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Species of the month

Common Raven Corvus corax Linnaeus, 1758

Common Raven is the largest passerine bird who is known to humans from ancient times. Many if not all birdwatchers are acquainted with the all-black colour of Ravens’ plumage which glossed purple and dark blue especially on head, neck and chest. ‘Krook’, the Ukrainian name of the species, is an onomatopoeic word reflecting typical Raven sound which can be heard throughout the year.

Raven’s range encompasses all the Europe including Greenland & Iceland and stretches throughout Siberia to Central and Western China. It embraces Northern Africa and Asia Minor, North and Central Americas too.

Ravens start to breed early in the year. The breeding pairs tend to nest together for life and stay at the breeding territory year round. Some pairs start nest building from the end of January and first clutches are laid in mid February in some countries but more frequently first eggs appear in early March. The clutch contains 2-7 eggs (typically 4-6). The incubation continues 20-21 (until 25) days. Female broods nestlings up to 21-28-days old, though more intensive brooding occurs only on the first 10 days. Both parents feed nestlings. Fledglings leave the nest being 4-7 weeks old.

The numbers of Ravens grow up in Ukraine in last 10-20 years. Common Raven is very plastic when choosing nesting and breeding habitats as compared to other corvids. Probably, it’s the reason for the growth of Raven population. Ravens even settle down near highways with intensive traffic. In chalk landscape Ravens use hill tops as vantage points and likewise as resting and feeding sites (they often bring food pieces here to enjoy in tranquillity).

Up to a thousand and more Ravens can aggregate at communal roosts and pre-roosting gatherings which appear to be very interesting and amazing phenomena. Non-breeding individuals often form huge communal roosts nearby semi-permanent food sources (dumps, meat-packing plants). In other cases communal roosting sites are used traditionally through several decades. But breeding pairs prefer to stay at their territories all year round and usually don’t join large gatherings. Ravens are able to form stable groups for short-term period. The birds in such groups develop affiliative relationships with each other.

It is very attractive to see play behaviour of Ravens: sliding down on belly, tossing up and catching objects in the air. Ravens can peck the tail of birds of prey when playing with them, manage to loop in the air and, when sitting on a branch, can turn over and hang upside down on one or two legs. These birds hide food pieces in caches on the ground.

For centuries Raven had maintained an important place in folklore and beliefs of different nations of the world. North American Indians used Raven feathers to make adornments. The mentions of the bird occur in ancient mythology, Scandinavian myths, in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.


Text by O.O. Bresgunova
Photos by S. Ryzhkov

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