A resident UK breeder, the common raven is the largest member of the crow family and one of the most widespread naturally occurring birds in the world. It is an impressive and highly intelligent bird.
Male and female common ravens are almost identical in appearance and plumage although the female is slightly smaller. The bird is a glossy black all over with a purplish, green or blue hue. They have elongated loose erectile throat feathers which are often raised, particularly by the male, during displays of dominance. The head is large and the bill a powerful, medium length, chunky black colour. Careful examination of the bill may reveal nasal bristles which can cover up to half of the upper ridge of the bill. The eyes are a dark brown colour with the legs and feet being black with grey soles.
A wide range of calls and the ability to successfully mimic sounds renders interpretation of the call type extremely difficult. Often echoing and very loud, a low to medium pitch sharp sounding bark like ‘prruk – prruk’ often repeated is a common call.
Common Raven call
Andrew Harrop, XC471530. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/471530.
Common Raven in flight
Often referred to as scavengers, picking flesh off carcasses, the common raven is also a skilful hunter but will eat almost anything. Predominantly small mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and even snails and worms but also berries, fruits and seeds. It will also scavenge on rubbish tips and shorelines.
Common Raven eating
There have been resident ravens at the Tower of London since the time of Charles ll (1630 – 1685) and possibly even before, although it was King Charles who ordered that the ravens at the Tower were to be protected. There are always at least six resident ravens, cared for by one of the Yeoman Warders who is known as the Ravenmaster. Legend has it that should the six ravens all leave the Tower, the Kingdom and the Tower will fall.
Common Raven at the Tower of London
Common ravens are equally at home flying over wild open and barren highlands, scavenging in urban and suburban areas, or soaring across upland moors, woods and farmland. They tend to avoid the east coast of the UK but can be found throughout Northern Ireland, most of Scotland and Wales and in the south west of England, Lake District and across the Pennines.
Close up they are easily identifiable with their large glossy black body and thick and chunky arch shaped bill, but in flight they also display characteristics common to the species. When soaring above their long ‘wedged’ tails appear diamond shaped with their long black pointed wings clearly displaying prominent wing fingers in a similar fashion to a common bird of prey.
Common Raven close up
Large nests are constructed mainly high in treetops out of sticks, heather and grasses and commonly used again year after year with a little nest maintenance undertaken at the start of each breeding season. One brood consisting of 4 – 6 eggs is laid annually between February to May. Eggs are a pale bluish green in colour with brown spotting and are incubated by the female for eighteen to twenty one days. The young fledge between thirty five to forty two days and remain with their parents for a further six months.
The nest and eggs of a Common Raven
Breeding pair of Common Ravens
Common Raven feeding chicks
The longest lifespan on record for a ringed specimen is over thirteen years although commonly it is expected that ravens will live for between ten to fifteen.
A highly intelligent, inquisitive and social bird, it is the smallest member of the crow family resident within the British Isles.
Also known as the Red Billed Chough or Cornish Chough, this non migratory resident is the least common member of the crow family.