Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts

Common Raven


Corvus corax

  • Somewhat local and strongly increasing
“Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’” – Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven”

Both reviled and revered by cultures from Scandinavia and the British Isles to the Pacific Northwest, Common Ravens are large, glossy black birds with heavy bills and a keen intellect. Despite their intelligence and usefulness as agents of carrion disposal, their association with death and ill omens made them targets for persecution by early European settlers in Massachusetts. Ever adaptable, Common Ravens can be found on several continents across a wide range of habitats, but until relatively recently it seemed that they might “nevermore” return to breed in the Bay State.

Historic Status

In writing his New England's Prospect in 1634, William Wood felt it important to compile a list of birds—in poetry form, no less—that might entice future settlers and investors to visit the New World. On that list he included “The long-liv'd Raven” as a common sight. “But the bird soon became known as a killer of sickly sheep and new-born lambs,” wrote Edward Howe Forbush, and referencing another seventeenth century work said, “and the settlers raged an endless warfare upon it, so that eventually it disappeared as a breeding bird from southern New England” (Forbush 1927). Single sightings of “accidental visitants” occurred from 1859 forward, and one site on Ragged Mountain in Adams earned the name “Raven Rocks” because of the alleged presence of nesting ravens there (Faxon 1889). Regardless, ravens remained extremely rare in Massachusetts for the next century as human persecution on the species practically everywhere gradually took its toll.

Atlas 1 Distribution

Whatever their historical status, Common Ravens were never Confirmed breeding in Massachusetts between 1974 and 1979. However, their summertime presence in the Bay State left room for conjecture. The ravens that did appear in Massachusetts during Atlas 1 were invariably seen in high areas, with mountain cliffs and quarry ledges as the preferred venues. Accordingly, all of the Possible and Probable ravens from Atlas 1 were reported either from the Taconic Mountains or the Berkshire Highlands, where they might conceivably have derived from the populations of ravens from farther north or west.

Atlas 2 Distribution and Change

Displaying the typical corvid spirit of adaptability and opportunism, Common Ravens eventually seized their chance to return to a Massachusetts where they would be (mostly) free from human persecution. By the time of Atlas 2, Common Ravens could be found from the Berkshires to Plymouth County, though the bulk of their distribution remained in the highlands of the western parts of the state. The Berkshire Highlands experienced especially pronounced growth, with ravens occupying more than 70% of the region, though Common Raven distribution expanded markedly in all of the western ecoregions. The Worcester Plateau also showed tremendous expansion, going from completely raven-less to having breeding evidence in almost 75% of the region. Ravens were also Confirmed to be breeding, often at several different sites, in every eastern region save Cape Cod and the Islands. In all likelihood, it is only a matter of time before they colonize that region as well.

 

Atlas 1 Map

Atlas 2 Map

Atlas Change Map

 

Ecoregion Data


 Atlas 1Atlas 2Change
Ecoregion# Blocks% Blocks% of Range# Blocks% Blocks% of RangeChange in # BlocksChange in % Blocks
Taconic Mountains16.320.01352.04.01066.7
Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley00.00.02359.07.02359.0
Berkshire Highlands47.380.04378.213.13769.8
Lower Berkshire Hills00.00.01858.15.51866.7
Vermont Piedmont00.00.01376.54.0975.0
Berkshire Transition00.00.02665.08.02374.2
Connecticut River Valley00.00.01726.25.21429.2
Worcester Plateau00.00.06573.919.93470.8
Lower Worcester Plateau00.00.03645.011.02444.4
S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills00.00.06121.618.74720.8
Boston Basin00.00.047.11.247.3
Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands00.00.087.02.487.9
Cape Cod and Islands00.00.000.00.000.0
Statewide Total50.5100.032731.5100.025130.3
 

Notes

The Common Raven shows a significant increasing Breeding Bird Survey trend in the Eastern US overall.

Breeding Bird Survey Chart