Object of myth and poetry, the common raven is an intelligent bird of prey. Photograph by Michael S. Quinton
Common ravens are actually rather remarkable animals. These sleek, black birds are excellent and acrobatic fliers on par with falcons and hawks. Such aerial skills are on display during breeding season, when exciting mating rituals include an elaborate dance of chases, dives, and rolls.
These intelligent birds were honored by Native Americans and often portrayed as sly pranksters for their playful nature.
Known as scavengers, ravens are also effective hunters that sometimes use cooperative techniques. Teams of ravens have been known to hunt down game too large for a single bird.
They also prey on eggs and nestlings of other birds, such as coastal seabirds, as well as rodents, grains, worms, and insects. Ravens do dine on carrion and sometimes on human garbage.
In winter, common ravens may gather in flocks to forage during the day and to roost at night. During the rest of the year, they are often coupled, or in small groups.
Ravens are believed to mate for life. They build large, stick nests in which females lay three to seven eggs each spring. Both parents care for their young, which remain dependent for several months.
Common ravens typically vocalize with a croaking sound, but they boast a wider repertoire of calls.
Ravens are the largest passerine (perching) birds in North America. They were once exterminated as pests thought to constitute a threat to game birds and domestic animals.
Today, populations are expanding, and the birds are a familiar sight across the Northern Hemisphere from the icy Arctic to the Mediterranean and in urban areas as well.
Native American Indian lore describes the raven as a creature of metamorphosis, and symbolizes change/transformation.
In some tribes, the Raven is considered a trickster because of its transforming/changing attributes.
Often honored among medicine & holy men of tribes for its shape-shifting qualities, the Raven was called upon in ritual so that visions could be clarified.
Native holy men understood that what the physical eye sees, is not necessarily the truth, and he would call upon the Raven for clarity in these matters.
Foremost, the Raven is the Native American bearer of magic, and a harbinger of messages from the cosmos.
Messages that are beyond space and time are nestled in the midnight wings of the Raven and come to only those within the tribe who are worthy of the knowledge.