The Raven is a jet black bird of the crow family. These intelligent birds of prey are found extensively in the Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic regions to the Mediterranean. Perhaps because of their sleek looks and impressive colouring they have been the subject of innumerable myths and legends from the New World to Eurasia. They have a place in the poetry of many different languages. In real life though they have often been considered pests and hunted almost to the point of extinction in North America.
FACT 1: The raven is the largest member of the Corvidae (commonly called corvids) family. The Corvids include a wide range of species from the raven to magpies and jays. Ravens are classified as Corvus corax. The genus Corvus includes ravens, crows and magpies. An adult raven measures about 3 feet in length and weighs about 2kg.
FACT 2: Ravens are acrobatic fliers. Their flying skills are comparable with those of falcons and hawks. During the breeding season they are known to participate in highly complex dance sequences involving dives chases and rolls. They have even been known to fly upside down.
FACT 3: Ravens are most commonly known as croakers. However they can make a variety of other sounds. Ravens have been documented to communicate in local dialects and individual specific calls can be identified.
FACT 4: Ravens like all corvids are essentially social birds. During winter they forage together, roaming the skies in flocks of several hundred and sometimes thousands. On cold winter nights they roost together. In summer they move in smaller groups or even pairs. Ravens mate for life. In spring they build large stick nests. The female lays between 3 to 7 eggs. Both parents participate in nurturing and the baby birds stay with their parents for several months.
FACT 5: Ravens are omnivorous birds of prey. They are generally considered scavengers. Though they do feed on carrion and sometimes on human garbage, they prefer a good hunt. Occasionally they hunt in teams and can bring down prey much larger than they are. On solo hunts they feed on rats, baby birds, insects, worms and eggs. They also eat grain.
FACT 6: Native North American tribes revered the Raven. They considered them to be demiurge. This term refers to a being responsible for the creation of the universe. The Haida tribe consider the Raven a trickster god, constantly at loggerheads with another trickster, the coyote. A legend of the Tsimshian tells of a raven stealing the sun. Odin, the Viking god relied on his pair of ravens, Muninn (memory) and Huginn (thought) to bring him news of the happenings in the world.
FACT 7: The raven was the first bird to be sent out of Noah’s Ark. It never came back, presumably because the waters had receded enough for the raven to find a perch. Ravens are called passerine birds. Their feet are adapted to cling to a branch, or perch.
FACT 8: Strangely the raven though deified or seen as a companion of the Gods has also been considered as a representative of darker forces. In France they were considered to be the souls of wicked priests. In Sweden it was thought that a ravens that croaked at night were the disturbed souls who had been denied a Christian burial.
FACT 9: Be they from the heavens or down below, ravens are highly intelligent playful creatures. Ravens in captivity can imitate human voices and also cars starting, toilets flushing and bird and animal calls. They have been observed in Alaska and Canada using snow covered roofs as slides.
FACT 10: The bird is immortalized in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’ where his unvaried intonation of the word ‘Nevermore’ drives the poet to despair.