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Common Raven

January bird of the month

Common Raven          Corvus corax Andy McCormick

Length  24”   Wingspan  53”   Weight  2.6 lb (1,200 g)    AOU Alpha Code CORA

Long a part of Northwest lore the Common Raven has been a part of the mythology of tribal groups of the Northwest Coast.

Raven As Creator and Guardian

The Haida creation story has the ancestral raven finding the first tiny humans inside a clam shell. A full lineage of the Tlingit followed the Raven line through their mothers. The Kwakiutl feared the raven as one who would pluck out eyes (Cassidy). The Raven has also been a prophet of death, as in Poe’s The Raven, as a messenger to the spirit world in Celtic mythology, and as guardian of the realm in the Tower of London (Fleming).

Ravens Can Get Their Hackles Up

The raven is a very large corvid with a wingspan that is greater than that of a Red-tailed Hawk. Its plumage is entirely glossy black, and it can be distinguished from crows by its larger size, massive bill, wedge-shaped tail, and well-developed throat hackles. The hackles are elongated feathers at the throat which are elevated in threat and dominance displays (Boarman and Heinrich).

Flight Is the Raven’s Specialty

The raven loves acrobatic flight and it appears do flying stunts for play. They will dive and roll in solitary flight, making half rolls onto their backs and sometimes fly upside down for considerable distances. They will also make a full roll, and on rare occasions a double roll in flight (Boarman and Heinrich).

Ravens will soar. Crows will rarely soar. Ravens have slower and stronger wing beats than crows have. They are often seen flying in pairs, as they may stay with a mate through the year.

Ecologically Adaptive

Ravens are amazingly adaptable and will nest anywhere from the Arctic tundra to the deserts of the Southwestern U.S. They build a bulky nest of sticks on a cliff ledge or high in a conifer. A deep depression is formed in the center and lined with grass, moss, and animal hair. Four to six eggs are deposited and incubated by the female, who is fed by the male during nesting. Chicks hatch in about three weeks and leave the nest in another five to six weeks (Kaufman).

Ravens are generalist omnivores and will eat almost anything. They will share food sources and sometimes hunt cooperatively (Boarman and Heinrich). Depending on their need they are predators or scavengers. They will eat large insects, lizards, frogs, and other birds. They will also eat grains, and are frequently seen scavenging on carrion and garbage. They are also fond of raiding eggs from nests, including those of endangered species such as Marbled Murrelet, Sandhill Crane, and Pinyon Jay, creating a dilemma for conservationists (Boarman and Heinrich).

Research Needed

Ravens are thought of as “symbols of wilderness” and sensitive to humans, yet in urban areas, they are becoming more accustomed to human activities. Management of ravens may be needed in some areas (Boarman and Heinrich).

The Common Raven is one of six North American species in the genus Corvus, which is Latin for raven, originally from the Greek korax, a raven, from which the species epithet is also derived (Holloway).


References available upon request from

Common Raven, by Mick Thompson
Photo: Common Raven, by Mick Thompson.
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The mission of Eastside Audubon is to protect, preserve and enhance natural ecosystems and our communities for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people.