What is a Raven?
Belonging to the genus Corvus, a raven is among the numerous bigger-bodied species of their genus. These species are known for not forming any single taxonomic group in the genus. Ravens and crows do not have any consistent distinction between them. The appellations are given to different species mainly on the basis of size. Usually, ravens are bigger than crows. The largest species of ravens are the thick-billed raven and the common raven.
Looking at the Etymology
To know what a group of ravens is called, we must know about the etymology of the term. Originally, the name “raven” referred to Corvus corax or the common raven. It is the type species of Corvus, the genus, that has a bigger distribution than other species of the genus. These birds range over the Northern Hemisphere. The cognates of ‘raven’ as a modern English word are in every other Germanic language, including Old High German, Old Norse, and the modern Icelandic language.
Collective Nouns for Raven
The collective nouns used for a group of ravens include conspiracy, treachery, and rave. In a more generic way, “flock” is commonly used by most people. These birds love to form teenage gangs and roam around. They mate for life and choose a fixed territory where they live in pairs. Once the young ravens reach adolescence, they join gangs after leaving home. The flocks of young ravens live as well as eat together before mating and pairing off. Interestingly, ravens find it stressful to sustain among teenagers. Scientists have found a lesser amount of stress hormones in the droppings of mated adults than in the teenage ravens.
Ravens are Pretty Smart
You will be surprised to know that ravens give tough competition to dolphins and chimpanzees in terms of intelligence. A logic test was conducted where a raven had to acquire a hanging slice of food by pulling the string, using its claw for anchoring, and repeating the process to bring the food to its reach. Many ravens acquired the food in the first attempt and that too, within thirty seconds! Ravens in the wild have pushed heavy rocks on people for keeping them away from their nests, pulled a fisherman’s line from the ice holes and stolen fish, and acted dead near a beaver carcass for scaring other ravens from a yummy meal. If a raven is hiding its food and knows another raven is watching, it acts to keep the food in one spot while actually hiding it somewhere else. However, this does not work all the time, as other ravens are also smart.
They Can Also Imitate Our Speech!
Ravens are known for learning to talk better than few parrots, when in captivity. They can also mimic other noises, such as toilets flushing, animal sounds, birdcalls, and car engines. They can also imitate foxes and wolves for attracting them to carcasses which they cannot break open themselves. Once the wolf or fox finishes eating, ravens feed on the leftovers.
Ravens are Considered Evil in Some Cultures
Many European cultures used to consider this massive blackbird as evil in disguise. The people in France saw ravens as the spirits of wicked priests, and crows as nasty nuns. The Germans regarded the ravens as incarnations of damned souls, and at times, of Satan himself. People in Sweden considered ravens croaking at night to be the spirits of murdered humans who didn’t receive a proper Christian burial. In Denmark, ravens were seen as exorcized spirits. Also, they always avoided looking up at them because they believed if a raven has a hole in its wing and you look through the hole, you would become a raven yourself!
You can also find them in Myths
Cultures from Greece as well as Tibet have considered ravens to be the messenger for Gods. During battles, Celtic goddesses of warfare often transformed themselves into ravens. Odin, the Viking God, owned two ravens. Munin (memory) and Hugin (thought). They flew across the globe every day for reporting back to Odin during the night to inform him what they saw. As per the Chinese. ravens used to cause bad weather within the forests by warning people about gods passing by in the near future. Ravens were also worshipped by few Native American tribes. Simply referred to as ravens, these birds were described as sly tricksters involved in the process of creating the world.
These Birds Love to Play
The Native Americans were not entirely wrong about raven’s naughty nature. Ravens have been spotted in Canada and Alaska using roofs covered with snow as slides. They have been also seen rolling from snowy hills in Maine. Very often, they play ‘keep-away’ with dogs, otters, wolves, and other animals. Surprisingly, they possess a very rare animal trait of making toys! They use rocks, golf balls, pinecones, and even sticks for playing by themselves or with each other. At times, they even mock or taunt other animals because it’s funny.
They Do Unusual Things with Ants
Ravens lie in anthills for rolling around and letting the ants swarm over them. Sometimes, they all chew up the ants for rubbing their guts over their feathers! In scientific terms, it is known as “anting”. Jays, crows, and songbirds also do it but this trait is yet to be well understood. There are varying theories regarding this behavior. Some say ants act as fungicide and insecticide for the birds while other claims ant secretion to be soothing for any molting bird’s skin. Some also think of the entire act to be a mild addiction.
They Even Use “Hand” Gestures!
As per researchers, ravens often use extremely sophisticated non-vocal signals or gestures for communication. As per a study conducted in Austria, ravens use their beaks for pointing or indicating at an object to another creature, mostly, a bird. This is exactly the way humans use their fingers. They also pick up an object for getting the attention of another bird. It is the first time when researchers have found naturally happening gestures in any creature apart from primates.
They are Pretty Adaptable
Ravens can survive in various different kinds of habitats, from forests to mountains to deserts to snow. They are scavenging birds with a giant diet which includes meat, fish, carrion, garbage, seeds, and fruit. They can also be seen tricking other creatures out of their food. For example, one raven would distract an animal and the other will quickly steal its food. They have a long lifespan. In captivity, they can survive up to forty years while in the while, it is 17 years. (See What Name Is Given To A Group Of Chickens?)
These Birds are Also Empathic
Even though mischievous in nature, ravens are capable to feel empathy. If a raven is losing a fight, the losing bird is consoled by its friends. They are also known for remembering the birds they like and use a friendly tone for responding to specific birds for a minimum of three years after meeting them. They also respond suspiciously to the strange ravens and negatively to their enemies.
What is a group of Ravens called?
Why is a group of Ravens called a conspiracy? An unkindness. At least that is one of the names given to the jet black birds with the dubious reputation.