The Raven

Raven, Point Lobos, California

This all-black bird has either fascinated or intimidated humans for centuries. I am one of the fascinated fans. Corvus corax  have a versatile and wide-ranging diet; a full repertoire of vocalizations; and a rare ability to problem-solve.

 

A member of the Corvid family, the most intelligent birds on the planet, ravens have captivated humans for centuries. Hundreds of scientific studies and thousands of observations continue to prove how advanced a raven’s thinking is.

 

Corvids include crows, jays, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, and more.  Common Raven Wikipedia.

 

At the Golden Gate Bridge, SF skyline in background

 

They reside in our planet’s northern hemisphere; see range maps at end.

 

This photograph offers a good size comparison between a bald eagle (left) and a raven (right). It was very rainy day and we were all drenched and a little cranky.

Bald eagle (juvenile) on left, raven on right. Sacramento NWR, CA

 

It can be difficult to distinguish the difference between a raven and a crow. They look very much alike, differences are subtle.

 

Here are a few of the differences that help me with identification:

  • The raven is the larger of the two birds;
  • Adult ravens usually travel in pairs, whereas crows are often seen in large flocks;
  • The call of a raven is a deeper croak than the crow;
  • Ravens like large expanses of open land, while crows are more often seen in densely populated areas;
  •  A raven’s tail, which you can see well in the photograph below, has varying lengths and tapers into a rounded wedge shape; whereas a crow’s tail has feathers all the same length, the end is straight across.

Raven in flight

More info for distinguishing the two here.

 

Raven

 

We have a raven pair on our property who often come to roost at the end of the day. After the sun has set, I hear them call to each other. Caw, caw, caw says one. Then I hear the other one reply: caw, caw, caw. They can go on like this for several minutes. I think they’re discussing which tree to spend the night in.

 

Here they were captured by our camera trap. They are keen to collect our offering of mice, caught in traps from our storage space. Look closely in the right raven’s mouth. They take the mice and fly off with their cache; circle this stump from above on their daily hunting route.

 

Even the Tower of London has a long history with ravens.

 

Not everyone, including Edgar Allan Poe, find ravens to be a delight. But even Mr. Poe, in his poem, found them to be mysterious.

 

Common Raven, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

 

Big and raucous, and sporting the all-black color of the underworld, ravens have an intimidating effect on some cultures.

 

If you happen to see a raven blinking in a moment when their extra protective eyelid, the nictitating membrane, is revealed, they can look eerie.

Raven revealing nictitating membrane in eye

 

But observe them long enough and you hear dozens of creative vocalizations that you never knew were possible. You see barrel rolls and aerobatic displays that can only be interpreted as one thing: fun.

 

You see enough of the fun and games of ravens…and you’re hooked for life.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

 

Range Map for Common Raven

North America Range Map for Common Raven, courtesy allaboutbirds.org

Corvus corax map.jpg

World Map, Common Raven Range, courtesy Wikipedia

Jubilee and Munin, two of the London Tower’s ravens in 2016. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

84 thoughts on “The Raven

    • I’m glad you had a chance to look at the range maps, Michael Stephen. There’s always people who find some bird species annoying, but I personally love to watch crows, too. Thank you.

  1. Thanks for posting this 🙂 You prompted me to research further and I got stuck on “Once upon a midnight dreary…) !
    In northern Minnesota yrs ago we called them ‘Lumber Jacks’! They fly over the dense forests and warn game of intruders (hunters) !

  2. I’m going to pay better attention in my rural/suburban (growing fast) Pennsylvania back yard. I’ve always thought the birds out back were all crows, but now I know a little bit more about which is which. Great pictures and descriptions!

    • It’s wonderful to hear that my raven post prompted you to look more closely at your birds, Barbara. The PA Game Commission says in PA you have: American crow, fish crow and common raven. So yes, you have the opportunity to enjoy and identify which bird you have. Many thanks!

  3. Wonderful informative post, Jet. I knew that ravens and crows were similar, but I had never had anyone explain to me how to tell them apart by both their appearance and their behavior. Thanks. I am pretty sure that I see only crows, but I will look a bit more carefully from now on.

    • It’s an honor to share the corvid info with you, Mike, as your intrepid adventures and photographing continue. I find even after doing the research for this post, I’m watching crows more now. Warmest thanks for your visit.

  4. Ravens are wonderful birds! We like seeing them on the beaches here. They are curious, and will often come dancing and hopping along when we sit and snack, and they remain just beyond the length of Scout’s leash, much to her frustration…
    Thanks, Jet, enjoyed this one, and will be seeing ravens through the weekend – have a good one yourselves!

    • I really enjoyed hearing your description of your raven observations, pc. They’re so entertaining. I imagine they can find all kinds of scrumptious bites on the beach. Sending my thanks and warmest wishes to all 3 of you for a fantastic weekend.

  5. Great photos, jet. I love ravens and crows. They are sassy, smart and interesting birds. Ravens and crows migrate north and south along the Rio Grande, and we see thousands of them flying in a long line above the river that we call the “crow highway”. They don’t like the seagulls that fly up here. And I’ve seen some epic aerial dog fights when groups of ravens attack hawks and eagles while flying over the river.

    • Oh boy did I love hearing your stories about the ravens and crows along the Rio Grande, Timothy. I love it when the flocks are that big. And yes, the “epic aerial dog fights” are breathtaking. Thanks so much for your contribution, Timothy, much enjoyed.

  6. Great photos and descriptions, Jet! Such smart and attractive birds. I saw a video of one that repeatedly flew to a roof top and ‘skiid’ down then flew back up several times!

    • Watching the ravens play, like the video you described, is such a joy. Thanks so much for your comment and visit today, John. I hope you have some fun times in the desert this weekend.

  7. Always interesting and uplifting to learn your positive viewpoint! And Athena really caught some great photos of this interesting bird! I’m rather sorry we only have crows!

  8. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I adore their simple beauty, acrobatics, and high intelligence. I don’t like what they’ve done to our bird populations now that they’re fully protected and expanding. I blame them for a large part of the problem with reduced sage grouse numbers. They’re fabulous egg hunters, and don’t balk at the tiny chicks either. My mother watched them clean out a robin’s nest in her yard. There ought to be a balance that’s livable, and a few less ravens wouldn’t hurt anything. As long as we always have some. There it is again, love and hate.

  9. Pingback: The Raven — Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

  10. I love to see ravens, but they aren’t common here as crows are. (I see on the range map that they are barely in western MA, that would explain it.) The past couple years there has been a mated pair in the area. I love their ‘cronk’ call and stop to look for them when I hear it. One time I was gardening and one flew right over maybe 25′ and I glanced up and said, “Oh, hello!” It looked down at me, saw that I was addressing it and circled back to check me out before flying on. I was so impressed! Smart birds indeed.
    Superb photos, Athena. How did you get the one with the GGB in the background? Either you were flying, too, 😉 or a very long lens out of a skyscraper. Great shot!

    • I enjoyed your observations so much, Eliza, thank you. I like that a raven responded to your greeting. That is one of the true joys of the raven. I also like it when they fly that close over you because their steady, rhythmic wingbeat is super to hear. Glad you enjoyed Athena’s photos, too. The GGB photos were taken from the north side of the bridge on a high mountain in the Marin Headlands, and yes, with a big lens. We were there early on a weekday winter morning, otherwise it’s usually very crowded with tourists.

  11. Very cool post and photos. You know when we were kids, my youngest brother had a joke about ravens. He said, “How come Ravens never get hit by cars?…. Because they warn each other when one is coming… caw, caw.” Silly brother! 🙂

  12. You described the corvids well, they are the smartest birds of all. They are problem solvers and they are able to use tools in order to solve their problems. I saw my first raven in Bryce Canyon Pk, compared to crows that I see and hear daily! Very good post, Jet. 🙂

    • I do love the corvids, and especially ravens, HJ, so I am happy to hear you liked the raven post. I also loved hearing where you saw your first raven. We birders don’t forget where we saw our firsts. Wonderful to hear from you, as always…thank you.

    • It takes some time to distinguish between the crow and raven–they’re so very similar–but I think you’ll find these pointers helpful, Janet. Really enjoyed your visit here, thank you.

  13. We’re definitely hooked for life. Eric considers a crow his totem. He made a beautiful carving of his Cuervo. We also see a pair flying over as protection as we head out on our adventures. It’s just a coincidence that they’re patrolling for road kill along our street. 😉 They can be such fun to watch. Not to mention the fact that research has found them to be one of the most intelligent birds around.

    • Oh how I enjoyed your corvid comment, Gunta. And I really liked hearing that you and Eric are also hooked for life on them. We’re lucky there are many on the planet. Cheers to you both, and as always, thanks so much.

  14. I always look at the beek, thinking the raven has a thicker beek then the crow. I’ve seen crows gang up on other baby birds and so I find them hard too like.

  15. Very nice Images, Jet. The Ravens have their own beauty. Not sure if I’ve ever seen one. All we have around here is the large Black Crows that have that loud call. They are seen along side the road picking at a road kill. They are Natures clean up crew.

  16. Superb photos & narrative account of a fascinating species! I have watched them play high altitude games with objects such as a paper bag, releasing the item, swooping down to catch it, rising again, taking turns while apparently having fun. Amazing stuff.

    • I so loved hearing about the high altitude games you’ve watched ravens play, Walt. I haven’t seen that one, so I was especially enchanted. Truly extraordinary birds. Thanks so much.

  17. What an interesting post. I was perplexed at first, since I was sure I’ve seen ravens here in Texas, but the distribution map from Cornell doesn’t show us in their range. Then, I went to the Cornell site, and looked at the eBird report map, where occurences of ravens have been reported here and there, including the piney woods of east Texas, and around the Houston area. So, it may well be that I have seen them, even though this isn’t their normal territory.

    When I was a kid, the old folks often talked about ‘rain ravens.’ Since it was Iowa, I’m sure the birds were crows, but their belief was that when the rain raven called, the rain wasn’t far away. As for all that cawing, you know that when you ravens are discussing things, they’re having a “caw-cus”!

    • Your commentary on the ravens, and your funny joke, were very much enjoyed, Linda. I did read also that the ranges are expanding now, so I have no doubts of your Texas raven sighting. Thanks for your investigation and report. Also loved hearing about the “rain ravens” and of course your “caw-cus” joke was most entertaining. Always a joy to hear from you, thank you.

  18. Fascinating post about these much-maligned birds! I appreciate your comparisons with the crow, as I frequently find it difficult to discriminate one from the other. As always, I learned a great deal from your detailed post, Jet – thanks!

  19. What a wonderful bird the raven is – let me join you in your “fandom”. You are quite right about their voice being more of a croak than the caw of the crow – we have a lot of them around here in Wales. I watch them on the mountains and hear them above the forest and I love Athen’s photos here, particularly the penultimate one in flight with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. And the shot with the bald eagle is so cool 🙂

    • I am delighted to hear you have the glory of ravens there in Wales, Alastair, and that you, too, are a fan. I enjoyed hearing about how you watch them and what you see. Glad you enjoyed the photos too. I really like that photo with the raven and the GG Bridge, too. She took about 40 photos, as you can imagine, and this was the best one. We were lucky the raven pair stuck around. Down below the ravens a very large container ship was passing through, so when the ravens left, we watched the boats and ships. Always a true pleasure to hear from you. I stopped by your site the other day but was having techno difficulties with the sound feature, so I decided to come back when I could listen. On my way there now.

  20. Great post…it really helped describing the difference between the Raven and Crows….having read that, I can reflect back and understand why I have seen what I thought were crows and now realize they weren’t. Great pics and info as always! Thanks!!

    • I’m glad you found the raven/crow list helpful, Kirt. I’ve read and heard many different descriptions, but they aren’t always exactly right, so I decided to write my own, and I’m glad it was helpful. Thanks so much, my friend. I hope your week is great.

  21. I’ve always enjoyed watching ravens/ crows. I think here in the Northeast we get more crows than ravens, but I believe crows are quite intelligent also. They are big and they seem nasty (and I’ve seen them act nasty to the smaller birds), but ah, how they watch all that is going on. Great information and photos.

    • So nice to have you stop by, Pam. Yes, crows and the other corvids are indeed very intelligent — the smartest birds on the planet. Some people don’t like crows, but crows are just doing what all wildlife do, which is striving to survive. I consider them magical. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  22. Excellent information in your post, Jet. Particularly the characteristics of the Raven to discern over crows. Great photos by Athena- close-ups and with the GG in the background. Well done. I’m fascinated by these viral videos that show crows (or maybe they’re ravens…) sledding down snowy roofs and working with tools.

    • Hi Jane, I’m glad you enjoyed the raven post. The corvids are indeed very remarkable for their ability to use tools. Thanks so much for your visit today, much appreciated. Athena felt pretty lucky to have had some time photographing the raven pair soaring the thermals at the Headlands, glad you liked it.

  23. I am so thankful for the information regarding the Raven in your post, Jet. Now I know how to ID a Raven versus a Crow. My curiosity wants to ask you how do you keep your camera equipment dry in the rain? And those closeups! Fantastic! I was enthralled by the detail of the feathers and their beak. Loved this post and again I thank you for educating me.

    • Hi Amy, I’m happy you found the raven/crow info helpful. Athena kept her camera dry that very wet day by being inside the vehicle. We were on an auto tour on the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was windy and miserable and the rain was still everywhere, including on her lens, but she always has a towel beside her and dries off the equipment. Always a joy to hear from you, much appreciated, Amy.

      • Ohhhhhh, gotcha! I have several ways to keep my camera dry and a towel is one of them. Pouring rain, however, is a different story. I keep my equipment dry and in pristine condition all the time. Good to know another photographer does too. There are so many who are reckless and treat their equipment roughly. It’s just shocking to me. I honestly don’t get it. My aim is to keep my sensor clean as possible.

  24. Jet, I knew nothing about raven, only that they are black. What a great informative post and yes, also about the distinction between raven and crow. I love the photo from your camera trap, great recycling of the mice! 🙂

    • I am so happy I could share some of the raven magic with you, Bertie. Glad you liked the camera trap photo and process. We, too, love it that the mice get enjoyed by the ravens and the cycle doesn’t just stop with the humans. My warmest thanks.

  25. I heard a story from a old logger once.
    He was part of a crew cutting down trees deep in BC. At lunch they all gathered round to eat and BS. This one fellow had a well supplied lunch tin. It had two small shiny salt and pepper shakers!
    That night his wife asked him where the salt and pepper shakers were? He said he thought he had left them in his lunch tin.

    Time passes……….
    They were working on a tight slope one morning. He cut down a rather large Cedar. It came down hard.
    When they started de-limbing it one of the men noticed a large nest inside the fallen trees limbs!
    They investigated and found it to have many treasures inside! It was a Ravens nest. The guy looked inside and found his shakers! He couldn’t believe his eyes!
    He thinks a Raven must of been watching him when they were having lunch. It must of liked the shakers. After the men had gone back to work,the Raven must of opened his lunch tin and taken the shakers to its nest.

    leading to the moral of the story……”what goes around,comes around”!

    • Really enjoyed this raven story, a lot, Wayne. I’m smiling as I type. I don’t know how true it is, but it sure does follow in keeping with how smart ravens are, and their love for shiny objects. Great moral too. Thanks so much, my friend, for starting my day with this big smile and sweet story.

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