Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt
This large raven found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere is more frequently found singly, in pairs or small groups, but in many regions is sometimes found in foraging or roosting flocks of several hundred, even several thousand, birds. Polytypic. Length 24" (61 cm).
Identification Largest corvid in the Americas, with uniformly glossy black plumage, long, heavy bill, and long wedge-shaped tail. The bases of the neck feathers are gray. Nasal bristles on top of bill cover the basal third to half of the bill. The throat is covered by thick and shaggy feathers. Juvenile: brownish cast to feathers, grayish eye, and fleshy gape (quickly darkening after fledging). Immature: tends to show worn brownish wings that contrast with fresher black wing coverts. Flight: wingbeats shallower than crows. Frequently soars; pairs frequently engage in a variety of aerial acrobatics, sometimes even turning upside down. Glossy black plumage is often most apparent in flight, when ravens often appears “greasy,” as if covered with oil.
Geographic Variation Roughly 11 subspecies worldwide; 4 in North America. While variation is largely clinal, differences between extremes sometimes apparent. Northern and Eastern principalis large with long bill of medium depth. Residents of western Alaska to northeastern Siberia are the largest, with the broadest and longest bill. Western sinuatus and particularly southwestern clarionens smaller, with smaller bill, shorter wings and tail.
Similar Species See Chihuahuan raven, which can be extremely similar. Crows are much smaller with much smaller bills and fan-shaped tails.
Voice Extremely varied, with local dialects and individual specific calls reported. Call: common call is a low, drawn-out croak kraaah; also a deep, nasal and hollow brooonk. Juvenile begging calls are relatively high-pitched, but there is much individual variation. Calls can be similar to the Chihuahuan raven.
Status and Distribution Generally common, but more local on southern periphery of range. Breeding: diverse array of habitats. Tends to prefer hilly or mountainous areas, but found on tundra, prairies, grasslands, towns, cities, isolated farmsteads, forests, even Arctic ice floes. Migration and dispersal: generally considered sedentary, but poorly understood. Regular spring passage noted along Front Range of Colorado late January–late March. Vagrant: casual chiefly in winter to Great Plains, southern Great Lakes, and lower elevations of Atlantic coast states.
Population Declined greatly in the 19th and early 20th centuries due to loss of habitat, shooting, poisoning, and disappearance of bison on the Great Plains; extirpated from Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the southern Great Lakes. Populations are now expanding into some of their former territory in parts of the East, Great Lakes, and northern Plains. Listed as endangered in Tennessee and Kentucky. Shooting, trapping, and habitat degradation continue to pose threats for this species, but it is becoming more tolerant of humans; birds are often found in cities and towns in the West.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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