Friday, 18 July 2014


Despite a marked expansion in its breeding range over the past four decades, you still have to travel a fair distance west if you want to see a raven. This, the largest of our crows, is an impressive bird with a long history within literature and oral tradition. Seen by many as a bird of ill omen, a scavenger of ancient battlefields and a predator of lambs, the raven has been persecuted over many generations. Now that such persecution has (by and large) ceased, the species has been able to recolonise former haunts and push back into the lowlands of southern Britain from which it has long been absent. Raven sightings are reported from Norfolk from time to time, more so in the winter when wandering birds may stray from their core breeding range, but it has not bred in the county since 1859.

The weekend before last found me in Wales and watching a family group of ravens at close quarters. The birds had reared their young on a sea cliff and were now exploring the rest of their island home. It was only when three of these magnificent birds were in the air together, flying alongside a pair of carrion crows, that the raven’s formidable size was really brought home. With a wingspan in the region of 120 cm, the raven is similar in size to a common buzzard, dwarfing the smaller and more familiar carrion crow.

While I have seen the return of breeding ravens to my childhood haunts of the Hampshire/West Sussex borderlands, I fear that it will still be many years before I see them breeding again in Norfolk. Norfolk will, I suspect, be the last English county to see breeding ravens and they are unlikely to occur here at anything like the densities seen in western Britain. When they do return, they may follow the example of the returning peregrines and take to nesting on some of our taller spires and other man-made structures. Perhaps they may even breed on some of the towers and spires they last used two hundred years or more ago. I for one would welcome their return and I look forward to hearing their croaking calls and seeing them stand sentinel over Norwich.

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