1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Raven

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RAVEN (O.E. hræfn, Icel. hrafn, Dan. ravn, Du. raaf, Ger. Rabe), the largest of the birds of the order Passeres, and a member of the family Corvidae, probably the most highly developed of all birds. Quick-sighted, sagacious and bold, the raven preys on the spoils of fishers and hunters, as also on weakly animals among flocks and herds. A sentiment of veneration or superstition has from remote ages and among many races attached to it. The raven is associated with various characters of history, sacred or profane—Noah and Elijah, Odin and Flokki, the last of whom by its means discovered Iceland. It is said to have played its part in the mythology of the Red Indian; and it has often figured in prose and verse, from the time of Shakespeare to that of Poe and Dickens. Superstition has been generally succeeded by persecution, which in many districts has produced extirpation.

The raven breeds very early in the year, in England resorting to its nest, which is usually an ancient if not an ancestral structure, about the middle or towards the end of January. Therein are laid from five to seven eggs of the common Corvine coloration (see Crow), and the young are hatched before the end of February. In more northern countries the breeding season is naturally delayed, but everywhere this species is almost, if not quite, the earliest breeder. The raven measures about 26 in. in length, and has an expanse of wing considerably exceeding a yard. Its bill and feet are black, and the same may be said of its whole plumage, but the feathers of the upper parts as well of the breast are glossy, reflecting a bright purple or steel-blue. The species (Corvus corax) inhabits the whole of Europe, and the northern if not the central parts of Asia; but in the latter continent its southern range is not well determined. In America it is, or used to be, found from the shores of the Polar Sea to Guatemala if not to Honduras, but is said hardly to be found of late years in the eastern part of the United States. In Africa its place is taken by three allied but well-differentiated species, two of which (Corvus umbrinus, readily distinguished by its brown neck, and C. affinis, having its superior nasal bristles upturned vertically) also occur in south-western Asia, while the third (C. leptonyx or C. tingitanus, a smaller species characterized by several slight differences) inhabits Barbary and the Atlantic Islands. Farther to the southward in the Ethiopian region three more species appear whose plumage is varied with white—C. scapulatus, C. albicollis, and C. crassirostris—the first two of small size, but the last rivalling the real raven in that respect. (A. N.)