Raven, the largest of the corvidoe or crow family, and the type of the genus corvus (Linn.). In this genus the bill is long and very strong, and arched; the nasal feathers are lengthened and reach about to the middle of the bill, and the nostrils are large, circular, and overhung behind by membrane; the gape without bristles; wings long and pointed, when closed reaching nearly to the tip of the tail and far beyond the under coverts; the second quill longer than the first, and the third and fourth the longest; primaries ten, the outer four sinuated on the inner edge; tail short and nearly even; tarsi longer than middle toe, scaled in front. The American raven ( C. car-nivorus, Bartram) is about 25 in. long with an alar extent of 50, and the bill 3 in.; the female is a little smaller, but in other respects like the male. The plumage is compact, glossy black, with violet and greenish reflections; the feathers of the chin and throat, as in all ravens, are elongated, stiffened, narrow, lanceolate, and with very distinct outlines.
It is found over the entire continent of North America from Labrador to the gulf of Mexico, in some places migratory, but in others (as at Lake Superior and in Canada) braving the cold of the severest winters; it is most abundant in rocky districts, near the banks of lakes and rivers, and in thinly peopled regions. It is generally seen alone or in pairs, but sometimes in small flocks after the breeding season; the flight is rapid, elevated, and protracted, the bird often sailing for hours at a time at a great height; on the ground the gait is grave and dignified, with frequent opening of the wings. It is truly omnivorous, but by preference carnivorous, eating small animals of all kinds, eggs and young birds, carrion, dead fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, nuts, and berries. It is very wary and cunning, and is rarely caught in traps or shot, but it often falls a victim to the poisoned baits set by the trappers for the fur-bearing animals. It breeds, according to latitude, between January and June, making a rude nest on inaccessible cliffs, repairing the same for years in succession; the eggs are four to six, 2 in. long, light greenish blue with numerous light purple and yellowish brown blotches, especially at the larger end; incubation lasts about three weeks, and the young remain in the nest several weeks before they are able to fly, fed at first on the half digested food disgorged by the parents; only one brood is raised in a year, and this is bravely and successfully defended against the largest birds of prey.
It is easily domesticated by kindness, and becomes much attached to its master, following him like a dog; it can be taught to imitate the human voice and to pronounce a few words with great distinctness; when irritated or wounded, it strikes savagely with bill and claws. Its flesh is tough and unfit for food; it disgorges indigestible substances, as bones, hair, and feathers, like birds of prey. Like others of the genus, this species varies much in size and proportions, according to locality, those of the south, contrary to the general rule, being larger than the northern individuals of the same species; this fact has led some to think that the Colorado raven (C. cacalotl, Wagl.) is only a southern variety of the C. carnivorus, the chief differences being a slightly greater size, longer wings and tail, and a western and southern habitat exclusively. The white-necked raven (C. cryptoleucus, Couch), from Mexico and Texas, is about 21 in. long, with the feathers of the neck all round, back, and breast, snow-white at the base. - The European raven (C. corax, Linn.) very much resembles the American in size and proportions, and the two have been regarded by Audubon and others as the same, but most modern naturalists consider them distinct; it is about 26 in. long and 52 in alar extent.
It is very interesting on account of its habits, and its historical, economical, and superstitious relations; it is very grave and dignified, sagacious, courageous, and powerful; its beak is as well adapted for tearing flesh as is that of rapacious birds; though wary and distrustful, it is docile and affectionate when domesticated; it has an excellent memory, and a decidedly thievish disposition. The color is black, with steel-blue and purplish or violet reflections; its form is symmetrical and its proportions are fine. It is proverbially long-lived, and has been known to attain the age of about 100 years; it is spread extensively over Europe, and allied species are found in Africa and Asia. It is voracious and omnivorous, but particularly fond of carrion, whether of flesh, fish, or fowl, dead from disease or accident; it will attack an animal of the size of a sheep if it is helpless or dying; it is said to destroy young lambs, and certainly makes great havoc among half-grown hares and rabbits, young and full-fledged birds, and eggs; when it finds a carcass the first attack is upon the eyes and tongue, and then upon the abdomen to drag out the intestines; in autumn it sometimes commits serious depredations upon barley fields.
The flight is at times very high, which enables them to follow any companions which have chanced to spy their favorite food; this explains the rapid collecting of a large number in a short time; they have no special acuteness of smell, but are guided to their food by the sense of sight; the voice is a harsh and disagreeable croak. They are usually seen alone or in pairs, except when drawn together by a large carcass in the field or on the shore; the nest is made in lofty trees or in holes of inaccessible cliffs, and the same one is used year after year; a fetid odor issues from the body, probably on account of their carrion food. Farmers and shepherds like to have them breed on their premises, as they keep off eagles, cats, dogs, etc. This was considered a bird of ill omen by the ancients, and its movements were watched by the augurs with great attention; and it has been generally looked upon with superstitious fears, on account of its black hue, mournful croak, fetid odor, and disgusting habits. It by preference inhabits the most desolate places.
In America, where the crow abounds, as about Lake Superior, the raven is very rarely seen, and vice versa.
Raven (Corvus corax).