Common Raven Facts (Corvus corax)

common raven

The common raven (Corvus corax), also known as the Northern raven or the Western raven, is the largest passerine bird species in the western hemisphere and one of the most intelligent birds on earth!

It’s also the most widely distributed member of the Corvidae family, which includes ravens, crows, jays, magpies, and others. But how much do you really know about this magnificent bird?

Corvus corax is an all-black bird of the genus Corvus and found across the Northern and Western Hemispheres, it has most often been treated as belonging to its own genus and family, with some recent evidence suggesting it should be included in the core corvids.

With an average life span of 10 to 15 years in the wild, these beautiful common raven birds have been known to live as long as 25 years in captivity, though such longevity is incredibly rare for these large birds.

Description

common raven

The common raven, also known as the Northern raven, is a large all-black passerine bird. Found across the Northern and Western hemispheres, this clever and adaptable species has made itself at home in most habitats. They’ve nested even in New York City’s Central Park – you might spot them along with other members of their genus like rooks and crows.

They eat almost anything they can find, from insects to carrion. Sometimes they’ll cache food for later too. And just like their much smaller cousins the Jackdaw and Rook, Ravens sometimes join forces to hunt bigger prey animals such as deer or coyotes.

Common raven scientific name

The scientific name of the common raven is Corvus corax

Common raven range and habitat

Forests, especially coniferous forests and rocky coastlines, are home to large numbers of common ravens. Ravens live in forests, but they can also survive in arid deserts and mountains in the West. However, they are much less common there. Communication is a key characteristic of ravens.

Common raven size and weight

It is about the size of a red-tailed hawk, measuring 21 to 26 inches (54 to 67 cm) in length with a 45 to 51 inches (115 to 150 cm) wingspan. Common ravens are about 24 to 70 oz (0.69 to 2 kg) in weight.

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Feathers and plumage

common raven

Black in color with feathers reflecting a vivid iridescence in blue, green, and purple colors, a raven sometimes displays an oily or wet sheen to its feathers.

Molting

Ravens are one of the few birds that undergo a type of molting called ‘feather molt.’ Most birds go through a partial feather molt, but ravens go through a complete feather molt.

This can be triggered by stressful periods in their lives such as weaning young or after migration.

During the molt, feathers grow in replacement from follicles on their body and once they have grown, the old feathers fall out. Feathers consist of keratin which is not soluble in water and therefore cannot be flushed out during preening.

Keratin builds up inside their bodies and as this happens, some ravens will develop an intolerance to sunlight and become lethargic until it passes. In cases where there is too much buildup of keratin caused by excessive molting during stressful periods of life, it can cause inflammation to occur within the chest cavity which is often fatal for the bird.

Nesting behavior

Ravens are a large and social species, typically nesting in close proximity to each other during the breeding season. They often nest in treetops or on rock ledges. Typically, they will build their nests out of sticks and lay on a lining of bark chips.

Nests range from low heaps of twigs to more elaborate tall structures, with multiple entrances, and can measure anywhere from 4-8 feet across. The clutch size is between 3 to 7 eggs.

Common raven diet and foraging

Ravens birds are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of things, such as insects, fruits, and even carrion. They often will tear up the body of their prey to get at nutritious organs. The raven’s diet is usually around 40% invertebrates, 33% plant material, and 27% vertebrates.

Their diet consists primarily of animal prey when it can be found in large quantities. They forage over about 50-100 square miles for food each day.

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Common raven sounds and vocal behavior

Common Raven vocalizations range from a low, gurgling sound to a harsh, grating noise and a shrill alarm call. Researchers have classified vocalizations into 33 categories based on their sound and context.

You’ll hear it mostly in an otherworldly chugging sound that rises in pitch at the back of the throat. A raven’s call is much deeper and more musical than a crow’s simple, scratchy cry. When a raven hears other ravens in the distance, they will emit a call that can be heard up to a mile away.

Ravens use two different types of calls: they are repeating and shrill when they are chasing predators, and they make deep and rasping sounds when their nests are disturbed.

Females in their time of the month often tap or knock loudly in rapid succession. Studies have proven that common Ravens are capable of mimicking other birds and captive-reared are even capable of learning words.

Snapping of the beak during displays is a characteristic behavior of both male and female ravens. Females often snap their bills at the end of their rapid knocking call.

Breeding

common raven

Usually, clutches are started in March or April, with breeding occurring between mid-February and late May. In order to attract a mate, females crouch or open, extend, or droop their wings and shake or quiver their slightly raised tails.

The length of the winter determines the breeding season in different regions. Incubation usually lasts between 20 and 25 days and three to seven eggs are laid per nest.

The raven nests are made mostly of sticks and are asymmetrical in shape. Their diameter ranges from 40 – 153 cm, and their height at the base is 20 – 61 cm, while their diameter is 22 – 40 cm and their depth is 13 – 15 cm.

Between the ages of 5 and 7 weeks, the raven babies leave the nest. After that, they may decide to leave the area, and/or their family, within a week, or they may decide to remain with their parents for a longer period of time. Around the age of three, baby ravens reach sexual maturity.

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Common raven lifespan

The common raven birds will typically live for about 10 to 15 years in the wild, but will typically live up to 25 years in captivity.

Movements and migration

The common raven is migratory and will fly for miles to find food, roosts, and nesting grounds. Ravens are territorial but during the winter many gather at winter roosts. These winter roosts sometimes contain more than 20,000 ravens.

Ravens can fly as fast as 55 mph and can reach a height of 10,000 feet in a single flight. They have been clocked flying 150 miles in a day’s time. They live around 10 years on average and have few natural predators due to their aggressive behavior when defending themselves or their territory from attack.

Diseases and threats

In the past, the Common Raven has been infected with several diseases such as psittacosis, Salmonella, and even mites. Unfortunately, they have also been threatened by humans over time with many of them being hunted to extinction.

Population status

Globally, there are more than 16,000,000 Common ravens, according to the IUCN Red List. Approximately 1,220,000 to 2,320,000 mature individuals make up the European population. This equates to around 611,000 to 1,160,000 pairs.

Conservation and management

The common raven was placed on the list of threatened species by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2013, but only due to habitat changes. This species is currently in no danger of extinction. In fact, they are thriving!

Difference between ravens and crows

The difference between raven and crow birds are their size, large bills, triangle-shaped tail, and flight pattern. Ravens are approximately as large as Red-tailed Hawks, while Crows are approximately as large as pigeons.

Generally speaking, ravens are all black, measure between 21 and 26 inches from head to tail, and have a wingspan of 45 to 51 inches. The crow measures 17 inches long and has a wingspan of 2.5 feet. Crows weigh about 20 ounces on average, while ravens weigh between 24 and 70 ounces.

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Featuring vivid green, blue, and purple feathers, the raven has a gorgeous glossy appearance. It is possible for feathers to appear waxy or greasy in some cases. There is also iridescence in the feathers of crows, though they are less shiny than those of ravens.

The presence of ravens in populated urban areas is rare. In the city, there is a good chance that the large crow you are seeing is actually a crow and not a raven.

A raven’s tail is fan-shaped, while a crow’s tail is wedge-shaped.

The necks of ravens are longer than those of crows when they fly. Ravens are more likely to be seen during flight by the shape of their larger bill, which is not as evident as their neck length.

There are more slots between the primaries (“fingers”) and the wings of a raven compared to a crow’s. The wing tips of crows are blunt and splayed, while those of ravens are pointed.

Ravens often make a distinct wing swish sound when they fly, whereas crows have a silent wingbeat.

Even though crows are known for only soaring for a few seconds, double-check whether it is a raven if the crow soars longer than that. In the air, ravens can do flips and fly upside down.

Since they have longer necks than crows, they can fly with more stability.
Crows also make rattles, clicks, and bell-like notes in addition to their familiar “caw-caw.”

Ravens make a deep, reverberating “gronk-gronk.”

Crows have smooth feathers on their throats, while ravens have a well-developed ruff of feathers called a ‘hackle.’