Living Bird Magazine
Common RavenCorvus corax
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Corvidae
The intriguing Common Raven has accompanied people around the Northern Hemisphere for centuries, following their wagons, sleds, sleighs, and hunting parties in hopes of a quick meal. Ravens are among the smartest of all birds, gaining a reputation for solving ever more complicated problems invented by ever more creative scientists. These big, sooty birds thrive among humans and in the back of beyond, stretching across the sky on easy, flowing wingbeats and filling the empty spaces with an echoing croak.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for ravens anywhere from the outskirts of towns (particularly landfills) to foothill forests or scrub, and out to the deep woods of mountains and national parks. If they’re around you’re likely to hear a deep gurgling croak from far overhead: look for a long-tailed black bird flying on long wings and easy, graceful wingbeats. When driving, keep an eye out for them on the roadsides, gathered at roadkill, or flying straight down the center line on the lookout.
- Cuervo Grande (Spanish)
- Grand Corbeau (French)
You can attract ravens to your yard by leaving out large amounts of seed, grain, or pet food, or simply by not putting the top securely on your garbage can. These tactics might cause more trouble than they’re worth, though, attracting rodents and other pest animals or luring in ravens that may then raid nests in your yard. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- The Common Raven is an acrobatic flier, often doing rolls and somersaults in the air. One bird was seen flying upside down for more than a half-mile. Young birds are fond of playing games with sticks, repeatedly dropping them, then diving to catch them in midair.
- Breeding pairs of Common Ravens hold territories and try to exclude all other ravens throughout the year. In winter, young ravens finding a carcass will call other ravens to the prize. They apparently do this to overwhelm the local territory owners by force of numbers to gain access to the food.
- Common Ravens are smart, which makes them dangerous predators. They sometimes work in pairs to raid seabird colonies, with one bird distracting an incubating adult and the other waiting to grab an egg or chick as soon as it’s uncovered. They’ve been seen waiting in trees as ewes give birth, then attacking the newborn lambs.
- They also use their intellect to put together cause and effect. A study in Wyoming discovered that during hunting season, the sound of a gunshot draws ravens in to investigate a presumed carcass, whereas the birds ignore sounds that are just as loud but harmless, such as an airhorn or a car door slamming.
- People the world over sense a certain kind of personality in ravens. Edgar Allan Poe clearly found them a little creepy. The captive ravens at the Tower of London are beloved and perhaps a little feared: legend has it that if they ever leave the tower, the British Empire will crumble. Native people of the Pacific Northwest regard the raven as an incurable trickster, bringing fire to people by stealing it from the sun, and stealing salmon only to drop them in rivers all over the world.
- Increasing raven populations threaten some vulnerable species including desert tortoises, Marbled Murrelets, and Least Terns. Ravens can cause trouble for people too. They’ve been implicated in causing power outages by contaminating insulators on power lines, fouling satellite dishes at the Goldstone Deep Space Site, peeling radar absorbent material off buildings at the Chinal Lake Naval Weapons center, pecking holes in airplane wings, stealing golf balls, opening campers’ tents, and raiding cars left open at parks.
- Common Ravens can mimic the calls of other bird species. When raised in captivity, they can even imitate human words; one Common Raven raised from birth was taught to mimic the word “nevermore.”
- The oldest known wild Common Raven was at least 22 years, 7 months old. It was banded and found in Nova Scotia.