Common RavenCorvus corax Linnaeus
Status Fairly common resident. Breeds. Ravens occur over the entire province and are usually seen in isolated pairs or alone throughout the year. Sometimes they are common during fall and winter in the restricted localities to which they are drawn by unusually good feeding conditions.
Description Length: 53-67 cm. Adults: Entire plumage black, with bluish iridescence; feathers on throat narrow and elongated; long wedge-shaped tail.
Breeding Nest: Made of coarse sticks, reeds and decayed vegetable matter, lined with soft materials such as sheep's wool, beard lichen, fur and grass. A pair tends to use the same nest site year after year, with new material being added by way of repair each spring. The nests are built in large trees or on cliffsides at elevations of 3-20 m or more. Of 21 nests examined, 10 were in hemlocks, 4 in spruces, 3 on ledges on cliffs, 2 in Yellow Birches, 1 in a poplar and 1 in a beech.
Eggs: 4-7, usually 4 or 5; pale bluish green or olive-green, dashed or blotched with dark olive-brown more densely about the larger end. Nest construction or repair starts in early March; a raven was seen at Cambridge, Kings County, on 8 March 1944 carrying a stick at least 30 cm long in its beak. On 17 March 1946 at Gaspereau, Kings County, one was seen gathering sheep's wool for nest lining; this nest was later discovered and the five eggs it contained hatched on 18 April. Early in March 1950 at Gaspereau, Cyril Coldwell saw one pull wool from the rump of a live sheep and fly off with a beakful to a nest in the farm woodlot; the young flew from this nest on 11 May. Of the 21 nests examined, 2 held clutches of seven eggs; 5 held six; 6 held five; 7 held four; and 1 on a cliffside contained three fresh eggs, probably an incomplete set.
Range Circumpolar. In North America, breeds from northwestern Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, south to Maine, northern Georgia, northern Michigan, North Dakota and through the western United States and Mexico to Nicaragua. Winters in most of its breeding range.
Remarks In addition to its much larger size, its long and wedge-shaped tail distinguishes it from a crow. Its raucous croak is quite different from the softer caw of the smaller bird. Taverner (1934) says of this bird: "The Raven holds aloof from the haunts of man. As civilization has advanced into the primeval vastnesses, the Raven has retired and is still today what he was in the beginning, a bird of the wilderness." While the foregoing may be true of ravens in other parts of Canada, it certainly does not apply here. None of the 21 nests referred to above was remote from agricultural development, and the large majority of them were built in close proximity to farming communities.
Ravens seem to possess uncanny powers, not only to detect food, but to pass the word along to others of their kind widely separated from one another. This is borne out by an incident recounted to me by a deer hunter: After dressing a deer he had killed the first morning out from camp, he hung it in a clump of thick spruces and placed boughs over the carcass to conceal it from any raven that might pass that way. None was seen at that time. Returning two days later to pick it up, he found the carcass picked almost clean and, perched on boulders and trees in close proximity to the cache, 40-50 heavily glutted ravens.
During May 1916 a pair was seen carrying food to their young in a nest. Unfortunately, the female was shot late in the afternoon. In order to determine whether the male would carry on alone or desert the young, the nest was visited about nine o'clock the following morning. On reaching the site, it was surprising and pleasing to find two ravens caring for the young just as though nothing had happened. Possibly, the male had quickly located a new mate to share his domestic responsibilities, or possibly he had located a "helper". Among the Corvidae, "helpers" at the nest are sometimes recruited from the offspring of previous years.
Although crows regularly congregate at roosts at night, this must be an uncommon practice for ravens because only twice have such gatherings come to my attention. The first was at Coldbrook, Kings County, where on 4 December 1943 I watched ravens coming in from all directions until, as darkness began to fall, an estimated 1,000 birds had gathered in a pine grove close to Highway 1 . During the late afternoon of 24 June 1965 I watched hundreds flocking to a roost located somewhere on North Mountain, directly north of Waterville, Kings County. All came from the south and passed high overhead in a steady line that extended for a considerable distance.
At several places in Kings County, refuse from poultry processing plants dumped regularly during late fall and winter attracts many scavengers, including hundreds of ravens, which are very commonly seen during that period over a wide area around the dumping sites.
The most commonly known call of the raven is its coarse croak but it has other notes, some far from discordant. One is a bell-like call, rich and pleasing to the ear, often given while the bird is high in flight and appears to be turning somersaults (righting itself without turning over completely), an acrobatic feat apparently done in play.
Ravens do not wander far from where they were raised. To collect information regarding their range and other aspects of their everyday lives, Cyril Coldwell undertook a study that produced data of great interest and value. Between 1965 and 1970 he captured, banded and released no fewer than 2,006 ravens, using an ingeniously constructed trap device set up on his farm at Gaspereau, Kings County. The trapping was done intermittently regardless of season as availability of bait (the viscera of slaughtered cattle) permitted. Birds that re-entered the traps before three months had elapsed were classed as "repeats" and not recorded. The many taken after a three-month interval were recorded as "returns." The accompanying map graphically portrays the places where 146 bands were recovered up to 1970 from birds killed or found dead. Most were recovered in Kings or nearby counties, but individuals wandered as far afield as Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island and Yarmouth County.
Coldwell also compiled data which support the long-held belief that ravens mate for life. No fewer than five pairs (presumably mated) entered the trap together and were later retaken at the same time, a strong indication that they have travelled together during the interim: a pair banded on 27 March 1967 was trapped again on 11 September of that year; a pair taken on 2 December 1967 was retaken on 10 February 1968; a pair taken on 22 November 1966 was trapped again on 21 August 1968; a pair trapped on 18 October 1969 was retrapped on 20 January 1970; and a pair taken on 30 November 1969 was retaken on 14 May 1970.
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