(Photo: Cliff Reddick)
Ravens are our largest and most common member of the crow family. With their loud croaking calls and large jet black silhouette they are easy to recognise. They are resident on Harris all year and in the winter they are one of the only birds that you are likely to see on a day out in the hills and moors.
Ravens can be quite comical to watch. In late winter, during their courtship displays they frequently turn upside down and drop for a moment before righting themselves.Most Ravens lay their eggs in March but some lay as early as February. They nest so early so that their young have hatched by the time most other birds are laying their eggs on which they feed.
(Photo: Cliff Reddick)
Their large nests are placed on cliff faces and are often re-used year after year with new material being added each time. Over many years traditional raven nests can reach several meters in height. As well as sticks, Ravens often add colourful manmade objects to their nests particularly old bits of rope that they find on the shore. The cup of the nest where the eggs sit is always lined with soft material, usually sheep’s wool or moss. To protect the young and eggs from the worst of the weather, nests are carefully placed under overhanging rock faces. Ravens usually lay 3-6 eggs and typically 1-5 chicks fledge from the nest in mid May.
Ravens have a varied diet, eating almost anything. Although they get the blame for killing many lambs, Ravens feed on a wide variety of food types. Many birds, including Ravens regurgitate any bits of food that they cannot digest by coughing it up in a ball called a pellet, once a day or so. Raven pellets can often be found on hill tops or promontories where they spend a lot of time perching. By pulling their pellets apart it’s possible to find out exactly what your local Ravens have been eating. Although they will scavenge on dead lambs and take bird eggs through the spring you will find that many of their pellets are full of beetles and even rowan berries at other times of year. They are not fussy eaters and will also feed on all sorts of things that get washed up on the shore. They can even be found scavenging around rubbish dumps.
During the breeding season Ravens are territorial, with each pair defending their nesting territory against other Ravens but at other times of year they are more sociable and can be seen in groups of up to several hundred. Groups of 5 - 30 ravens often gather to feed at sheep or deer carcasses and there are a few places where large numbers gather to roost, gaining safety in numbers. There are no large roosts on Harris but at the Stornoway dump up to 500 ravens gather to roost.
Ravens are intelligent birds, they are noisy and have a number of different calls that they use in different situations. They often call in alarm if they feel threatened by people or predators and they have one call for ground predators (humans, or foxes) and a different call for avian predators (eagles). On Harris we have no foxes, and Eagles are the main threat to Ravens and their young.
(Photo: Tony Jones)