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Things you only know if you’re the Tower of London’s Ravenmaster

James Manning
Written by
James Manning

…according to Chris Skaife, 52.

The ravens in the Tower are free to go

There is a legend: should the ravens leave the Tower of London, it’ll crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom. But over the last couple of years, I’ve given the ravens a lot more freedom of flight than we have done in the past – partly to help them fly away from foxes. I still trim their flight feathers, but only one or two now. They could fly away, but they usually don’t. This is their home, and they’re very territorial.

They were originally wild animals…

There were once thousands of wild birds in London. The ravens would come in and pick at the dead bodies floating down the River Thames, the meat around Smithfield market and London’s various execution sites. They naturally settled in high spots, and one of the highest spots would have been the turrets of the White Tower at the centre of the fortress.

…and for the most part, they still are

They do bite: I have scars up my arms. They’re as wild as I can possibly keep them. If I made them all tame and friendly, they’d sit on the visitors’ laps and start stealing their sandwiches – and if they were to fly off, they’d have less chance of survival in the wild.

Each raven has its own personality

Rocky’s the most scaredy-cat raven in the world. Erin bosses everyone around. Merlina is a duchess: she lives in the Queen’s House, where the Constable of the Tower of London lives, and has a tendency to bury her food in his garden and pull up all his flowers.

Teaching ravens to speak is a bad idea

They are mighty intelligent, and if you get them at a young enough age, they can usually pick up human vocalisations, as well as the sounds of washing machines, cars and all sorts. But I don’t encourage them to speak human here, otherwise anyone could teach them anything. There’s nothing worse than walking past a raven and it telling you to go away in a really explicit manner.

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London’ by Chris Skaife is published by HarperCollins on October 4.

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