The Clever Australian Raven

Australian Raven on a rock

The Australian Raven The Intelligent Bird

With its jet black feathers and rich warbling calls, the Australian raven is a distinctive bird that holds an important place in Indigenous lore and modern culture across Australia. This highly intelligent corvid has adapted ingeniously to coexist with humans across diverse habitats.

There are three species of raven in Australia – Australian raven, little raven, and forest raven. There are also three crow species – Torresian, little, and Australian crow. Ravens are generally larger than crows with a wingspan of around 1 meter.

Taxonomy and Subspecies

The Australian raven was first described by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and Thomas Horsfield in 1827. It belongs to the genus Corvus, which includes crows, ravens, and jackdaws. Two subspecies are recognized: C. c. coronoides, found in eastern Australia, and C. c. perplexus, found in Western Australia. Recent genetic studies have suggested that these subspecies may be distinct enough to be considered separate species.

Physical Characteristics

The Australian raven is the largest of Australia’s corvids, measuring 46–53 cm in length with a wingspan of 100 cm and weighing around 650 grams. It has glossy black plumage with a purple, blue, or green sheen, and its throat feathers (hackles) are longer and more lanceolate compared to other Australian corvids. The bird’s sturdy black or grey-black legs, feet, and beak are well-adapted for its omnivorous diet and foraging habits. One distinguishing feature is the presence of a bare patch of skin under and extending beside the bill, which can be difficult to see in the field.

Seen in mated pairs, they hold their body horizontally when calling, without wing flicking. Juveniles have dark eyes, shorter hackles, and a fleshy gape.

Habitat and Distribution

Australian ravens are found throughout much of southern and northeastern Australia, inhabiting a wide range of natural and modified habitats, including eucalypt-dominated sclerophyll forests, farmlands, heathlands, and mangroves. They have also adapted well to urban environments and are common in cities such as Sydney, Canberra, and Perth. In areas where they coexist with other corvid species, such as the little raven or the Torresian crow, the Australian raven tends to occupy more forested habitats.

Australian Raven Distribution CC BY-SA 4.0
Australian Raven Distribution CC BY-SA 4.0

Social Behavior and Communication

These intelligent birds are known for their complex social behaviors and vocalizations. They are generally sedentary, with bonded pairs occupying territories year-round. Non-breeding birds often form flocks and may travel considerable distances in search of food. Australian ravens communicate through a variety of calls, including a slow, drawn-out territorial call and various contact calls used to convey specific messages within the flock. They also engage in allopreening, a social bonding behavior where birds preen each other’s head and neck feathers.

Their territorial call is a slow, drawn-out “ah-ah-ah-aaaah” given in duets or by single birds. Other calls include contact twitters and a high-pitched cawing flight call.

Australian Ravens, like other members of the Corvidae family, are considered highly intelligent birds. They exhibit problem-solving abilities, tool use, and social cognition. Ravens can learn from experience, adapt to new situations, and communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations. Their intelligence is often compared to that of primates, and they have been observed engaging in complex behaviors such as cooperative hunting and deception.

Breeding and Nesting

Australian ravens typically breed from July to September, with little variation across their range. They build large, untidy nests of sticks lined with grasses, bark, and feathers, usually placed high in tall trees or on artificial structures such as windmills or buildings. Both sexes participate in nest building, with the female taking charge of lining the nest. Clutches usually consist of four to five eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 20 days. The chicks are born altricial and remain in the nest for 40–45 days before fledging.

Feeding Habits

As omnivores, Australian ravens have a diverse diet that includes insects, small mammals, carrion, fruits, and seeds. They are opportunistic feeders and have adapted to take advantage of human food sources in urban areas, such as rubbish tips and bins. Ravens are also known for their innovative foraging strategies, such as using rocks or fence posts as anvils to break open hard-shelled prey. In agricultural areas, they have been observed feeding on lamb feces, afterbirth, and occasionally attacking sick or wounded lambs, leading to conflicts with farmers.

Cultural Significance

The Australian raven holds a significant place in Aboriginal mythology and culture. In many Aboriginal language groups, the raven is seen as a trickster, culture hero, and ancestral being. For example, in the Kulin nation of central Victoria, the raven (known as Waa) is regarded as one of two moiety ancestors, alongside the eaglehawk Bunjil. These cultural narratives highlight the deep connection between indigenous Australians and the natural world.

Conservation Status

Due to its wide distribution, adaptability, and increasing population, the Australian raven is classified as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the species does face some threats, such as persecution by farmers who view them as a problem for livestock, as well as the usual challenges of habitat loss and urbanization. Despite these pressures, the Australian raven remains a resilient and successful species.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell the difference between a male and female Australian Raven?

Male and female Australian Ravens look almost identical, with the male being slightly larger on average. The best way to tell the difference is by observing their behavior during the breeding season, when males will often perform aerial displays to attract females.

Where do Australian ravens live?

Found across most of Australia except the driest desert regions, Australian ravens inhabit open woodlands, grasslands, forests, farms, and urban areas.

What do they eat?

Australian ravens are omnivorous, feeding on insects, small vertebrates, seeds, fruit, eggs, carrion and even rubbish. They scavenge food from many sources.

Are Australian ravens aggressive?

They can be territorial and may sometimes scavenge lambs, but they generally aren’t aggressive towards humans. Their cleverness and adaptability helps them thrive near people.

How long do they live?

In the wild, Australian ravens live up to 20 years. The oldest recorded was 17 years old.

What’s interesting about Australian ravens?

Australian ravens are intelligent, using tools and imitating calls. They are highly social, living in flocks of up to 100 birds that cooperate to find food and defend territories. They also readily adapt to human environments.

Are Australian Ravens a threat to livestock?

While Australian Ravens are known to occasionally raid livestock feed, they are generally not considered a serious threat to livestock.

What is the difference between a crow and a raven?

Crows and ravens are both members of the corvid family, but there are several differences between the two species. Ravens are generally larger than crows, with a wingspan of up to 1.3 meters. Ravens also have a more distinctive call and are generally more solitary than crows.

Are Australian Ravens a protected species?

Australian Ravens are not a protected species in Australia, although they are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN.

Are Australian Ravens social birds?

Yes, Australian Ravens are social birds and can often be seen in pairs or small groups.

The Australian Raven is a fascinating and highly adaptable bird that is found throughout much of Australia. With its distinctive appearance, complex social behavior, and remarkable adaptations, the bird is a true marvel of the natural world. While it faces a number of threats, including habitat loss and hunting, efforts are being made to protect the bird and ensure that it continues to thrive in the wild.