The Common Raven: Common Things are Often Unappreciated

By Dave Hanks

“Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary” -----“suddenly there came a tapping, as if someone gently rapping”-----“quoth the raven, nevermore”. I’m sure that we all have been exposed to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. However, it’s a bird that doesn’t draw much attention. Perhaps like the Magpie or the Robin, not much beauty is ascribed to it. All these species are very common, but to people not used to them, their beauty causes exhilaration.

The Common Raven looks like a great big, double-chinned, crow. Their size, seen at a distance, makes me oft times wonder if I’m seeing a large hawk. Ravens are the true birds of northern winters, as they are always around winter-killed carcasses. In the search for large predators, whether feline, canine, or ursine; ravens can lead you to a “kill.” They will ether be circling overhead or sitting and waiting for a turn to pick the remains clean. Carrion is a major food, but small or weak animals, plus available vegetative matter like seeds or fruits are also on this adaptive animal’s menu.

The Jay family is considered the most intelligent of the birds, and the Raven is the largest member of this family. Their loud “corrronk” call can be heard at considerable distances. They prefer wild country (usually eschewing cities) and we almost always see them in pairs, sometimes sitting close together. Their courtship consists of mid-air acrobatic tumbling, the exchange of objects like sticks or rocks, and the rubbing of beaks in a “kissing-like” gesture.

This bird, in some cultures, has had a bad (undeserved) “rap.” It has been looked upon as an omen of doom – probably because it is always seen around dead animals. This has also made it looked upon as a symbol of the “Devil.”

Even though this species is widespread over the whole continent, my wife and I first became intimately aware of this bird in Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories where they were everywhere. Yellowstone Park is a spot where this bird has become tame and thus allows close-up observations.

(Corvus corax)