Highly intelligent, playful and adaptable, the common raven (Corvus corax) and its extraordinary traits have become a part of human folklore across the world. Common ravens are spread across the entire northern hemisphere, and vary slightly in size and build by geographic location and available diet. Most ravens are jet black and the largest varieties live in northern regions. Most of these birds are between 2 and 3 feet in length and have wingspans of 3-5 feet. A relatively heavy bird, ravens usually weigh between 2 and 4lbs. In North America ravens are often mistaken for crows, which are significantly smaller and have a much different call.
Common ravens have evolved to the point that they can live in almost any climate from low deserts to the high Himalayan Mountains. They generally prefer wooded areas, but can also be found in urban environments where a steady food source, such as a garbage dump, is available. Highly opportunistic, ravens can and will feed on a variety of plants and animals. They do prey on small lizards, rodents, insects, and birds, but will also eat grains, fruits, and berries when the opportunity presents itself. Ravens are also scavengers, and will feed on road kill and human garbage. If a raven manages to scavenge or kill more food than it immediately needs, it will hide the food in a cache. Likewise, ravens will steal food from the caches of other animals, including other ravens, to survive.
The common raven has one of the largest brains of any bird. They are capable of solving problems that seem quite complex for any animal. In one noted experiment, a piece of meat was left dangling from a string below a perch. The meat was too high to reach from the ground, so the raven was required to pull the string up a little at a time, and loop the rope under its feet. Four out of the five common ravens tested eventually succeeded with no training or guidance.
Common ravens have fascinating vocal abilities, with upwards of 30 different calls. They are also talented mimics, and can accurately reproduce the sounds and calls of many different animals they have been exposed to. Known for being playful pranksters, common ravens will sometimes use these calls to confuse or annoy other animals; however, they have been known to mimic the calls of coyotes and wolves to attract them to an animal carcass, essentially manipulating the larger animals into doing the hard work of opening the carcass up.
Ravens have very complex mating rituals including aerial acrobatics, flying with interlocked talons and displays of intelligence. Some juveniles may take several years to find a willing mate, but once paired they will likely stay together for life. Once together the pair will build a nest in a large tree or cliff ledge in which to reproduce. Common raven chicks hatch after about three weeks, and the chicks will stay with both parents for the first six months of their lives. Ravens are very protective of their young. Their large size and intelligence means they have few natural predators and can successfully defend against most. Ravens have even been known to drop stones on animals that venture too close to their nest. As further proof of their cunning and adaptability, common ravens can live as long 40 years in the wild.
COMMON RAVEN FACTS
- Common ravens raised in captivity can imitate human speech better than some parrots.
- Ravens often work in pairs to steal food from larger animals such as wolves. One raven will distract the wolf, mocking it, while the other steals the food.