raven, USFWS, Gary M. Stolz, public domain
image credit - Gary M. Stolz; US Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain

The COMMON RAVEN or NORTHERN RAVEN is a member of the Corvidae family of birds which also includes crows, jays, magpies and rooks. They are considered the most intelligent birds. Ravens are the largest perching birds in North America. They are very adaptable and can survive winters in the arctic or summers in the desert.


  • colour - glossy black feathers
  • bluish-purple in sunlight
  • tail - long, wedge-shaped
  • feet - strong, black
  • bill - black, thick, slightly hooked or curved (photo)
  • size - larger than crows, size of a hawk
  • length - 60 to 70 cm (24 to 27 inches)
  • long shaggy feathers on the throat (photo)
  • wings - long, fingered, span of 1.2 metres (four feet)
raven in flight (note the long "fingered" wings and wedge-shaped tail)
raven, Christian O. Petersen, Creative Commons license
image credit - Christian O. Petersen,, license - Creative Commons

HABITAT and RANGE ( map )

  • around the world throughout the northern hemisphere
  • in Europe, Greenland, Iceland, North Africa, Asia, North America
  • North America : in Alaska, Canada, western United States, northern United States (Minnesota, Great Lakes, northern New England), Mexico
  • habitat : the far north (arctic), coastal areas, mountains, glaciers, forests, grasslands, deserts


  • work together to hunt larger game
  • hunt with wolves so they can get meat
  • prey on eggs and nestlings of other birds
  • eat rodents, grains, seeds, berries, fruit, worms, insects, reptiles or amphibians
  • scavengers, let other animals hunt then dine on leftovers or steal from them
  • will eat garbage left by humans
  • hide food and return later

ravens waiting to feed at a wolf kill site in Yellowstone
ravens in Yellowstone, Jim Peaco, US National Park Service, public domain
image credit - Jim Peaco, US National Park Service, license - public domain


  • nest on a cliff, rock ledge or top of a tall tree
  • also builds nest on power-line towers, telephone poles, billboards, bridges
  • nest - large , made of large sticks
  • inner cup of smaller twigs, lined with mud, grasses, animal hair, moss, lichens
  • eggs - 4 to 7 bluish-green eggs with brown spots
  • hatchlings - almost naked, very little down
  • remain in the nest 4-7 weeks
  • both parents take care of them
young ravens in a nest
ravens in nest, Mike Baird, Flickr, Creative Commons
image credit - Mike Baird;; license - Creative Commons


  • enemies - humans; also larger birds like owls, eagles, falcons, hawks
  • dive-bomb bigger birds to drive them off
  • defend themselves with claws and beak


communication :

  • over 30 different calls
  • calls of threats, warning,teasing, cheering, screaming
  • mimic other animals and even humans
  • hoarse, croaking kraaak, cr-r-r-u-k, prrrruk
  • hollow knocking sound like toc-toc-toc;
  • kloo-klak, often while in flight
  • a variety of musical calls
  • captive ravens have been taught to speak

ravens and crows

  • Ravens are larger than crows, nearly twice the size.
  • Ravens are as large as hawks; crows are the size of pigeons.
  • Crows have sharp, pointy beaks; a raven's beak is larger, heavier and curved.
  • Ravens have shaggy throat feathers.
  • Crows' tails are fan-shaped; ravens' tails are wedge-shaped.
  • Ravens soar and are acrobats in the sky; crows flap their wings and rarely soar.
  • The call of the crow is a nasal caw; the raven makes a deep, hoarse croak.
good and bad
Throughout history people thought of ravens as pests and evil birds that should be destroyed. Today in most countries it is illegal to kill ravens. Still they are considered as pests because they are a threat to livestock and farmers' fruit and grain crops. Ravens eat eggs and chicks of endangered species (least terns, California condors, sandhill cranes). They also eat the eggs and young of the desert tortoise which is declining in numbers.

Common ravens help humans by eating pests (rodents, insects) and they clean up roadkill. They are also important in native cultures. The native peoples and the Inuit have legends about the raven. Stories and songs tell about Raven the Thief or Raven the Trickster.

acrobats in the air
Ravens are super fliers. They ride rising air currents like hawks do. Ravens enjoy soaring wing-tip to wing-tip, mock fighting and performing acrobatics in the air. They swoop, dive, roll, tumble, do somersaults and fly upside down.

working together
Young ravens often roost together and work together to find food. If food is sighted, members will call to attract the others.

Ravens also work in pairs to steal food. One bird distracts an animal while the other snatches its meal. If a bird is sitting on its nest, one raven distracts it while the other raven grabs an egg or chick.

an intelligent bird

Ravens are smart birds. Common ravens are believed to be among the most intelligent birds. Researchers have found that ravens are capable of problem solving and tool use. They are able to count, can mimic sounds and words, do simple tricks and hide things.

playful behavior

Ravens enjoy teasing other animals like wolves and dogs by playing tag with them or pulling their tails. Young birds have been observed dropping a twig while in flight, then swooping down to catch it before it hits the ground. Ravens enjoy playing in the snow. They dig and roll around in the snow or slide down snowbanks.
adapted for the Arctic

When other birds have left the far north , the raven remains for the winter. How is this bird able to survive in the Arctic?

  • black feathers absorb heat
  • steals food from other animals
  • eats anything, even garbage
  • follows polar bears in winter, eats their leftovers

The raven was adopted as the official bird of the Yukon Territory on October 28, 1985.

A group of ravens is called a conspiracy. Another term is an unkindess of ravens.

The average lifespan is 13 years, but some captive ravens have lived up to 40 years or more.


information from | Wikipedia | All About Birds

image credits:
raven head - Franco Atirador, Wikipedia ; license - Creative Commons
raven at Bryce Canyon N.P., Wikipedia , license - public domain

2009 (updated 2011)