The Crow Family  A look at Corvidae, featuring the Raven.

The jackdaw is the smallest member of the crow tribe in Britain. Photograph by Dal.

Crows, which in Britain are represented by the Magpie**, Jackdaw**, Rook**,Raven,** Carrion crow, **Hooded crow,** Jay** and Chough, belong to the Family Corvidae and the Order Passeriformes { perching birds}.

They are numerous and widely distributed and a familiar tribe of birds. Within the Order there are species represented in almost all parts of the world.

** Featured in detail on this site.

                                                 WHAT IS A CROW ?

The general characteristics are-- Those of the genus Corvus are all sober and even sombre in their attire, but there are few exceptions, and even the most dull garbed ones, there is a beautiful compactness about their plumage.

Their feathers appear to be better tempered to the elements than almost any birds, and thus, they are enabled to keep very constantly stirring and beating about on the wing. Although many of them are very sociable in their habits {for example rooks} they are firmly attached to their dwelling places, and regularly return their habitual dwellings at night, yet, take the tribe as a whole, they range more generally in distribution across the world than most birds. Yet each species appear to prefer a certain kind of locality to every other.

The crow tribe are among the most intelligent birds.a remarkable example of this, is the readiness to imitate the human voice. This fact was so well known, that, in times gone by many people kept the birds for that purpose,. However, due to some perverse belief that the birds could speak more plainly if their tongues were split this operation was often carried out. The birds were caused untold pain and it is hard to justify such cruelty on a fellow creature.

Everyone that knows anything about the structure of birds { even a basic knowledge} will be perfectly aware that the tongue has nothing to do with the production of sounds they utter, whether natural or acquired. The organ of voice in birds is at the bronchial end of the windpipe and all sounds commence here, though through the windpipe and mouth it may act as a sort of trumpet in increasing the volume of the sound, or otherwise changing the pitch of it. 

A persecuted tribe.

Here in Britain in less enlightened times { and to a certain degree in these modern times} birds of this genera were persecuted. Rooks were tenaciously slaughtered, and, the Raven our largest Corvine species had a price on its head. This was because of many reasons, among which, stealing the eggs of other birds, and indeed nestlings { however, they do less damage to bird populations than the domestic cat}, and the fact they are carrion eaters.

When Ravens and others of their ilk are seen feeding on a weak or dying lamb, probably through some disease, or, eating the carcass of a lamb already dead, they were accused of causing the deaths, when in reality, they were clearing the countryside, of what would be, a fly-infested corpse.

Many members of the crow family have long been associated with evil, or being the bearers of ill will and general bad luck. This is reflected in the collective names of some species such as , a group of crows is referred to as a " Murder of crows" an " Unkindness of Ravens" or formerly a  "Conspiracy of Ravens"  and a " Scold of Jays"

The magpie is a familiar member of the crow tribe.

Image courtesy of Arpington { Creative Commons Attribution}

The Raven Corvus corax.

Here in this article we review the largest member of the crow tribe . There are 11 species of Raven worldwide the one under review here is the Common Raven Corvus corax. It is the largest and most powerful of all the species measuring 54-67cm { 21 -26 inches} with a wing span of 1.2-1.5 metres { 4-5 feet}. They weigh , the male 1.3kg and the female 1.1kg. 

The whole plumage is black, but glossed with blue which may be observed in certain light. The bill is stout and black. The head is rounded. The feathers on the back of the neck are soft and silky, the feathers on the throat are narrow and sharp and pointed. All these feathers can be raised so as to exaggerate the size of the head. 

In relation to its body size the wings are long, the neck short, bill relatively long, legs short. 

Movement--Flies rather heavily, but often soars and in spring performs aerial acrobatics, "tumbling", diving, and even flying upside down, displaying to attract mates or re-establish bonds between existing pairs. When in flight the wing tips are splayed. They have a strutting walk. The voice is a deep croaking "pruk pruk".

In the main , with a few exceptions the Raven is a bird of mountainous , hilly country and sea cliffs, they will in the latter locality feed on the sea shore. 

The raven

Photograph courtesy of the USFWS

Breeding and young

Ravens inhabit the wilds rather than woods and builds its nest at a considerable height { although there are records of them building their nest on the ground when they can not find other places to suit their requirements}. However, when it has a proper choice it prefers the ledges and crevices in rocks, but if possible on the edges of cultivated land, where the vicinity offers plenty food for them and their young. the brood are very demanding and are very voracious in the devouring of the food.

The nest is a substantial structure, externally it is constructed of sticks and the interior is lined with wool, hair, heather or some similar substance. The number of eggs varies but seldom exceed five and often there are but two. They have a greenish background marked with blotches of ash brown. The incubation period lasts about 21 days and is carried out in the main by the female, with the male relieving her for short spells. Ravens are very attentive of their young. 

Diet and lifestyle.

Ravens will eat almost anything, they will catch small mammals and birds; eats carrion especially dead sheep and lambs {as previously mentioned} in the remote areas the inhabit. Road kills, and they forage for scraps on shore and rubbish tips; invertebrates and some vegetable matter such as grain.

In former times Ravens were found in most parts of the British Isles giving rise to the old adage " Every rock has its Raven" but alas they are considerably rarer than then.  They are not as social as other members of the tribe, however, there may be small family groups observed during late summer and much larger groups gather at roosts in autumn and winter. 

The Raven pair are very much attached to each other and they are never far apart. Should one of them be threatened the other will render assistance immediately. When passing rugged rocks in the Raven's locality, you may not see the Raven, but he will certainly see you.

I have sat quietly and motionless and have observed the curious habit of this bird. the raven does not purposely stay away . In fact he sat upon a rock some yards away. The curious thing is it sits with its tail towards you as though it is going to fly away, yet his head is always turned towards you, and he is assiduous in his watchfulness. Should one make a move towards him he will take to the wing, feigning difficulty and seems as though it has flown away. However, he has a unique way of "sideling" on the wing, because although he appears from his demeanour to be retreating he his actually nearer to you at the end of the flight than he was when he took off, although the elevation may be higher or lower. A magical moment to treasure forever!. In this manner he often deceives his prey into a false sense of security.

Conservation concerns

There was an estimated 12,900 pairs in the UK in the year 2000. there are no current conservation concerns. They seem to prefer the western side of Britain to the East.

European status --secure.

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The BTO.

Links--The BTO a direct link to the BTO home page. { British Trust for Ornithology}

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