The Common Raven is a bird of myth and folklore. It is known as the trickster in some cultures, a harbinger of ill fortune by some, and as a pest by others. The Common Raven is one of the most geographically and ecologically widespread naturally occurring birds in the world. It is found throughout major portions of North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and in all major habitat types except tropical rain forests. In North America it ranges across Canada, Alaska, and the western states, with an isolated population in the Appalachian Mountains. The Common Raven was common across much of Tennessee in the 18th century, but is now restricted to the eastern mountains of East Tennessee where it is an uncommon permanent resident.
Description: The Common Raven is a very large black bird with a thick neck, shaggy throat feathers, and a long, thick beak. In flight, ravens have a long, slightly wedge-shaped tail, long, broad, rather pointed wings with long thin "fingers" at the wingtip.
Weight: 2.6 lbs
Voice: The raven can make a wide variety of sounds ranging from low baritone croaks to high bell-like notes, and can even mimic the calls of other bird species. Their most common call is a long hoarse kraah.
- American Crow is considerably smaller (although size can be difficult to judge at a distance), has a smaller bill, and a rounded, not slightly wedge-shaped, tail.
- The range of the Fish Crow does not overlap with Common Ravens.
Habitat: In Tennessee, Common Ravens typically inhabit remote mountain forests and rock cliffs.
Diet: Common Ravens are scavengers and will eat almost anything including carrion, small animals, birds as large as Rock Pigeons and nestling Great Blue Herons, eggs, a variety of arthropods, fish, grains, buds and berries, and most types of human food including garbage.
Nesting and reproduction: Pairs often stay together throughout the year, but no long-term studies have been conducted to determine whether they mate for life. Nesting begins in late January or February with eggs being laid in late February or early March.
Clutch Size: 3 to 7 eggs, with 4 to 6 most common.
Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 18 to 21 days.
Fledging: Both adults feed the young, which fledge at approximately 7 weeks of age.
Nest: The large stick nest is primarily constructed by the female on a cliff with a protective overhang or rarely wedged into a tree crotch. Fresh branches as large as 3 feet long and up to 1 inch thick are used, and the nest cup is lined with mud, fur, bark strips, grasses, or other fine material. Nests are often reused year to year and can be 2 feet high and 5 feet across.
Status in Tennessee: The breeding range of the Common Ravens is currently restricted to the eastern mountains along the North Carolina state line from Sullivan County south to Blount County, typically above 2700 feet elevation. Ravens may occasionally roam into other areas of East Tennessee. The population of this uncommon permanent resident appears to be stable, but is not well studied. The Common Raven was listed as Endangered in Tennessee in 1975, and lowered to Threatened in 1994 when it was determined that the current population was not in danger of extinction.
Dynamic map of Common Raven eBird observations in Tennessee
- In 1811 the famous ornithologist Alexander Wilson was the first to report Common Ravens in Tennessee. He observed them along the Natchez Trace southwest of Nashville, where they outnumbered Common Crows.
- The Common Raven is an acrobatic flier, and is often seen doing barrel rolls and somersaults in flight. Young birds have been seen playing with sticks where they repeatedly drop the stick and then dive to catch it in midair.
- Common Ravens are very intelligent and are known to work in pairs to raid colonies of nesting seabirds; one bird distracts an incubating adult while the other grabs an egg or chick.
- In Wyoming, a study during the hunting season found that Common Ravens learned to associate the sound of a gunshot with a possible carcass and came to investigate the shot, but ignored other equally loud sounds such as a car door slamming or an airhorn.
- The oldest known Common Raven in the wild was 13 years 6 months old.
Obsolete English Names: American raven, northern raven
Best places to see in Tennessee: Generally found only in the eastern mountains along the North Carolina state line from Sullivan County south to Blount County, above 2700 feet elevation including Roan and Unaka Mountains, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They may rarely be found as far west at Frozen Head State Park in fall and winter.
For more information:
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
Boarman, W.I. and B. Heinrich. 1999. Common Raven (Corvus corax), The Birds of North America No. 476 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Knight, R. L. 2008. The Birds of Northeast Tennessee. Universal Printing, Bristol, VA.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.