Common Ravens, but Remarkable, too

Rick Lewis--A glossy jet-black Common Raven announces his presence with a croak.

Common Ravens, but Remarkable, too

These glossy jet-black birds are readily seen year-round throughout Alameda and are actually quite remarkable. They are excellent fliers and among the most intelligent birds. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest honored the Raven, as both a trickster and a creator god.

Like the American Crow, a close relative, Common Ravens are all black. They are between 22 and 27 inches long and have a wingspan of about 46 inches, about half as big as the Crows. The Raven’s huge bill is much larger relative to its size than is the Crow’s; the Raven’s tail looks wedge-shaped in flight, in contrast to the rounded tail of the American Crow. The Raven also has shaggy neck feathers, which may be easiest to see when it is calling. The Raven’s call is described as a croak or “grunk,” compared to the “caw-caw” of the American Crow. The Common Raven’s life span averages 13 years in the wild.

Common Ravens will eat just about anything they can find. They feed on large insects and other small animals, including the eggs and young of other species; carrion; fish; grains and berries; pet food; and many types of human food including trash.

Common Ravens demonstrate acrobatic flying skills, and do rolls and somersaults in the air, along with dives with their wings tucked, particularly during breeding season.

Common Ravens are also known for their intelligence. Ravens are part of the corvid family, considered among the most intelligent birds. Ravens have been observed following researchers to find nests to raid, using found objects as weapons, comforting other Ravens who suffered an aggressive incident, and marking the deaths of others of their own species. Their intelligence makes them effective predators. Common Ravens have been observed pairing up to hunt in seabird colonies. One bird will distract the adult protecting an egg or chick, and the other will observe from close by, grabbing the prey as soon as the adult uncovers it.

Common Ravens are believed to pair up for life. They nest in trees, power line towers, telephone poles and other high manmade and natural objects. Their nests are made of sticks woven together into a basket, with a smaller cup inside. Common Ravens have one brood per year, with 3 to 7 eggs per brood. Their eggs may be green, olive or blue, and are often mottled with a darker color.

When born, the chicks are nearly naked, have closed eyes and have been described as “grotesque gargoyles.” The chicks are cared for by both parents for several months.

Common Ravens are widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, although they disappeared from much of the Eastern U.S. as forests were cut down over the 1800s and 1900s. They are beginning to return as forest cover regenerates in the Northeast but are largely absent from much of the Great Plains and the South. Overall, Common Ravens are doing well in North America, with stable or rising numbers. They do tend to do well around people, profiting from the garbage, crops, irrigation, and roadkill that accompany us.

Linda Carloni is a member of Golden Gate Audubon Society and its Alameda conservation committee, Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve. If you are interested in helping protect Alameda wildlife and habitat, contact