident of Commerce, GA, you might expect Daniel to have an affinity for the Atlanta Falcons, but don't worry Baltimore, when asked if he was a football fan, Walthers responded, "I am now. And I will most certainly be a Ravens fan!"