Nature Notes: Return of the raven

Common raven (Corvus corax)

Common raven (Corvus corax) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Continuing on the positive vibe, this week we’ll look at the phenomenal recovery of the raven.

Now, when anyone mentions ‘raven’ one instinctively thinks of the Tower of London, however, one doesn’t have to travel into our capital to see this, the largest of the crow family.

For centuries this highly-intelligent bird was ruthlessly persecuted for its alleged taste for newborn lamb and attacks on poultry.

It swiftly retreated to the wild windswept coastal cliffs, where its large nest of sticks was safe from human interference.

This bird became the subject of many myths and legends - such as England would never fall to a foreign invader as long as there were ravens in the Tower of London and it was the raven, not the dove, that was the first animal released from Noah’s Ark.

In complete contrast, they also became closely associated with death.

It was even claimed that these immense black birds possessed a faculty for ‘smelling death’ and their presence - or even just hearing their ominous croaking voice, especially above a cottage that housed someone with an illness - brought terror and alarm to the inhabitants.

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Up until the 1990s the raven remained relatively scarce, and this was when I saw my very first one, in Zennor, on the wild Atlantic coast of Cornwall.

This rugged, granite boulder-strewn landscape was typical raven habitat but, relatively recently, this bird has been making inroads inland, even showing up in the Midlands and it now numbers around 8,000 breeding pairs in the UK.

Around Torbay it can most easily be spotted at Berry Head and there is also a pair at Roundham Head, and their harsh croaking sound can quite often be heard coming from a stand of pine trees that can be found there – particularly atmospheric when combined with a swirling sea mist that occasionally envelops this headland.

Research has recently proved the incredible intelligence of this brainy Corvid and just like us, they often indulge in play – they have even been observed sliding down banks of snow – purely for fun!

See, they’re not so scary after all!