Ravens

Black bird with shaggy feathers
A raven.

NPS/Neil Herbert

 
From somersaulting through the air to sliding in the snow, the behavior of the Common Raven (Corvus corax) is curious to say the least. These bold, playful passerines are one of the most common wildlife sightings in the park. If you’re a “people-watcher” then you may become a “raven-watcher” by the end of your visit; these birds are remarkably like you and me.

Like humans, ravens speak their mind. Their sophisticated avian vocabulary is complex with over 30 types of calls. From the low, croak-like “kraaaah” to the deep, nasal “brooonk,” ravens are expressive communicators. Their vocal repertoire includes hunger calls, defense calls, flight calls, alarm calls, whistles, and territorial announcements. These loud-mouthed birds also make non-vocal sounds like wing whistling and bill snapping. The Common Raven can also mimic sounds from their environment including human speech.

Aerial acrobatics, demonstrations of intelligence, and providing food are key behaviors during the courting process. Once paired, ravens nest together for life, usually in the same location. Though not as social as their close relatives, crows and magpies, they are often spotted with or near their mates.

“Bird brain” isn’t an insult when it comes to the raven; they actually have large brains and are extremely intelligent.

Cognitive processes such as imitation, insight, and the superb ability to solve problems truly set them apart from other bird species. Scientists believe that ravens memorize locations of food sources and have observed ravens using sticks as tools to raid other ravens’ food caches. We humans are not the only species that relies on retaining and recalling past experience as we soar through life.

Ravens are opportunists and will eat just about anything they can get their claws on. Most of their diet consists of carrion, lizards, bats, insects, and seeds, but they aren’t opposed to human food as well. These clever scoundrels have been known to break into unsecured coolers and vehicles for tasty yet unhealthy human treats. In an effort to keep wildlife wild, avoid feeding ravens by keeping your food properly stored in a secure location.

Last updated: February 8, 2017

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