The Raven is the largest of the crow family. It is huge, really huge, and hangs out in desolate places, like sea cliffs, mountain crags, upland moors, and the Tower of London. As the Tower was where people got their heads chopped off and Ravens were often seen eating carrion on battlefields (eating the dead bodies), it understandably features in a lot of legends associated with death. Even their collective name is an unkindness. Superstition has it that if the Ravens leave the Tower of London, the Crown and Britain will fall.
The Raven is Buzzard sized. It is all black with shaggy throat feathers, a flat-looking head and huge black, people eating bill. The long wings have fingered ends, and the tail is a distinctive diamond shape. The Raven can look like a cross in the sky. They have a powerful, majestic, 'don't mess with me, I ate your ancestors' flight. Flying Ravens can be distinguished from other crows by their tail shape, larger wing area, and a more stable soaring style, which generally involves a lot less flapping. Their call is a deep, loud "kronk, kronk".
They feed mainly on the ground, eating mammals, small birds, carrion, insects, grains, berries, fruit, and eggs. They are clever enough to store food when it is plentiful and have been seen calling wolves to the site of a dead animal. The wolves open the carcass, leaving the scraps more accessible for the clever Raven.
Once paired, Ravens tend to nest together for life. They will have 4 or 5 nest sites in their territory and select their favourite one in February. The twig nests are usually on a cliff edge or in a tree. The 3-7 eggs hatch after 20 days and the youngsters can fly 45 days later but depend on their parents for a long 4-6 months.
There are 8,000 breeding pairs, mainly found in the western half of Britain, especially Wales. In winter, northern birds will move south, forming large communal roosts outside the breeding season. Ravens can be very long-lived, especially in captive or protected conditions. Individual birds at the Tower of London have lived for over 40 years, though normal Raven life expectancy is 23 years.
Their Latin name is 'corvus corax' from the Latin 'corvus' for 'raven' and the Greek 'korax' meaning 'raven' or 'crow'.