Two common Ravens

Ranting Ravens: Intelligent and mischievous

By Chadd Cawson, The Columbia Valley Pioneer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

We cannot talk about one spooky black bird one may associate with Halloween – the crow –  without speaking about its creepy cousin of the Corvus Corvidae family, the raven. While there are over eight different subspecies of ravens, the one seen soaring above the Columbia Valley on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa Peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of B.C., is the western, or northern raven, also referred to as the common raven. 

At first glance ravens may look like crows but in fact, there are a few distinct differences. They are the bigger of these two flying black beauties. They are 160 cm in length, which is just over 25 cm longer in length than the American Crow, and have an average wingspan of 150 cm. The common raven almost doubles the weight of the American Crow; it weighs an average of 1200 grams and has coexisted with humans for thousands of years.  

Another way to tell the common raven apart from the American crow is by their tail feathers and beaks. Ravens have longer middle tail feathers than the crow, giving the appearance of a wedge of a fan when the bird has them spread out. Ravens have noticeably shaggy throat feathers, called hackles. Their beaks are both larger and curvier than American crows’.

Being omnivorous, they are versatile and opportunistic when it comes to what they put in their beak. Ravens, known for their hunting skills, have a diet that varies. It consists of cereal grains, berries and other fruit, insects, nesting birds, other small animals, as well as garbage. They certainly defy the saying you are what you eat, as ravens and crows are known to be two of the most intelligent species next to chimpanzees. 

They’re known for their ability to problem solve. Ravens also show their intelligence by playing games of hide and seek. Males will use their beaks to lure females, and to point at things.  While ravens are predators to some, they have a few predators to watch out for, particularly owls, martens and eagles, which like to target a raven’s eggs. 

Common areas for the common raven to call home are wooded with nearby expanses of open land or anywhere along the coast; these areas are perfect for their nesting sites and feeding grounds. Ravens are known to thrive all over the world, from North America to the British Isles, as well as in parts of Eurasia and the deserts of North Africa. Finding homes at great heights, ravens have been recorded being seen at altitudes of 5,000 meters on Mount Everest in Tibet.

Shrill sounds and love songs

While crows are known for their caws and purrs, ravens croak and scream; they make more of a ‘kraa’ sound. A raven’s call may sound shrill and repeated when chasing away predators or trespassers of an area they watch over. If they feel their nests are under threat their ‘kraas’ become deep and rasping.  While there is no special term to distinguish males from females, dominant female ravens, bigger than their male counterparts, will often make a series of large knocking sounds when they feel their eggs or chicks are in danger. Ravens mate for life. When they’re looking for love and to bond, they warble and serenade each other with comfort songs during courtship.  

An unkindness

A group of ravens has many names including a conspiracy, storytelling, and unkindness. Once a raven finds its mate, they will leave the unkindness to pair off. In folklore, it is said that the sight of a lone raven is sign of good luck. Ravens haven been known to sense those that need some guidance, so if one appears to you, it may be a sign the answer you seek is on the way. While some associate a sighting of ravens with death and bad luck, others view it a sign of rebirth and a chance to start anew. For years ravens have held a strong presence in literature and poetry, particularly the iconic haunting poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

The trickster

The raven is the perfect bird to highlight this trick-or-treat season. In Indigenous cultures across the globe, the raven is seen as a trickster, known for its foolishness, its childlike ways, and for making mischief. A few more fun freaky facts about ravens: they can remember human faces, they can mimic human voices better than some parrots, as well as other human-made sounds such a car engine starting or a toilet flushing. If you have an interaction with a raven, make sure it’s a good one, as they are quick to decide whether humans are friends or foes, and will hold long term grudges.

Top image credit: The common ravens seen here are the subspecies of raven we see flying high over the Columbia Valley. The common raven is larger in size than the American Crow. Both species are known for their hunting ability and intelligence. Getty Image

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