Common Raven

Corvus corax

Infrequently Seen

Common Ravens used to be rare in the Washington area. They are still very uncommon, but in recent years, they have extended their range. Some now nest in the DC area, including under Chain Bridge.

Where to See Them in the Park

A Common Raven has never been seen in Monticello Park, but ravens have been seen or heard flying over the park.

Physical Description

Common Raven
Adult - Photo by William Higgins

The Common Raven is the largest songbird in North America. The adults of both sexes look similar, and their all-black plumage looks the same throughout the year. Ravens look like crows, but there are ways to tell them apart. Ravens are considerably larger than crows, but this can be difficult to see unless the two are side-by-side.

Common Raven
Adult - Photo by William Young

The bill of the raven is larger and thicker than a crow's. In flight the raven's tail looks long and diamond-shaped, while crow tails look shorter and fan-shaped. The wings of a raven look longer and thinner, more like a vulture than a crow.


Common Raven
Adult - Photo by William Higgins

Ravens have a wide variety of vocalizations. Their most common call is a loud throaty croak, resembling the sound a human makes when rolling an R.

Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Common Raven.


The raven is one of the most famous birds in American literature, thanks to Edgar Allan Poe's 1844 poem. Baltimore named its professional football team in honor of Poe's poem. In 2001, the Baltimore Ravens became the first team with a bird name to win the Super Bowl. The Common Raven in the United States is the same species found in England at the Tower of London. According to a legend, the tower will fall if the ravens ever leave. Kate Bush alludes to this legend in the title track of her 1978 album Lionheart with the line, "Our thumping hearts hold the Ravens in, and keep the tower from tumbling." To prevent the ravens now at the tower from leaving, their wings have been clipped. Someone with the title Ravenmaster (one of the Beefeaters) feeds the birds delicacies such as pig livers, sheep hearts, and blood-soaked biscuits.

Origin of Names

Common Name: Common refers to its population in the areas of its range. Raven comes from the Old Norse hrafn, which means to clear one's throat, based on its vocalization.
Genus Name: Corvus is Latin for crow.
Species Name: Corax is Greek for croaker, imitative of its call.

Common Raven video footage

Return to the Index