In London, a raven rendezvous Birds: David Modell visits the Tower of London, where the Ravens' namesakes have stood as sentinels for more than 900 years.


LONDON -- Well, there was at least one team of ravens that had a good year.

Protected by royal decree, beloved by tourists, the ravens at the Tower of London didn't disappoint their millions of fans in 1996. ,, They simply showed up and frolicked every day inside the medieval fortress by the Thames River.

Too bad football teams don't run as smoothly as these eight birds.

Yesterday, Baltimore Ravens executive vice president David Modell showed up at the Tower of London to pay his respects and learn about the world's most famous ravens.

Ever since his father's football team moved from Cleveland to Baltimore and received its nickname after a fan ballot, Modell has become something of a raven maven.

He can imitate the raven caw. He can detect when a bird is about to strike with a nasty bite. And he appreciates watching a raven in full flight.

But when it comes to raven trivia, Modell finally has met his match.

David Cope, the bearded, silver-haired Yeoman Ravenmaster, took Modell on the ultimate raven tour inside the Tower of London, which has been a palace, prison, execution site, royal armory and depository for the crown jewels during its more than 900 years of existence.

"Around here, I'm commonly known amongst my colleagues as Dave the Rave," said Cope, who wears the familiar "Beefeater" outfit of overcoat and hat.

Cope doesn't know much about American football. But he sure knows birds.

"I look after the birds, feed them, get them out of bed, and get them back to bed at night," he said. "They're all my babies."

Standing inside a guardhouse that has been staffed every night since 1280, Cope gave Modell the short history on the ravens' long tour of duty at the Tower of London.

Apparently, ravens have patrolled the Tower of London throughout its history, eventually making their home by the base of the massive White Tower.

"The legend is, should they ever leave here, the White Tower should crumble and a great disaster should befall England," Cope said.

"In 1661, Charles II gave a royal command that we must keep six birds on the ground," Cope added. "We keep two more, to make it eight."

The ravens, like Britain, went through hard times when German planes bombed London during World War II.

"By 1946, we were down to one raven," Cope said. "Things got a bit shaky. Considering the noise and disturbance of the war, it wasn't unusual. Four of the buildings on the grounds were

destroyed by bombs."

But after the war, the raven stock was replenished. And now, the Tower Ravens are as much a part of the London tourist scene as Buckingham Palace.

Each day, thousands of tourists stop and stare at the regal birds.

And Cope knows all the birds by name and sight. They range in age from 20 months to 26 years.

"The birds all have different characters," he said. "They're playful when they're young. When they get older, they take on added responsibilities. They'll stake out their territory and if you don't separate them, they will fight to the death."

Why don't they just fly off?

"We trim their flight feathers, so they will just come back," he said.

Cope then told Modell, "If you've got uncontrollable football players, maybe you can clip their wings."

Finally, the two men exchanged gifts. Cope handed Modell a gold raven medallion. Modell gave the Ravenmaster a genuine Vinny Testaverde Ravens jersey.

One of Cope's colleagues took a look at the raven patch on the jersey and said, "By God, he's an ugly devil."

Pub Date: 12/28/96

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