The raven is any of approximately 10 species of heavy-billed dark birds, larger than crows.
Closely related, both ravens and crows are species of the genus Corvus.
Formerly abundant throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the raven is now restricted to the wilder, undisturbed parts of its range.
It is among the hardiest of birds, inhabiting the northern tundra and boreal forests as well as barren mountains and desert.
The raven is keen-sighted and notably wary.
In the wild, ravens can live to between 10 to 15 years. In human care, it is possible these birds could live to between 40 or 50 years of age.
The common raven (C. corax) is the largest of the perching birds: it reaches a length of up to 66 cm (26 inches) and has a wingspan of more than 1.3 metres (4 feet).
The raven has a heavier bill and shaggier plumage than the crow, especially around the throat.
The raven’s lustrous feathers also have a blue or purplish iridescence.
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.
With their deep voice, ravens can mimic human speech and other bird sounds.
Ravens are among the most intelligent birds, though common ravens may have the edge on tackling tough problems.
A study published in 2017 in the journal Science revealed that ravens even pre-plan tasks—a behavior long believed unique to humans and their relatives. In the simple experiment, scientists taught the birds how a tool can help them access a piece of food. When offered a selection of objects almost 24 hours later, the ravens selected that specific tool again—and performed the task to get their treat. “Monkeys have not been able to solve tasks like this,” Mathias Osvath, a researcher at Sweden’s Lund
University, said in a previous interview.
A group of at least six captive ravens are resident at the Tower of London. Their presence is traditionally believed to protect The Crown and the Tower; a superstition holds that “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” Some historians,
including the Tower’s official historian, believe the “Tower’s raven mythology is likely to be a Victorian flight of fantasy”. The earliest known reference to captive ravens at the Tower is an illustration from 1883.
The term “raven” originally referred to the common raven, the type species of the genus Corvus, which has a larger distribution than any other species of Corvus, ranging over much of the Northern Hemisphere.
Collective nouns for a group of ravens (or at least the common raven) include “rave”, “treachery”, and “conspiracy”. In practice, most people use the more generic “flock”.
Many references to ravens exist in world lore and literature. Most depictions allude to the appearance and behaviour of the common raven. Because of its black plumage, croaking call and diet of carrion, the raven is often associated with loss and ill omen. Yet its symbolism is complex. As a talking bird, the raven also represents prophecy and insight. Ravens in stories often act as psychopomps, connecting the material world with the world of spirits.
Long before it was immortalized in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven,” the common raven was a near-universal symbol of dark prophecy—of death, pestilence, and disease—though its cleverness and fearless habits also won it a degree of admiration, as evidenced in its noble heraldic roles in the mythology of some peoples.
French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss proposed a structuralist theory that suggests the raven (like the coyote) obtained mythic status because it was a mediator animal between life and death.
As a carrion bird, ravens became associated with the dead and with lost souls.
In Swedish folklore, they are the ghosts of murdered people without Christian burials and, in German stories, damned souls.
Ravens were honored by Native Americans and often portrayed as sly pranksters for their playful nature.
The raven is the first species of bird to be mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and ravens are mentioned on numerous occasions thereafter.
In the Book of Genesis, Noah releases a raven from the ark after the great flood to test whether the waters have receded (Gen. 8:6-7).
According to the Law of Moses, ravens are forbidden for food (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14), a fact that may have colored the perception of ravens in later sources.
In the Book of Judges, one of Kings of the Midianites defeated by Gideon is called “Orev” (עורב) which means “Raven”.
In the Book of Kings 17:4-6, God commands the ravens to feed the prophet Elijah. King Solomon is described as having hair as black as a raven in the Song of Songs 5:11. Ravens are an example of God’s gracious provision for all his creatures in Psalm 147:9 and Job 38:41.
In the New Testament as well, ravens are used by Jesus as an illustration of God’s provision in Luke 12:24.