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Yellowstone National Park Common Raven

Identification

The Common Raven is a large, black bird, standing approximately 24 inches tall. It has a thick bill, a shaggy hackles on the throat and a wedge-shaped tail. Its identifying calls include a hoarse croaking kraak and kloo-klok that is usually made during flight. Ravens are often confused with American Crows, but crows can be distinguished in a couple of ways. Crows are generally smaller, have a more rounded fanned tail, and make a light caw sound. American crows are rather uncommon in Yellowstone.

Habitat

A year round resident of the Yellowstone area, Ravens are found commonly throughout the park, often migrating to lower elevations during the winter. However, some pairs do not migrate.

Behavior

These opportunistic feeders take a variety of foods. They take advantage of seasonal berries, small mammals, young birds and amphibians and of course are always present to feast on carrion. When food is plentiful, such as is found in the summer, ravens are more spread out and function primarily as predators. When food is scarce, such as is the case in the winter, ravens are in groups functioning as scavenger/carrion guides and feeders. A flock of ravens is a good indicator of a predator kill often appearing at the carcass only minutes after the kill. Although smaller than eagles, ravens are often seen harassing both bald and golden eagles and it is not uncommon for a group of ravens to successfully keep these birds away from a carcass. They have also adapted to human activity/habitation and will take advantage of any available food, stealing off of picnic tables and rummaging through back packs to find something to eat.

In winter, many snowmobilers have returned from a short hike to find their belongings scattered about the parking lot, with the raven stealing both food and valuables from visitors. Ravens are some of the earliest birds to re-establish and defend nesting territories. This can begin as early as February. As spring progresses look for paired ravens sitting side by side, riding the air currents and performing impressive aerial acrobats. Ravens provide the visitor with sheer entertainment because of their curious behavior, for you never know what a raven is up to.

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