- Photo: Ned Harris
Common Ravens are year-round residents of southeast Arizona. You can expect to see them most days you are in Sabino Canyon. Ravens are large birds, even larger than most Red-tailed Hawks. When ravens are around, you will likely hear a low croaking sound far overhead. Look for a long-tailed black bird flying on long wings with easy, graceful wingbeats.
Adults are entirely glossy black with relatively long pointed wings, a long wedge-shaped tail, shaggy throat feathers, and a large chisel-like bill. Immatures are similar to adults except their flight feathers and tail feathers become dull brown through their first winter.
Ravens are widely known for being a scavenger of carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals) and garbage. They also are predators, hunting rodents and small mammals, pulling nestlings out of nests and taking food from other birds. Their diet also includes insects, fruit and seeds.
Individuals generally hunt in flight or while walking on the ground. They feed anywhere food is present, usually on the ground. Ravens can and do catch insects in flight. Their upper bill has a slight hook on the end, which is useful in ripping off pieces of meat. The lower bill is pointed and sharp. Ravens use their lower bill, slightly opened, to hammer into solid objects such as frozen food. They can pry objects apart to reach food in crevices by inserting their bill and opening it. They are known to knock pistachios out of trees, remove the hulls and shells, then eat the remaining nut.
Common Ravens are acrobatic fliers and I have observed them doing rolls and somersaults in the air. They are also known to play. I once observed a group of ravens playing with a paper plate high overhead at the Grand Canyon. The birds would chase whoever had the paper plate until such time as he dropped it and then they would all compete for the plate. This went on for several minutes and drew a nice crowd of observers.
Common Ravens are not as social as crows or Chihuahuan Ravens. You tend to see Common Ravens alone or in pairs, except at food sources like landfills. Ravens are confident, inquisitive birds that strut around and occasionally bounce forward with light two-footed hops. In flight they are buoyant and graceful.
Ravens are very intelligent. They are among the very few species that can study a problem and figure out a solution without resorting to trial and error.