Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Common Raven over Copper Rock Rapids (Grass River), 10/1/12 - © Dave Spier

Here's a bird for Halloween. It was made famous as a symbol of death by Edgar Allen's poem.

Found completely circling the northern hemisphere, the Common Raven (Corvus corax) is one of the most widespread bird species in the world. Across North America, they occupy a wide swath from Central America to Alaska and east across most of Canada to the Atlantic, northern New England, and the Adirondacks, then south through a disjointed narrow band marked by the Appalachian Highlands. This range covers a great variety of climates and wild habitats, and sometimes they can be found near rural settlements and towns.

Ravens are larger than crows, but it's hard to judge size at a distance. In flight, ravens can be mistaken for hawks until they're overhead. Note the raven's long neck and long tail that ends in what's described as a "wedge" shape (meaning it's longer toward the middle of the tail). They are all black, but several hawk species have dark-phase members, which can be misleading. Like hawks, ravens also alternate flapping and gliding, unlike crows that have a steadier flight. When perched, ravens have shaggy throat feathers and long feathers covering their nostrils and the base of their heavy, thick bills (likened to a "Roman" nose because of the downward curve).

Common Raven eating a roadkill, Rts. 8/30 south of Speculator - © Dave Spier
The raven's diet is omnivorous; it eats anything edible. As scavengers, they can be found feeding on carrion beside country roads (in areas where they are common). I've heard people talk about ravens flying down the middle of a road as they search for new roadkills. You're less likely to actually see them when they're catching insects and rodents or eating eggs, birds, seeds, grain, berries, acorns and buds.

raven above DeGrasse, St. Lawrence County, NY

Ravens generally make croaking sounds, sometimes written "cr-r-ruck," plus gurgling and snoring sounds and woodpecker-like knocking calls. It's hard to realize they are actually songbirds (technically, passerines, or perching birds) obviously related to crows but also to jays, all in the Corvid family, and all can be year-round residents of their chosen locations. All About Birds has several recordings for your listening enjoyment. (There's also a page to help you ID and separate the crow/raven corvids.)

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  1. Many years ago, I had an interesting experience with a raven at the trailhead for Cascade Mountain. I had parked my car and was organizing my pack for a solo snowshoe hike. There was a very vocal raven perched on a tree nearby. He seemed quite animated about something. I walked around my car, only to discover that I parked over some sort of roadkill - a squirrel, maybe.

    I got back into the car, started it up, and moved it a couple of feet, exposing the roadkill. The raven then flew down to the pavement, apparently satisfied that he could access his meal. He had nothing else to say after that. :)

  2. That's both funny and very interesting. Thank you.