The raven, belongs to the genus ‘Corvus‘, which is widely distributed across the globe. At one time it was considered to be a single species, but it is now accepted that there are 9 seperate species of raven within the genus Corvus.
There are 46 extant species within this genus, including all the Crows, Rook and Jackdaw. All of which are medium-sized to large birds within the family ‘Corvidae‘. The genus name, Corvus, is derived from Latin, translating to ‘raven’.
These birds are found on all temperate continents except South America and several islands. The species commonly encountered in Europe is the common raven, though there are many crows and rooks across the continent too.
The type species of this genus is the common raven (Corvus corax). Ravens and their relatives have been noted for their remarkable intelligence, with some species capable of tool use and even tool construction.
Appearance & Characteristics of Ravens
Ravens, with their robust and slender appearance, are medium-large species, ranging from 34 cm (13 in) to 60–70 cm (24–28 in) in size. The larger species can have a wingspan well over a meter in size, and they may weigh between 0.5 and 1.7Kg depending on the species and the sex.
Their physical appearance is dominated by shades of black, sometimes accompanied by metallic iridescence or areas of white, grey or brown. The birds are equipped with a small, rounded head, a strong, conical and pointy beak with and a slightly curved end towards the bottom. Their legs are sturdy, and their tail is short and wedge-shaped. Sexual dimorphism is present but limited within the species.
As I will probably mention often in this post, they are incredibly intelligent birds, with a rich and deep history and mythology.
Description of 3 Most Common Species
Common Raven (Corvus corax):
This species is the most widespread of all the Corvids, found across the Northern Hemisphere. It is known for being one of the two largest species (the other being the thick-billed raven) of all the Corvids too, measuring 56 to 70 cm (22 to 28 inches) on average, with a wingspan up to 51 inches, and weighing between 0.69 to 1.63 kg. The common raven is listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List.
Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides):
Native to much of southern and north-eastern Australia, it is the largest Australian member of the genus Corvus and is often found in and around populous, residential areas. Like most ravens, it has an entirely black plumage, but also has prominent throat hackles. It is listed as a species of ‘Least Concern’.
Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis):
Found in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, it is slightly smaller than the common raven, measuring about 52–56 cm (20–22 inches) in length. This species can be identified by its brownish neck, which sets it apart from the other species. It is currently considered to be a species of ‘Least Concern’.
Distribution – Location and Habitat
Ravens of the genus Corvus are found across most continents, though most prominently across Europe, Asia and North America. They inhabit a range of environments, from forests, coasts, and deserts to urban areas and mountainous terrains. The distribution and habitat vary significantly among the different species within the genus.
Despite appearing on most continents, you won’t find any ravens in the wild through South America, they are only found in a few areas of North, East and South Africa and only in and around Mexico in Central America.
The Common Raven, has the largest range of any of the individual Corvid species, including all of the Crows.
The Lifestyle & Behaviour of Ravens
Ravens are known for their complex vocalizations, which can include a ‘Croke’, ‘koww’, and echo-like ‘eh-aw’ sounds. The ‘caw’ vocalization is usually associated with other Corvids like crows, but a Raven may sound similar. These vocalizations can vary by species and region, and they utilize them for communication and interaction within their social structures.
These birds are diurnal animals by nature, and do most of their feeding on the ground rather than in the trees. They are capable of using tools to get to their food, and they often do. While some might be seen alone, they are generally social animals often found in pairs or living in larger family units. A mated pair tends to be monogamous, and they form strong, stable relationships, and often complex social structures.
They are very intelligent birds, having been the subject of much testing and research over the years. They are ranked amongst the most intelligent animals, capable of complex cognitive tasks, memory recall and co-operation. They can even recognize themselves in a mirror!
Diet & Nutrition of Ravens
Ravens are omnivorous, and happy to eat a wide diet including insects, grains, fruits, small animals, and carrion. Depending on their habitat, they may eat small lizards, rodents or frogs, and they have a taste for caterpillars and beetles too. They are scavengers too, often eating carrion or rummaging through garbage if it has been stored insecurely.
They are also known to employ their intelligence in finding and accessing food. Similarly to crows, they might use passing cars to drive over and crack nuts, or make twigs into crafted hooks to extract insects from tree bark.
Predators & Threats to Ravens
While adult ravens have few natural predators due to their size and intelligence, their eggs and nestlings can be an easier target for some opportunistic predators. The threats do vary depending on the species and their habitat, and parents will defend their young aggressively too.
In general, predators up to the task include larger birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and owls that are not intimidated by the Raven’s size. Some species of snake might stealthily invade a nest, and for some species, like the Common Raven, opportunistic predators like the Coyote are known to prey on them given the chance.
The greatest threat to Ravens however, is the human threat. They can be the target of hunting, and poisoning either directly as a means to protect land and crops, or indirectly through the use of pesticides and chemicals in farming.
Similar to other Corvids, Ravens are known for their lifelong pair bonds and their courtship rituals of acrobatic displays and melodic serenades. Once a pair is formed, their bond is further strengthened through mutual preening and coordinated flight patterns.
Together, they collaborate to build a nest, utilizing sticks for the framework and softer materials like grass and fur for the inner lining.
Following successful mating, the oviparous female lays a clutch of eggs, typically ranging from 3-7, depending on the species and environmental conditions. The incubation period, lasts approximately 18 to 21 days, during which the female tends to the eggs, while the male plays provides food and protection from potential threats.
Once the chicks hatch, they are featherless and blind (known as an altricial state) and depend entirely on their parents. Both parents play a role un nurturing and feeding their young across the nesting period, which can last between 20 to 40 days.
After fledging, the young ravens will stay close to home for several weeks up to around six months. Some may stay for several years, and even those that are not quite as close, will often establish territory close to their parents and siblings. As young ravens grow, they reach sexual maturity usually between the ages of 3 and 4 years old.
Lifespan of Ravens
Ravens tend to live longer than the average for birds in the Corvus genus. While crows can average between 10-15 years in the wild, some ravens can average over 20 years in the wild. Many however, do not reach their maximum potential age due to various natural and anthropogenic factors. It does vary by species too.
The Common Raven for example, has an average lifespan between 10-15 years, while the Australian Raven averages 22 years. Exceptional examples of both species are capable of around double that in captivity or in prime ecological settings.
Population and Conservation
While some populations are in decline, as it stands today, all raven species are listed as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List. While this means there is no impending risk to the extinction of these birds, those that are in decline need to be monitored so that any deterioration in status can be acted on to prevent unmanageable decline.
Of the three species with a declining trend, they all exist in or around regions that have experienced environmental pressures, or conflict over the last decade. Could it be that this is a contributing factor the the trend?
Differences between a Raven and a Crow, a Jackdaw, and a Rook
Ravens are generally larger and possess a thicker bill compared to crows, jackdaws, and rooks. Each bird has distinct vocalizations and behaviours, with ravens known for their deep, resonant ‘croak’, while crows produce more of a ‘cawing’ sound.
Are Ravens the Most Intelligent Birds?
Ravens are often considered among the most intelligent birds, along with Parrots. What sets these two aside though, is the ravens (and other Corvids) aptitude at demonstrating problem-solving abilities, use of tools, and complex social behaviours. They are not only intelligent for birds, but one of the most intelligent animals across the entire animal kingdom.
They are said to have the intelligence equivalent to a 7 year old human child, and comparative to that of a dolphin, or an elephant. They are the only animal other than primates known to create tools and they have exceptional problem solving and cognitive skills.
Which Raven is Most Intelligent?
The Common Raven (Corvus corax) is often cited as particularly intelligent among the raven species, it is certainly the species that appears to be observed and researched the most.
What is a Group of Ravens Called?
A group of ravens is typically referred to as an ‘unkindness’ or a ‘conspiracy’ of ravens. Pretty harsh and unflattering collective nouns for a bird with such intelligence. They might even be known as a ‘treachery’ or Ravens!
The Raven in Folklore and Literature
The raven, is a bird deeply cloaked in mystery and symbolism. It is found in the folklore and literature of many different and unconnected cultures, often depicted as an omen or a mediator between life and death. It is often seen as a potent symbol, embodying themes of prophecy, wisdom, and sometimes, malevolence. Some see an affinity with the Raven, considering it to be their spirit animal.
In Norse mythology, the god Odin is often associated with ravens, specifically two named Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory), who fly across the world to bring news to him, symbolizing wisdom and knowledge. Crows live Ravens, also appear widely in many myths involving the gods, particularly the Roman and Greek Gods.
Native American Mythology
In Native American cultures, the raven is frequently portrayed as a trickster, an intelligent and mischievous character that can either assist or hinder the heroes of various tales.
In Celtic mythology, ravens are associated with the war goddesses, known as Morrígan, and are often considered as symbols of protection. They are believed to communicate messages from the divine and are seen as guides for the souls transitioning to the afterlife. Conversely, in some western traditions, ravens have been symbols of ill-omen, death, and dark witchcraft, often believed to predict tragedy and disaster.
The Raven In Literary Works
One of the most iconic literary works featuring a raven is in the narrative poem to which it lends its name – ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe. In this the raven, a symbol of mournful and never-ending remembrance, visits a man who is spiralling into despair following the loss of his love, Lenore. The raven, perched above a bust of Pallas, repeatedly utters the word ‘Nevermore’ in response to the man’s desperate questions, driving him towards madness.
In literature and folklore alike, the raven often occupies a space between worlds, serving as a guide or a messenger between the realms of the living and the dead, the divine and the mortal.
5 Fun Common Raven Facts for Kids
- Ravens can mimic sounds, including human speech!
- They often play games, like playing catch with each other.
- Ravens are the staring figure in various myths and legends from many cultures.
- They can recognize themselves in a mirror.
- Ravens can form friendships with other animals, including wolves.
The Different Species Of Raven
|Species||Location||Description||Conservation Status||Population Trend|
|Corvus albicollis||Eastern and Southern Africa||White-necked raven, known for its white nape of the neck||Least Concern||Decreasing|
|Corvus corax||Northern Hemisphere||Common raven, widely distributed and known for its all-black plumage||Least Concern||Increasing|
|Corvus coronoides||Australia||Australian raven, recognized by its entirely black plumage and throat hackles||Least Concern||Increasing|
|Corvus crassirostris||Horn of Africa||Thick-billed raven, noted for its large bill||Least Concern||Stable|
|Corvus cryptoleucus||United States and Mexico||Chihuahuan raven, smaller and found in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico||Least Concern||Stable|
|Corvus mellori||Southeastern Australia||Little raven, smaller in size and often found in urban areas||Least Concern||Increasing|
|Corvus rhipidurus||Eastern Africa and Arabian Peninsula||Fan-tailed raven, known for its short, squared tail||Least Concern||Decreasing|
|Corvus ruficollis||Northern Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Greater Middle East||Brown-necked raven, distinguished by its brownish neck||Least Concern||Increasing|
|Corvus tasmanicus||Tasmania, Southern Victoria, and North-east New South Wales in Australia||Forest raven, often found in forested areas and coastal regions||Least Concern||Decreasing|