By Corrie Folsom-O'Keefe, Bird Conservation Programs Manager, Audubon Connecticut
November 8, 2018 — A dark shadow passes overhead. Its harsh croak echoes through the woods. Songbirds take cover in the dense shrubs. A Common Raven is about.
It was in Alaska that I first encountered the Common Raven. I was working at a Girl Scout camp in Fairbanks the summer of 2001 and on a weekend ventured south in hopes of catching a glimpse of Mt. McKinley. Stopping in Nenana to gaze upon the aquamarine Nenana River, a spied a pair along the side of the road.
I wasn’t a birdwatcher at the time, but the size of these two birds caught my attention. Also, the fact that it was a pair that I observed, was a clue to their identity. The Common Raven is roughly the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. While that can be hard to gauge when they are flying overhead, on the ground juxtaposed to trees, rock, and shrubs, they are enormous. They also are frequently found in pairs, while both American and Fish Crows are typically found in small groups—a murder of crows.
My next encounter with the Common Raven was on Bon Portage Island of the western coast of Nova Scotia in 2004. While learning to band birds with the Atlantic Bird Observatory, I became accustomed to hearing the croaks of a pair of ravens that inhabited the spruce-fir forest at the north end of the island. The croaks of the Common Raven are lower and more guttural than the “caw, caw” and “cah-hah” of the American and Fish Crows, respectively.
It wasn’t until 2007 (according to eBird) that I first spied a Common Raven in Connecticut. Despite the name, Common Ravens were not common in Connecticut just 25 years ago. During the Summer Bird Counts of 1992, just two where observed. In comparison, by 2016 the number of Common Ravens identified by SBC participants was 170. Historically Common Ravens have preferred forests away from human activity. But the species has adapted, and can now be found across Connecticut.
If you’d like to see a Common Raven in Connecticut, hills with cliff faces are a good place to look. East Rock and West Rock in New Haven and Hubbard Park in Meriden have resident pairs. Cliff faces are the natural nesting habitat for the Common Raven, but they also have adapted to nesting on cell phone towers and fire escapes.
As I mentioned above, Common Ravens are much larger than crows, are frequently found in pairs, and give a low harsh croak. In flight, the shape of their tail can be used to identify them. The ravens’ tail is wedge-shaped, while crows have more of a fan-shaped tail. If you get a good look, the bill of the raven is considerable in comparison to that of our crow species.
This article was first published in the Bird Finder by The Connecticut Audubon Society, an Audubon Connecticut partner in conservation and the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds.