From Iceland — “Ha? Ha? Ha?” – What Is This Raven Trying To Tell Us?

“Ha? Ha? Ha?” – What Is This Raven Trying To Tell Us?

Published September 11, 2023

“Ha? Ha? Ha?” – What Is This Raven Trying To Tell Us?
Photo by
Art Bicnick

When I heard about a talking raven in Iceland, I knew I had to meet him; no other options were considered

“Hi! Could you briefly introduce yourself?”

“Krummi.”

“How are you today, Krummi?”

“Ha?” 

“What do you do for work?”

“Ha?”

As I arrive at Hólar farm in Búðardalur, six dogs greet me at the driveway, which means we’re off to a good start. Soon after, I realise my interviewee isn’t very interested in me and doesn’t seem to understand my questions. Maybe it’s because I don’t speak Icelandic, or because he’s a raven? Let me try one more time. “Krummi, how are you today?”

A blank look, followed by an enthusiastic: “Mamma!”

From rescue to family

“Mamma” is Rebecca Cathrine Kaad Ostenfeld, who runs this petting farm and rescue centre. She’s known for taking injured animals from the wild, caring for them and bringing them back to their natural habitat. This is precisely how Krummi found his way to this farm seven years ago. “Krummi came here when he was a baby,” shares Rebecca, while Krummi plays with his toys nearby. “Someone called me and said, ‘We have a raven here who’s been in an accident. Can you take it?’ I replied, ‘Of course.’ When I got him, he was just lying on the ground, he couldn’t fly and his feet were not really straight. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what shall I do?’ and I decided to bring it home.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

“The first two to three weeks, I fed him every second hour,” Rebecca continues. “I made small boxes with all kinds of food – beef, pork, even reindeer.” In a few weeks, Rebecca started taking Krummi outside to lie in the grass and cuddle, and slowly, he began to jump around. “Krummi never flew and will never fly,” says Rebecca, adding, “I have no idea if it’s a boy or a girl, and I don’t want to know! I don’t care. I just love Krummi.” [Rebecca does believe Krummi is male, so he’ll be referred to as one in this article.]

When he was about two years old, Krummi started to talk.

From the very beginning, Rebecca saw that Krummi was extremely intelligent. “When he came here, I could see that in his eyes – he wanted to live. Sometimes when animals, or even humans, are saying goodbye to life, you can see they have this look of ‘I’m ready,’” she says. “Krummi never had that. He was always like, ‘Yes, give me a chance. Come on, let’s fight it together. I love you. Do you love me?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I love you to pieces, Krummi.’”

It’s illegal to take ravens from nature and keep them as pets. Krummi is one of the only ravens in Iceland living in captivity. “He would never have survived in the wild,” says Rebecca, emphasising that it was never her intention to keep him. Krummi listens to the conversation attentively, takes a few steps, and utters, “Mamma.” Similarly to other injured wild animals that end up at Hólar, Rebecca hoped Krummi would be able to return to nature. “The moment I took him, I realised that he would never fly. I knew that for the next 25 years or so, Krummi would be a part of the family,” she says.

The raven’s first words

When he was about two years old, Krummi started to talk. “Every time my children went down to the stable – and I’m talking about many times a day – they would always call ‘mamma,’” Rebecca explains. “I always responded, hugged them or gave them a kiss. Krummi had been sitting here and seeing that whenever they called ‘mamma,’ I came. One day, out of the blue, he just started to say ‘mamma.’”

Rebecca admits that hearing Krummi talk for the first time was shocking. She thought she was going crazy. “My daughter and I were home alone on a winter day. Suddenly, somebody said, ‘Mamma.’ I thought it was my daughter, so I asked, ‘Honey, what’s up?’ She said, ‘Mom, I didn’t say a word. Could it be the raven?’”

Photo by Art Bicnick

These days, “mamma” is one of Krummi’s favourite words. “He always says it when he sees me, hears my voice, or if I leave him and he wants me to return. He also says, ‘Krummi.’ We’ve been calling him Krummi from the second he came. It’s a nickname for a raven in Icelandic,” says Rebecca. Krummi has also learned to say ‘hæ’ (hi), and according to Rebecca, he can even put together ‘Hæ, Krummi!’ and ‘Hæ, mamma!’ “He also says ‘ha?’ and I think that’s one of the most used phrases in Iceland. If you say something to an Icelandic person, they’re always like, “Ha?” (huh?),” she adds. Over the years, Krummi’s vocabulary has expanded to sometimes include ‘heyrðu’ (listen), ‘hættu’ (stop), ‘komdu’ (come), ‘já’ (yes), ‘nei’ (no), as well as a few names of people he knows, including Baltasar (yes, the film director Baltasar Kormákur). 

Rebecca blushes and adds, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t teach him this one, but he can also say ‘typpi’ (penis).’”

Krummi isn’t a raven of many words, but he certainly chooses them wisely. Rebecca recalls a man named Gunnar who spent the whole winter trying to teach Krummi his name. Krummi certainly had enough of that – one day, he looked Gunnar in the eye and said, “Hættu!”

Netflix howls

A talking raven would have easily satisfied your daily need for animal cuteness, but brace yourself for more. Krummi is also an aspiring actor known for his appearance in the Netflix series Katla. Even though he didn’t have to say a word on the show, Rebecca admits she hesitated for a long time when Netflix approached her.

“Many people have contacted me about making videos with him, music videos, and so on,” says Rebecca. “I have always said ‘no’ because that was not the idea. If you involve him in something, it can be very stressful for him. His feet aren’t okay, and I’m very protective of him.” 

As we talk, Krummi is a bit shy about discussing his acting career. He’s more interested in a duck’s egg – one of his favourite things to eat.

She admits that she refused the offer from Netflix a few times before one of the team members visited Krummi. “He came, and he was just the most wonderful person. The respect he had for Krummi and other animals is the respect I want when people are around them.”

Once Rebecca and her husband agreed to accept Netflix’s offer, a long road trip awaited Krummi – the Katla shoot took place in Vík, at least 350 km from Hólar farm. The family took some days off work and hit the road. “We stopped many times – we visited Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Dyrhólaey, and went down to the fjord with Krummi. We stopped a lot, sat outside in the grass, played, had some fun, and then continued again,” recalls Rebecca.

Photo by Art Bicnick

During the filming, Rebecca didn’t leave Krummi alone even once. “He’s my soulmate. If I left, he would have been stressed, sad and wouldn’t have felt comfortable. I was always less than a half metre from him.”

As we talk, Krummi is a bit shy about discussing his acting career. He’s more interested in a duck’s egg – one of his favourite things to eat.

The star of the farm 

Krummi’s acting days might be over, but all eyes remain on him. Every day in the summer, he greets visitors at Hólar farm, welcoming them to his stable. “Our doors are never closed for anybody. We always have people coming. He loves the attention,” says Rebecca. “Sometimes he doesn’t speak, but maybe just because he doesn’t want to.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

Krummi is afraid of the wild ravens that fly over the farm, but otherwise, he’s the heart and soul of the farm. One moment, he’s chatting with a pair of ducks; the next, he’s howling at a serious-looking turkey. Meanwhile, dogs try to steal food from him, and he cracks some inside jokes with Rebecca. As for me, this time, I’ll settle for ‘Ha?’

Follow Hólar farm minizoo in Iceland on Facebook for updates from Krummi and other animals

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