Common Raven

Corvus corax

Last updated: June 20, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

A group of ravens is called an unkindness or a conspiracy.



Common Raven Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Corvidae
Genus
Corvus
Scientific Name
Corvus corax

Common Raven Conservation Status


Common Raven Facts

Prey
Insects, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, spiders, eggs
Group Behavior
  • Flocks
Fun Fact
A group of ravens is called an unkindness or a conspiracy.
Estimated Population Size
16 million
Biggest Threat
Humans
Most Distinctive Feature
Their intelligence
Other Name(s)
Corby, corbeau, western raven, northern raven
Wingspan
45 to 51 inches
Incubation Period
18 to 25 days
Litter Size
Three to seven
Habitat
Open areas such as tundras, taigas, cliffs, deserts, plains, but can be found in just about every habitat save rainforests
Predators
Owls, eagles, martens attack their eggs, larger birds of prey such as great horned owls and mammalian carnivores such as coyotes or cougars might prey on younger ravens.
Diet
Omnivore
Type
Bird
Common Name
Raven
Location
Most countries in the northern hemisphere, including most of North America, southern Greenland, north Africa, most of Europe, Russia and China
Average Clutch Size
1
Nesting Location
Old trees, ledges, cliffs, even utility poles
Age of Molting
35 to 42 days

Common Raven Physical Characteristics

Colour
  • Black
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
40 mph
Lifespan
13 to 44 years
Weight
1.5 to 3.6 pounds
Length
25 inches

Common Raven Images

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“The Common Raven is arguably the smartest bird of all!”

Common Raven Amazing Facts

  • Ravens are extraordinarily intelligent, with brains larger than any other kind of bird. They are capable of solving complex problems and can even tell other ravens about events and objects that they can’t immediately see. They’ve even been known to notify wolves of carcasses so the wolves can open the carcass up for them.
  • Ravens love to play, especially young ravens. They will even play with members of other species such as dogs and even make toys to play with.
  • As of 2021, seven ravens guard the Tower of London. It is believed that if the ravens ever left the Tower, the kingdom would collapse. There need to be six ravens guarding the Tower, with one as a spare just in case.
  • Ravens are passerines or songbirds.

Where To Find Common Raven

Ravens can be found in the northern hemisphere. They can be found in places where humans live, but not as plentifully as is their cousin the crow. Ravens prefer wild, open spaces such as grassland, tundra, and somewhat open forests.

Common Raven Scientific name

The scientific name of the common, or western raven is Corvus corax. “Corvus” comes from the Latin word for raven, and “corax” is a Latinized Greek word for “raven” or “crow,” so the bird can be thought of as a double crow. Some biologists believe there are 11 subspecies of western raven while others believe there are only eight. They are:

  • C. c. corax
  • C. c. varius
  • C. c. subcorax
  • C. c. tingitanus
  • C. c. tibetanus
  • C. c. principalis
  • C. c. kamtschaticus
  • C. c. sinuatus

Common Raven Appearance

The raven is one of the largest of the passerine birds. Its feathers are glossy black and can show blue or purplish iridescence when a light shines on them. The length of the body is between 21 and 26 inches, and it has a thick, curved bill and a wingspan of around 4 feet. It can weigh close to 4 pounds. Females may be a bit smaller than males.

The tail is wedge-shaped, and the throat has feathers called hackles, which the bird can raise or lower to communicate. The shape of the tail, the hackles, the robustness of the bill and the size of the bird differentiates it from a crow. Also, ravens are more likely than crows to glide or soar in flight.

This unlikely songbird has a variety of vocalizations. Scientists have identified as many as 30 of them. Even their wingbeats have an evocative sound when the birds are in flight.


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The Common Raven (Corvus corax), also known as the northern Raven, playing with a stone.
The Common Raven (Corvus corax), also known as the northern Raven, playing with a stone.

Common Raven Behavior

Ravens are often solitary, but they sometimes travel with their mates and form flocks when they are young. Flocks, also called unkindnesses, may form when food is concentrated in an area. Young ravens seem to be fascinated with new objects, especially if they are bright and shiny. Older birds become staider with age, even though they are better at problem-solving.

Common ravens don’t seem to migrate but may move around their range if the weather becomes too hot or too cold. A breeding pair is territorial and staunchly defends their young against would-be predators. They not only chase and scold potential threats but are clever enough to drop rocks on their heads if they come too close. Common ravens can also recognize individual ravens and even individual humans.

Common Raven Diet

One of the things that makes the common raven so successful is that it is an omnivore and will eat just about anything that agrees with its digestive system. This includes both plant and animal material. They hunt small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, and insects. They eat grain, fruit, and berries and can be pests to farmers. They scavenge and will not only eat carrion but the insects and insect larvae that are drawn to carrion.

They enthusiastically eat roadkill, human garbage and will pick out the undigested food in feces. They raid food caches of both ravens and other animals and hide that food in their own food caches. Common ravens eat the eggs and young of other birds and if the bird is small enough, it will eat the adult as well.

Ravens have been known to kill and eat newly born lambs, goats, and calves and don’t care if the animal is endangered. If a young raven finds a large carcass being enjoyed by adult ravens, it will call its friends to the food source.

But the common raven’s diet isn’t bottomless. Like other birds, chocolate is poisonous to it. Heavy metals such as lead and copper can make the raven sick. The seeds and pits of pears, apples, peaches, apricots, and related fruit are also not good for the bird, as they contain cyanide.

What does the common raven eat?

The common raven eats other animals, including mice, spiders, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. It eats human garbage, the undigested parts of animal droppings, and carrion. It will also eat plant material such as fruits, grains, and seeds.

Common Raven Predators and Threats

This songbird is so big, intelligent, and vigilant that it is difficult for an animal predator to get the best of it. Yet owls and other birds of prey sometimes steal its eggs, as does the marten, a type of weasel. Sometimes a bird of prey will successfully attack an adult raven. These include bald and golden eagles, goshawks, great horned owls, eagle-owls, and red-tailed hawks. Cougars, lynxes, and coyotes may also go after adult ravens, but this is unusual.

Common Raven Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Ravens become mature when they’re about three years old, but they’ve been seen to court each other long before then. Ravens start to court in earnest in autumn and winter, with most eggs being laid in early spring depending on the birds’ range.

Scientists believe that pairs of ravens stay together at least during the breeding season, but they’re not sure if they mate for life. They court through performing acrobatics, showing off their intelligence, and showing a would-be mate that they’re good at finding food. When the female is ready to mate she crouches, drops and shakes her wings, and raises her tail.

The pair finds and defends a territory then builds the nest. It’s a deep but asymmetrical bowl of sticks and twigs lined with mud and tree bark and softened by materials such as fur. Nests are about 16 to 60 inches in diameter and 5 to 6 inches deep and placed in a big tree, at the edge of a cliff, in an abandoned building, or even on a telephone pole. Here, the female lays between three and seven eggs. They are pale blue-green and freckled with brown. The female incubates them for about 21 days. Only she incubates the eggs, but the male will protect the chicks by standing over them. Both parents feed the chicks. Ravens only have one brood per year.

The chicks fledge when they’re a little over a month old but can stay with their parents for half a year.

Common ravens can live a long time, and ravens at the Tower of London have lived over 40 years. Less pampered ravens live around 13 years in the wild.

Common Raven Population

There are about 16 million common ravens in the wild, and their numbers seem to be increasing. Indeed, there are places where the raven’s numbers are exploding as landfills, highways, parks and artificial bodies of water are set up to see to the needs of humans. There are areas such as Alaska where ravens need to be culled from time to time to protect vulnerable species.

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Common Raven FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the Common Raven migrate?

The common raven doesn’t really migrate but may move around its range to avoid harsh winters.

How many eggs does the Common Raven lay?

The common raven lays from three to seven eggs.

How fast does the Common Raven fly?

The common raven can fly 25 miles per hour, though a trained raven once flew at 40 miles per hour.

What is the Common Raven’s Wingspan?

The wingspan of this passerine is a little less than 4 feet across.

When do Common Ravens leave the nest?

Common ravens leave the nest when they are between five and seven weeks old.

Are ravens dangerous?

Ravens aren’t dangerous to humans, but a person should be careful of a nesting pair. They will defend their nest vigorously and have formidable claws and beaks.

What does a Common Raven eat?

Basically, a raven seems to eat anything it can digest, including animal and plant materials, garbage, and carrion.

What is the difference between a crow and a raven?

A raven is bigger than a crow, has a heavier beak, a wedge-shaped tail, and hackles on its neck. Its call is different from a crow’s and probably more varied, and it has a more graceful flight.

What is the raven a sign of?

In some cultures, the raven is a sign of death and bad fortune because of its inky black feathers and its habit of eating dead things. But in other cultures, the raven is a deity. Kutkh, or Kutcha, a raven god, was believed to have created the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Sources
  1. The Guradian, Available here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/30/ravens-fly-fast-game-of-thrones
  2. Godchecker, Available here: https://www.godchecker.com/siberian-mythology/KUTKH/
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_raven
  4. Bird life International, Available here: http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/common-raven-corvus-corax/text
  5. Animal Diversity Web, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Corvus_corax/

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