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Ravens and Crows

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Ravens

The Common raven (Corvus corax) is any of several species of heavy-billed, dark birds, larger than crows, of the genus Corvus, family Corvidae (q.v.). The common raven (C. corax) is the biggest passerine bird (member of the order Passeriformes); it reaches a length of as much as 66 cm (26 inches) and has a wingspan of more than 1.3 m (4 feet). (Some magpies and the lyrebird are bigger than the raven in length but are smaller bodied.) Although it looks like a crow, the raven has a much heavier bill and shaggier plumage, especially around the throat. The raven's lustrous feathers have a blue or purplish iridescence. In the white-necked raven (C. cryptoleucus) of western North America, the base of the neck feathers are white. Other species of ravens, some with white or brown markings, occur in Africa, southern Asia, and North America.

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 coniferous forests as well as barren mountains and desert. It is keen-sighted and notably wary. Long before it was immortalized in Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven," the common raven was a near-universal omen and 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.

Like other corvids, the raven is a noisy, aggressive omnivore whose diet includes rodents, insects, grain, and birds' eggs. In winter, especially, it scavenges and feeds on carrion, dead fish, and refuse. The raven has a large and varied vocabulary, including guttural croaks, gurglings, and a sharp metallic "tok" (which Peso has learned to mimic all too well!) The common raven usually is solitary but may feed in small flocks. The raven's spectacular courtship flight involves soaring and all kinds of aerial acrobatics. The birds' crudely made nest of coarse sticks, usually lined with hair or shredded bark, is a bulky structure up to 1.5 m (5 feet) in diameter that may be built on a cliff or the top of a large tree. The young remain in the nest for about a month. If captured while a nestling, a raven may make an interesting pet capable of learning to mimic a few words. One captive bird on record lived 69 years.

Mythology: The Raven is a central figure in West Coast native traditions from California to Alaska. Among his many feats, he stole the moon and sun from the Sky Chief and put them in the sky, brought humans the first berries and salmon, and (according to several traditions) called the first humans up from the earth, or discovered the first human babies within a clamshell. Raven was perpetually hounded by the trickster-god, Coyote. Raven is known by many names, including He'mask.as (Bella Bella tradition), Txamsem or We-gyet (Tsimshian), Nankil'slas (Haida), Yehl (Tlingit), and Kwekwaxa'we (Kwakiutl).

Crows

Also belonging to the family Corvidae (order Passeriformes), crows are smaller and less heavily billed than most ravens. They are named for their typical call: "caw" or "crah." More than 20 of the 30 species of the genus Corvus are known as crows, and the name has been widely borrowed.

The common crows are C. brachyrhynchos of North America and C. corone of Eurasia. The latter has two races (sometimes considered separate species): the carrion crow (C. c. corone) of western Europe and eastern Asia and the hooded crow (C. c. cornix), occupying the region between and occurring also in the northern British Isles. All crows are about 50 cm (20 inches) long and are coloured glossy black; the hooded crow has touches of gray. Other species include the house crow (C. splendens) of India to Malaysia (introduced in eastern Africa); the pied crow (C. albus), with white nape and breast, of tropical Africa; and the fish crow (C. ossifragu) of southeastern and central North America.

Crows are omnivorous and eat grain, berries, insects, carrion, and the eggs of other birds. The crow's habit of eating cultivated grains has made it very unpopular with farmers, who often try to kill the birds. Crows also eat many economically harmful insects, though. They feed chiefly on the ground, where they walk about sedately. Crows are gregarious, and at times they roost together in great numbers (tens of thousands), but most species do not nest in colonies. Each mating pair has its own nest of sticks and twigs, usually high up in a tree, in which are laid five or six greenish-to-olive eggs that have darker speckles. A crow may live 13 years in the wild and more than 20 years in captivity. Some pet crows "speak," and in the laboratory some have learned to count to three or four and to find food in boxes marked with symbols.

Corvidae

Corvidae, of the order Passeriformes, is the songbird family; that includes crows, jays, and magpies. The 100 species occur throughout the world and most are non-migratory. Corvids are strongly built, stout-billed birds 23-71 cm (9-28 inches) long, some being the largest passerines. They have plain, often glossy plumage that may be monochromatic or contrastingly patterned. The sexes look alike. Corvids have harsh, loud voices, and most are gregarious at times. Social organization is highly developed, mutual aid being a strong feature. Individual birds may show exceptional intelligence. The pair bond is strong, lifelong in some species. The male helps to build the nest, which is a mass of twigs in a tree or on a ledge, sometimes in large colonies; he feeds the female while she incubates the two to nine eggs. Some corvids are notorious nest-robbers, and others damage grain crops; they also eat quantities of noxious insects, however, and are useful scavengers. A few cold-country species store acorns and pine nuts for winter use; the caches they overlook are important in reforestation.

 

 

 

 

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