As we Americans prepare our couch potato chips, wings, and beer for Super Bowl Sunday between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, how many of us really know what a raven is? Well, yes, there is that creepy Poe poem we read in high school.
“But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.'”
Common ravens are in the family Corvidae that includes crows and jays. As the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology describes them, “Not just large but massive, with a thick neck, shaggy throat feathers, and a Bowie knife of a beak. In flight, ravens have long, wedge-shaped tails. They’re more slender than crows, with longer, narrower wings, and longer, thinner ‘fingers’ at the wingtips.”
A raven perches on a tree on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Ravens are one of the most commonly seen and heard birds in the national park.
Common ravens, or Corvus corax, are not so common in the eastern U.S. as the Cornell range map shows. They are common in the western U.S. and in much of Canada and do venture down into the upper Midwest, upstate New York, northern New England, and farther south along the Appalachians. I remember “Raven’s Roost,” a stop at a cliff top on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.
Years ago, one did not notice ravens around Ithaca, NY, though they had been here historically. But with the regrowth of forests on abandoned agricultural land, ravens are returning to our landscape. For the last 20 years or so, one has been able to hear their croaking squawks over our gorges. For ravens love to nest on cliffs, and many of the gorges of the Finger Lakes region provide secure ledges, safe from predators, where they can raise the year’s new brood of these large, black, corvids.
Some years, ravens nest on the far cliff near the high falls in the Finger Lakes Land Trust's Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook in the Town of Ithaca, NY.
Are ravens common around Baltimore? Maybe not, and fewer still, perhaps, in New Orleans, this year’s Super Bowl venue. But I don’t expect that will stop them today!
Read more about ravens on the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology webpages.