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    Common Raven Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat ForestsCommon Ravens occur over most of the Northern Hemisphere in nearly any habitat (eastern forests and the open Great Plains are exceptions). These include coniferous and deciduous forests, beaches, islands, chaparral, sagebrush, mountains, desert, grasslands, agricultural fields, tundra, and ice floes. They do well around human habitations including farms, rural settlements and isolated houses. In larger towns they are often replaced by American Crows, although they do occur in some cities including Los Angeles. Human presence has allowed ravens to expand into areas where they didn’t previously occur, such as using artificial ponds and irrigation to survive in deserts and living on human garbage in some forests. Common Ravens are slowly moving back into the forests of the northeastern United States and Canada as those forests regenerate.Back to top

    Food

    Food OmnivoreCommon Ravens will eat almost anything they can get hold of. They eat carrion; small animals from the size of mice and baby tortoises up to adult Rock Pigeons and nestling Great Blue Herons; eggs; grasshoppers, beetles, scorpions, and other arthropods; fish; wolf and sled-dog dung; grains, buds, and berries; pet food; and many types of human food including unattended picnic items and garbage.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest CliffCommon Ravens build their nests on cliffs, in trees, and on structures such as power-line towers, telephone poles, billboards, and bridges. Cliff nests are usually under a rock overhang. Tree nests tend to be in a crotch high in the tree, but below the canopy and typically farther down in a tree than a crow’s nest would be.

    Nest Description

    Males bring some sticks to the nest, but most of the building is done by females. Ravens break off sticks around 3 feet long and up to an inch thick from live plants to make up the nest base, or scavenge sticks from old nests. These sticks, and sometimes bones or wire as well, are piled on the nest platform or wedged into a tree crotch, then woven together into a basket. The female then makes a cup from small branches and twigs. The cup bottom is sometimes lined with mud, sheep’s wool, fur, bark strips, grasses, and sometimes trash. The whole process takes around 9 days, resulting in an often uneven nest that can be 5 feet across and 2 feet high. The inner cup is 9-12 inches across and 5-6 inches deep. Nests are often reused, although not necessarily by the same birds, from year to year.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:3-7 eggs
    Number of Broods:1 brood
    Egg Length:1.7-2.0 in (4.4-5.2 cm)
    Egg Width:1.2-1.4 in (3.1-3.6 cm)
    Incubation Period:20-25 days
    Nestling Period:28-50 days
    Egg Description:Green, olive, or blue, often mottled with dark greenish, olive, or purplish brown.
    Condition at Hatching:Naked except for sparse tufts of grayish down, eyes closed, clumsy, and looking like “grotesque gargoyles” according to a 1945 description.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Ground ForagerCommon Ravens are so bold, playful, and clever that they’re almost always doing something worth watching. They’re less gregarious than crows, often seen alone or in pairs that stay together year round, although many may gather at a carcass or landfill. Large groups of ravens are probably young birds that have yet to pair up; ravens begin breeding at ages 2 to 4. On the ground ravens walk confidently, sometimes with a swagger, sometimes sidling. In flight they’re more graceful and agile than crows, which often appear to be swimming across the sky compared to a raven’s light wingbeats and occasional soaring. Ravens often perform aerobatics, including sudden rolls, wing-tucked dives, and playing with objects by dropping and catching them in midair. Known for their intelligence, Common Ravens can work together to solve novel problems. They sometimes follow people and possibly female cowbirds to find nests to raid. (Ravens have followed researchers as they set up artificial nests, raiding them soon after the researchers left.) Young ravens just out of the nest pick up and examine almost anything new they run across as they learn what’s useful and what isn’t. Ravens that find a big food supply (such as a large carcass or unguarded seabird nests) often cache some for later, the way other crows and jays store seeds.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernCommon Raven populations increased across the continent between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population to be 20 million with 18% living in Canada, 9% in the U.S., and 3% in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Common Ravens tend to do well around people, profiting from the garbage, crops, irrigation, and roadkill that accompany us. Their numbers are generally stable or rising in western North America. As eastern forests were cut down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ravens disappeared from most of eastern North America, but they are beginning to return to the Northeast as forest cover regenerates. In many situations ravens are unwelcome: they have been shot at, poisoned, or harassed in attempts to preserve crops (and occasionally livestock such as lambs). Ravens sometimes prey on threatened species, including Least Terns, Marbled Murrelets, and desert tortoises, and wildlife biologists have spent a lot of effort and ingenuity in trying to thwart ravens to help those species, with mixed success.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    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.

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    Credits

    Boarman, William I. and Bernd Heinrich. 1999. Common Raven (Corvus corax), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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