The relatively large black raven lives throughout the northern hemisphere, making it one of the most widespread bird species in the world. These ominous birds have been associated with death by humans since ancient times. This association no doubt results from the generally negative feelings people have toward animals that feed on carrion. Although ravens are primarily scavengers, they do forage as well as engage in directly predatory behavior.
Ravens feed on a wide variety of carrion, including amphibians, small mammals, reptiles and other birds. Their diet is non-discriminatory, and they also eat insects like maggots that feed on carcasses. Besides carrion, ravens also consume vegetation including grains and berries and will even be found feeding on human garbage at landfills. The birds frequently steal and eat eggs from other birds or reptiles and have been observed eating the afterbirth of ewes and other large mammals.
When not breeding, ravens sometimes travel between 30 and 40 miles a day searching for food. If resources are concentrated in particular areas of their range, larger groups of ravens sometimes forage together, but they are typically found in pairs. Working as a duo, they will cooperatively raid the nests of other birds for eggs or even attack newborn lambs. When a large supply of food is found, ravens collect what cannot be immediately consumed and store it for later. They regurgitate whatever food is undigestible in pellet form, like hawks and owls.
Mating and Reproduction
Ravens are monogamous, and their mating and pair bonding is strongly tied to the individual’s ability to provide food. Courtship rituals can last months or even years before the birds pair themselves. Breeding pairs establish their own territory, which they jointly defend against others, and build a nest to rear their young. The female incubates the eggs and is fed by the male. When the eggs have hatched, both parents feed their young by regurgitating food they have partially digested.
Behavior and Territory
Non-breeding ravens often roost together, so large groups foraging or feeding together are typically made up of young birds that have yet to find a mate. These unattached birds form loose flocks during the day, using the power of numbers to keep other birds or animals away in the event food is found. Ravens are intelligent hunters, capable of problem-solving and using tools. They also understand the principle of cause and effect, as demonstrated in a study conducted in the state of Wyoming. Observers noted ravens would follow the sound of gunshots to find potential prey, while ignoring similar sounds such as a slamming car door that did not signal a new source of food.
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.