Have you been seeing ravens where you live?
"Ravens are one of the decade's real success stories. Once reduced to around a thousand pairs due to persecution, they have spread right back across Britain. In the last fifteen years numbers have increased by a whopping 134%. There are now over 12,000 breeding pairs.
I've been fascinated by these birds ever since I worked with them at the Tower of London and subsequently met my wife because of them (she was the Tower press officer at the time). So, I'm delighted by the species' recovery after centuries of persecution that saw them banished to our countries most remote and wild locations.
I've made a short film for tonight's Springwatch about one very special pair that have nested on the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent, the first birds to breed in the county for over 120 years. Their arrival is symbolic of the fact that, as a species, they've pretty much done it.
Until recently they were imprisoned in the mountains of the Wales and Scotland. The White Cliffs are about as far south and east as they can reach from these north western hideouts. There were some initial suggestions that this special pair arrived from over the English Channel from France just 22 miles away. But they don't have ravens in that part of France, so it can't be a French invasion, these must be British birds.
So, if British ravens have turned up in Kent, where else have they set up home in the last few years? Are this lone pair really a symbol that the species has done it, got right back across Britain? Or are they ahead of their time and is the rest of Britain still playing catch up?
I would love to hear from anyone that has added breeding ravens to their local list in the last five years, especially in urban locations. They are still considered by so many people to be a bird of the wilderness but historically they were just as common in towns and cities as they the countryside. Is this true again?
Are ravens a problem?
Questions are now being asked about large numbers of ravens becoming a problem. There are reports of gangs of juvenile ravens numbering in their hundreds swooping across moorland and decimating wader nests, taking eggs and chicks alike. Just as with the return of so many top of the food chain predators, like otters and pine martens, is the return of the raven going to cause its own dilemmas for the conservation world?
Ravens are astonishing birds, with over 50 different vocalisations, intelligence that rivals primates and a role in our history and folklore that few other species can match. It's great to make a film about them and be given the opportunity to ask you what you think about this magnificent species recovery.
Of these birds, five are black and it can be confusing telling them apart, especially from a distance.
- Choughs are the easiest to identify as they have a bright red bill and legs.
- Jackdaws are small, with a faintly silvery head and piercing grey blue eye.
- Rooks have a distinctive white mantle at the top of their bill.
Distinguishing carrion crow and raven is where it starts to get a little harder. I find the easiest method to separate the two is to listen to their call. The raven has a very distinctive "cronking" call (have a listen here) that couldn't be mistaken for any other bird. If the birds aren't calling then look for the very wedge-shaped tail in flight of the raven, crows don't have it.
Finally, there is size. Ravens are much, much bigger birds than crows and if you can see the two together you'll notice it immediately. Ravens actually have a bigger wingspan than a buzzard... that's how big they are.
Close-up, the raven's most distinctive feature is its bill. Needed it to pull apart raw flesh, it's a vital tool for a bird which scavenges on dead animals.
If you're still stuck the RSPB have a really good online bird indentiyfing tool."