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Have you been seeing ravens where you live?

Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 14:34 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010

Here's a guest blog post from wildlife film-maker Richard Taylor-Jones, who made tonight's Springwatch film on ravens. (You can watch it here and read more from Richard on BBC Norfolk's website).

"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.

raven by ashley cohen

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.

How to identify a raven
There are eight distinctive members of the corvid family in Britain: the raven, carrion crow, hooded crow, jackdaw, rook, jay, magpie and chough.

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."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Yes I regularly see Ravens on the edge of Blackburn. Often it is just a single bird flying high making the distinctive Prukk call. I have certainly seen Ravens around Warton Crag near Carnforth, being mobbed by the Jackdaws.

  • Comment number 2.

    i have been seeing an extrordanary amount of swallows today!

  • Comment number 3.

    we have ravens in guernsey its only about 3 months ago i saw my first ones

  • Comment number 4.

    What kind of spiders ??????are defoliating the hedgerows and weaving webs everywhere (I'm in dorset )

  • Comment number 5.

    I have ravens nesting in the chimneys above neighbours properties nearby.

  • Comment number 6.

    I had a pair breeding near me and they had five young. There is a photo of them in this blog post
    http://peregrinesbirdblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/killard-nature-reserve-in-may.html

  • Comment number 7.

    We have had a raven in our back garden in Chichester near the south coast. It was sat on a table and quite happy to stay there while we took photos from only 6ft away. The next day, we noticed it sat on our dining room windowsill, again very still and there for a while. Later that day it was back on the table and then on the back of a chair for longer than the 10 minutes we were stood watching!

  • Comment number 8.

    10 MAY 2009 was the first set of Raven's I've ever seen at home in Lisburn Northern Ireland. 4 birds and two tumbling in the sky...amazing.

  • Comment number 9.

    A pair of Ravens have been nesting regularly in a city centre park here in Plymouth for the past 4 or 5 years. This year they have raised 4 young, they are fairly well adapted to humans and so far have avoided all the dogs in the park. I and others have been feeding them, their prefered food is the sausages I feed the dogs with but they do also seem to enjoy dog biscuits broken up and the usual bread. They are also partial to the occasional pasta and meat dishes cooked specially for them by a friend. They are continually mobbed by the many crows and magpies in the park and have been seen to kill a pidgeon and devour it. The park also has nesting buzzards, and occasionally nesting sparrow hawks they all seem to live in reasonable harmony and I have never seen any territorial disputes between them. Unfortunately the local council is developing areas of the park which is putting pressure on the wildlife and already we have seen nest sites for goldcrests destroyed.

  • Comment number 10.

    I live on the Isle of Thanet. Regularly see ravens along from Ramsgate, to Minster, through Monkton to St Nicholas at wade. There are some ancient alder copses they like to get in along the way, roughly following the railway, half mile either side across farmland.

  • Comment number 11.

    Yes we used to have a pair of ravens nesting in a pylon tower.

  • Comment number 12.

    I was interested on the item about Ravens. I think there was one or two in the trees across from my house the other day. I took a couple of photos and I am sure they were. I am not unused to seeing Crows and Rooks we have a lot around here, but these were just so big it caught my attention the range of the picture was at about 1000 yds. I would like to forward the photos for a second opinion if that is possible, can you let me have an email address to send them to. The noise was also unusual for a crow but seems nearly right for a Raven. Also the shape of the head and whitey beak seem to fit them being Ravens.
    I am in North Walsham in Norfolk by the way .
    I was hoping to send them to springwatch but could not find an email address then they had your film so I hope you will be interested.

  • Comment number 13.

    Why does nobody ask - where have the Turtle Doves Gone?
    Were th Ring Doves protected at the expense of our Turtle Doves?
    ? Any sightings.?

  • Comment number 14.

    We see Ravens here in the far west of Cornwall, they regularly fly over Sennen with their distinctive croaking call. We have also. seen them nesting in Tin Mine stacks along the north coast

  • Comment number 15.

    i recently saw 4 ravens down my road. i have lived here for 8&1/2 years and i have never seen a raven, i was pleased to see them. this year i have seen a jackdaw in my back garden for the first time. as i live in ely in cambridgeshire.
    i'm really cross with myself because you showed those bushes with a mass of webby stuff on them and i just can't remember what makes them. all i know is they are not made by spiders.
    linda

  • Comment number 16.

    once i saw a raven flying through the woods in the oxfordshire area, and there were even one in our garden. a rather exciting experience, so nice to hear about their remarkable comeback :)

  • Comment number 17.

    I have heard a raven in the wood near where I live and this was confirmed by an elderly man who lives locally. It has a deep "caw" sound which is quite distinctive. I also saw one through binoculars, high up on the cliffs whilst walking with a friend. to Mupe Bay, Dorset
    and it's deep "caw" attracted our attention.

  • Comment number 18.

    My friend and I have seen a lot of goldfinches this year, along the hedgerows and also gathering dandelion seeds on the grass opposite my house in Dorset.

  • Comment number 19.

    I received a photograph the other day from one of our members of Dorset Wildlife Trust who has ravens in her "inland" garden in Verwood, Dorset. In fact she said one was sitting on her window sill the other day!

  • Comment number 20.

    We have Ravens here in south east Cornwall , on the show he said that Kent was the furthest south they were , are they not common here ? many people that i know assume that they are.

  • Comment number 21.

    My mother has been feeding a raven where she lives in Bradford, for the past 4 years, he has become quite tame with her, recently bringing along his new mate to introduce to my mother! he has enjoyed the titbits of mild cheddar cheese treats, and answers to his name of Brock!!.. beautiful birds.

  • Comment number 22.

    I have seen Ravens in Hampshire in the New Forest, which is lovely, and fully expect them to be breeding there too

  • Comment number 23.

    Re Ravens They breed near the Durlston Country Park Dorset. Also they are in Wales

  • Comment number 24.

    We have had a pair of Raven nesting at the top of Wigan Town Hall chimney this season, a very rare sight for these parts so I am told, earlier on in the season they were giving some spectacular courtship flying, twisting and tumbling displays, I for one was well pleased to see them here and hope they become resident.

  • Comment number 25.

    I really enjoyed the film last night, it is so good to see Ravens reaching every part of the British Isles, and Corvids generally getting some much needed positive press.
    Corvids are without doubt my favourite birds. They are beautiful, intelligent and I love their voices in particular. I am intrigued by how they communicate and only wish I could understand them clearer. Fanciful it may be, but somehow they really ignite my interest and imagination and leave me wanting to know more.
    To answer the question, I know of 2 nest sites on the south side of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall(though I'm sure there are others), and there is a pair that regularly call from a scots pine by my parent's garden in south east Cornwall, though I don't know where they are breeding.
    Closer to home, I also know of at least 2 sites on the Mendips in Somerset, and possibly a third where I have seen a pair close to suitable habitat but not actually seen a nest.

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello really enjoyed the piece on ravens-there are some in Bath in a residential area- does anyone what the avian alphabet for Ravens is -A murder of crows -thanks

  • Comment number 27.

    Ravens have made a come back here in the valleys of South Wales. I moved here 7 years ago. There were none that I saw. Now there is at least 14 breeding pairs that I know of in the mountain forests.

  • Comment number 28.

    A pair of ravens has been nesting in the woods at the rear of our property for at least the last 3 years. We see them regularly & they appear to be occupying an old buzzard's nest. They are definately ravens, as I am familiar with their appearance & distinctive croak.

  • Comment number 29.

    Always a thrill to see these magnificent birds. Quite often see them along the Purbeck coast at Durlston and St Aldhelm's Head. Good place to watch peregrins too.

  • Comment number 30.

    Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire has wild Ravens, I have seen them around the picnic tables. They are regularly seen even closer in towards the centre of London, last year I saw one dive bomb a Red Kite feeding on the ground near my home. The Kite took off and retaliated and the two birds were tumbling around in the air for several minutes, no damage was suffered by either bird. The two are around the same size but the Red Kite is much longer winged.

  • Comment number 31.

    fornthe past 2 seasons Ive had a pair of Ravens nesting in my wood,
    sometimes they fly over a rookery thats by my garden and all the rooks take to the air to do battle! The Ravens fly back over the hill to their nest !

  • Comment number 32.

    I live in a small village near Bridgwater,Somerset. and for the past week have been visited by a lone Raven.It sits at the top of a large tree at the bottom of the garden and is always being chased away by the other crows.Its getting braver as it now sits on the garage roof.Although i hav'nt seen it take any food yet.

  • Comment number 33.

    In Fingringhoe , Essex near the village pond, there has been a rookery for some years. I was woken early the other morning by the sound of many birds cawing. Could this be the birds flocking? We also have a Magpie nesting in trees nearby.

  • Comment number 34.

    I have seen and heard a pair quite regulary in Stourhead Estate not very far from Alfred's Tower (Wiltshire)

  • Comment number 35.

    I live on the coast in North Wales - a flat part with no cliffs. We have a pair of ravens nesting in a tall pine tree in a fiel nearby. I think this is the first year they have nested here. They had 3 young who have now fledged each with a very ditinctive voice.

  • Comment number 36.

    I live in Shirley Solihull My garden is visited every evening by 1 Raven It clears out the tray which I fill each day for the usual Fox then in the night the security light comes on and it is also another visit from the Hedgehog. The Fox don't stand much of a chance now

  • Comment number 37.

    i live close to the ironbridge gorge and have regularly seen ravens for sveral years now.ravens have also been on and the wrekin for many years

  • Comment number 38.

    What a great response! It seems that an awful lot of people are seeing ravens for the very first time in the last few years, breeding ones at that. So the birds I've been filming on Dover Cliffs are indeed a good sign that all over the country this species is making a serious comeback.

    I am always amazed at the stories that turn up on Springwatch and your responses have been lived up to that. People making special Raven pasta in Plymouth, Ravens becoming a regular bird table visitor! Its all fascinating stuff, and particularly interesting for me to hear that they have been spotted just up the coast from Dover at Thanet. Perhaps these birds are the offspring from last years nest or other juveniles sizing up the territory to start breeding next year. I'll have to drive over and check them out.

    Lots of people saying that the birds are nesting in trees and expressing surprise at that. This again harks back to us thinking of the birds as wilderness breeders, wilderness that has few trees like welsh mountain sides. But traditionally the species has always been a tree nester, indeed Gilbert White mentions a pair nesting in a particularly large tree in his Natural History of Selbourne form the 1700's. its just a habiat that we have forgotten about - but not the ravens!

    Ravens often bring about a degree of animosity because of their reputation for attacking livestock and I am a little surprise not to have had any negative posts about the birds return and what this may mean for livestock owners. Perhaps attitudes are genuinely changing?



  • Comment number 39.

    I, Simon, my wife & brother-in-law visited Corfe Castle on 5/5/2010. I heard a familiar voice. On the highest point of the keep, the SE corner, 2 ravens were nesting. On a top point on the north side of the keep, a rock dove was sitting on a nest. NT staff said that this was about the 5th year that the ravens were nesting on this site. So it has been great to see the pair at Dover.

  • Comment number 40.

    We are now getting one or two sightings a year over Acton, near Nantwich - probably of birds that have bred on the Sandstone Ridge. On Thursday last week I saw what I think was a family group of 4 birds, near Malpas in South Cheshire.

  • Comment number 41.

    they breed in a few places in leicestershire,saw them doing there tumbling display in febuary.and last summer watched a juvenile bothering a buzzard over some carrion.

  • Comment number 42.

    Ravens have become a pest in our garden. We live just outside Weston-s-M, and used to see ravens flying about the hills. However this year they have discovered our chicken house where we keep a few hens and a cockeral. When eggs started to vanish we thought it might be ravens to blame, but could be rats, squirrels...so left a small video camera running in the hen house. Sure enough it picked up a raven going into the house. The hens are free range, but exit through a pop hole and their run...so the raven will actually go in through all that lot.

    This weekend my son got some brilliant footage of one going in through the 'main door' of the hen house, picking up an egg and flying off with it, much to the disgust of the hens, and our large cockeral - who we've witnessed trying to scare the raven off - and when we get the correct lead to covert analogue to digital we'll try and put it on the movie clip site. Again the ravens are too canny to film with anyone trying to hide - my son's tried that over several hours - so he left the camera running in the hen house to get the shot he wanted.

    There are definitely a pair of ravens, nesting up the road I think, in a tall tree, or in woods a field away behind us. They are also a pain with our bird feeders. If they aren't securely wired in place the ravens will just lift heavy peanut or seed feeders off their hooks and drag them off down the garden to gorge themselves (when they get tired of eggs I expect). The bird feeders are in a tree about 12 feet in front of the kitchen window - so the ravens come very close.

    Meanwhile we've invested in roll-away nest boxes, which have a covered compartment for the eggs. How long will it take the ravens to learn that all they have to do is lift the flap...?

  • Comment number 43.

    To add to unarmadillo's comment above. We Have recently had a raven in our garden in Loughborough. It likes the fat tubes that we put out - as does our resident greater spotted woodpecker.

  • Comment number 44.

    Yes, there are ravens in Budleigh Salterton, Devon and I often see and hear them flying over my house. I have never managed to get one to land on my property which I would love; they are such beautiful and special birds. Last year I watched one choosing the right twig for its nest on the cliff path. I think it is one pair as far as I can tell.

  • Comment number 45.

    Have to agree with the increase in Raven Nos, here in Central Scotland, the Nos of these birds along with magpies, is increasing at an alarming rate. 30 years ago you were lucky to see a raven or magpie near our town nevermind in your back garden. We have had a ravens nest built in our garden and yearly have magpies nesting close by too. Sadly we no longer have the same Nos of blackbirds and it appears thrushes have vanished altogether.I have rescued small starlings, sparrows etc who have been grabbed by Ravens from the garden. The ravens seem to locate where the smaller birds nests are under roofs etc, and when these fledglings appear for the first time, it sends the ravens and magpies into a killing frenzy, grabbing the small birds, in their claws and pecking them to death, then grabbing the next one, and so on. Its heartbreaking to hear the small birds distress and the parents futile attempts to help.
    I could see the point of this massacre if the small birds were to be eaten, but they are casualy left where they die. I have also witnessed jackdaws behaving in this way. Perhaps a trait of the crow family

  • Comment number 46.

    2no. ravens flew over Grappenhall, Warrington, about 10 days ago - heading possibly towards the Eyes reserve, at Latchford ( came in from the West)
    I have heard them in the past, also.

  • Comment number 47.

    For the last couple of years I have been watching a pair of Ravens around Barton Hills NNR in Bedfordshire, and this autumn have seen two or three young birds as well as the adults. They have bred in the county for about 10 years after an abscence of 150 years. Concerning the birds killing but not eating other birds, this is possibly due to them being disturbed from thier kill and thus not eating it. If they are feeding young they might kill more than they need and cache the surplus but no wild predator in natural surroundings would waste energy cathing prey but not using it. Foxes in a henhouse is an unnatural circumstance where the prey cant escape.

  • Comment number 48.

    I live in the Scottish Borders, and have seen many ravens in the Highlands, Argyll, Galloway, Cumbria, Lancashire and Devon. I previously thought they were absent from Lothian and Borders, but last year I visited Edinburgh castle and soaring above it was a raven. However, it was soon chased off by a carrion crow.

    My first and only Borders ravens so far have been a pair in Ettrick Valley near Selkirk. Amazing to see these birds so close to where I live.

 

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