The Raven is our largest all-black bird, and our largest song bird, although its song is not that pretty. It is about 20-25″ long with a wing span of 40-48″. Did you know that a Raven keeps warm in the winter by upping its resting metabolic rate? When the temperature drops outside it is able to raise its metabolism slightly!
The Raven has a heavy black bill and a wedge shaped tail which can be seen in flight. They are hard to tell apart from American Crows, but Ravens have thicker and more curved beaks than the crow and shaggy throat feathers. Another way to identify the Ravens is by their wedge-shaped tail feathers. Crows have rounded fan-shaped tails. They also flap their wings less and glide more than a crow. They have black legs and feet. Ravens can live from 50 to 100 years.
Range & Habitat
No other bird is as widespread as the Raven. Ravens are found in wooded areas, coastal regions, on the tundra, rocky cliffs, mountain forests, desert canyons and on the open plains.
Ravens are very intelligent. They have large brains and possess the ability to solve problems. They learn from trial and error, manipulation of objects, imitation and insight.
Ravens are great opportunists. They will eat everything including carrion, rodents, insect, grains, lizards, small birds, snakes, berries, and garbage including paper, colored glass and plastic. They also have been known to prey on sick and injured animals. They carefully store food in caches, especially those foods containing fat. They will raid caches of other species and are able to follow wolves to carcasses in the winter. Individual Ravens are known to communicate information about carcasses to other Ravens.
Their voices are a low horse resonant croak or “kaw”, but they can make a number of sounds. A study in Alaska has shown that Ravens can make more than 30 different vocalizations, although their vocals will vary in different parts of the country. They have many different calls: hunger calls, defense calls, flight calls, alarm calls, whistles and for advertising their territory. Ravens will talk all the time; they squawk, knock, and can make a number of unusual noises. They also do bill snapping, clicking and clapping.
They are alert birds with sharp eyes and hearing. They are excellent fliers, often putting on aerial acrobatics. They are able to hover like a Kestrel or soar like a hawk. You may find a flock of hundreds during fall migration; however, adult Ravens are more solitary than crows and usually travel in mated pairs. They socialize, fight predators together and actually “date”. Ravens will also groom each other.
Young Ravens may form juvenile flocks or “gangs”, which helps them when they are foraging for food. They actually play together, flying and catching objects in the air. They will make their own toys for entertainment, play with wolves or dogs in a game of chase, and even slide down snow hills!
Breeding & Nesting
Ravens don’t mate until they are about three. They must have their own territory before nesting. New couples form in the winter or spring and will stay together for life. When a male Raven is interested in a female, he will puff up his feathers and make a series of bowing motions, spreading his tail and his wings to display iridescent feathers. He may invite the female to take a flight where they perform spectacular acrobatics, soaring and gliding together. Their flight of dives and rolls is their way of getting to know each other. The nest is built high on cliffs, tree tops or tree cavities. It consists of sticks, moss and bark. The eggs are incubated by the female, but the chicks are fed by both adults after they hatch. The parents stay with the chicks for 6 months after they fledge. The adults are able to defend their chicks from predators because of their size and their brains. Ravens have been known to drop rocks on a would-be predator to deter it from their nest!