The raven, a member of the crow family, is a very shy but very large passerine (perching bird). They have an all-black plumage and very thick black bill. Ravens are often seen in pairs, soaring with their wings held flat and tail in a diamond-shape. You may hear them before you see them, as they often repeat their loud croaking evocative call – ‘kwaark’ – three or four times. Being omnivores, ravens generally eat anything available, including roadkill, insects, eggs, seeds, berries, and even dung.
The male adult raven can often be seen indulging in spectacular aerial displays: twisting, tumbling and rolling in flight, to impress a female. Ravens are believed to mate for life and live in a fixed territory. They build large nests from sticks, usually on cliffs or in mature trees, and line them with moss. Females lay three to seven eggs each spring in February or March. Most young fledge from late April to mid-May remaining with the adults for several months. Home ranges will remain occupied by territorial pairs all year. When the ‘young’ reach ‘adolescence’, they leave home and join ‘gangs’. These flocks of young birds live and eat together until they mate and hold their own territory. Large flocks are more common in late autumn and winter and can form roosts of up to 200-300 birds.
- Length: 54-67cm
- Wingspan 120-150cm
- Weight: 800-1500g
- Average Lifespan: 15-20 years
Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Main threats include illegal persecution and lack of food, due to land-use change and changes in animal husbandry.
The raven is a bird of mountains, moorland and sea cliffs and is a widely distributed resident in the Highlands, Southern Uplands, the west coast of Scotland, the Outer and Inner Hebrides, Orkney and Shetlands. The breeding population is increasing in some of these areas and spreading further east with a few sightings in Fife, Borders, Angus and Dundee and Perth and Kinross.
When to see
January – December
- When it comes to intelligence, these birds are in the same league as chimpanzees and dolphins. They are known to store extra food away in secret hiding places. However, if a raven senses that another raven is watching where it is about to hide food, it will pretend to stash the food in one place, but will actually hide it in a different spot.
- Over the centuries, the raven has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art and literature around the world. The importance of the raven to Vikings is shown by how often the bird’s image is used on their armour, helmets, shields and banners, as well as in carvings on longships. The Norse Jarls of Orkney used the image and it is still used today at the yearly Viking festival of Up-Helley-Aain Shetland.
- Scotland hosts the majority of the UK population of ravens.