Raven (Corvus corax)

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Raven
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The raven is the largest perching bird in Europe, known for its intelligence and playful nature.
  • In England, ravens are kept at Tower of London. Legend has it that if the ravens leave, both the tower and the monarchy will fall.
  • Male and female ravens pair for life and lay up to six blue-green eggs per clutch.
  • Although carrion forms a large part of their diet, ravens are also proficient hunters.
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Raven fact file

Raven description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCorvidae
GenusCorvus (1)

The raven (Corvus corax) is a magnificent bird; bigger than a buzzard, it is the largest passerine (perching) bird in Europe (2), and is deeply embedded in mythology (5). The glossy plumage is entirely black with greenish and lilac sheens. The large bill is very thick and heavy looking (2), the wings are narrow, and the tail is wedge-shaped (2). The sexes are similar in appearance, but females are somewhat smaller than males (6). Juveniles are duller than adults, and have a variable amount of brown in the plumage (6). A variety of vocalisations are produced, including a 'korrp' call and a 'krack-krack-krack' of alarm. In spring and during courtship, a range of unusual sounds can be heard such as clucks, a 'klong' and pops (2) (6).

Size
Length: 54-67 cm (2)
Wingspan: 115-130 cm (2)
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Raven biology

Ravens are well-known for their intelligence, they are also very playful birds, performing mid-air acrobatics, playing 'games' with each other's beaks and passing stones to each other (6). They eat a wide variety of food, including carrion, small vertebrates, insects and refuse, yet carrion is the most important component of the diet (8).

Pairs stay together for life, and defend a territory from which they exclude all other ravens (6). Breeding begins in February or March. Following a mating display involving posturing, mutual preening and beak caressing, the pair make a solid nest (or renovate the previous year's nest) of sticks lined with moss and mud (6). Clutches contain four to six blue-green eggs, one of which is laid each day until the clutch is complete (6). The female incubates the eggs for up to 20 days, during which time she is fed by the male (6). Both parents feed the chicks, which stay in the nest for up to six and a half weeks (6). Ravens do not tend to travel widely; during winter adults remain in their breeding territory, and young birds do not tend to disperse further away than 20 miles (6).

A rich wealth of folklore and mythology centres on the raven; King Arthur is said to return in the form of a raven, Noah sent out a raven from the Ark to fly 'forth and fro until the waters were dried up from off the earth', and the Norse god Odin had two ravens who flew the world to return to his shoulders and whisper what was happening into his ears (5).

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Raven range

The raven is found only in rural parts of its former range (7); in Britain it is restricted to the west and north (8). It also occurs in Europe, northern Africa, Asia (except south and southeast Asia), Greenland, Iceland, North America and Australia (6).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Raven habitat

Occurs in a range of habitats, but the raven seems to prefer upland areas, moorland, and coastal cliffs (8), as well as wooded lowlands (6).

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Raven status

The raven is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Raven threats

This imposing bird has been persecuted for years by farmers and gamekeepers; as a result, the raven has withdrawn from many of its historic haunts (6). It is very rare that they will attack strong, healthy livestock, yet ravens are still perceived as a threat and are occasionally shot despite being legally protected (6). Other threats include collisions with overhead cables (6).

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Raven conservation

No specific conservation action has been targeted at the raven, although it is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981); under this act it is illegal to intentionally kill or injure wild ravens or remove or damage their nests or eggs (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more information on the raven and other bird species:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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Glossary

Carrion
The flesh of a dead animal.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Naturenet (July 2002):
    http://www.naturenet.net/law/wcagen.html
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
  6. Bruce Wilmore, S. (1977) Crows, jays, ravens and their relatives. David and Charles (Publishers) Ltd, London
  7. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  8. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
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Image credit

Raven  
Raven

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Listen to the Raven

Raven
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Raven recordings by Michael J. Andersen and Geoffrey A. Keller

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca
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United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

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