Dark birds: Little ravens


Like magpies, ravens are something we see in the built up environment around the Edward Hunter Heritage Reserve. However, they have been more present in the Reserve, lately. Maybe it’s the time of year.

Intelligence and sociability

They are one of the more intelligent birds and are known for their ability to learn, to remember, to tease and play, and to problem solve. This article by Stephen Debus outlines the capacities of this most amazing native bird.

Little Ravens: Habits

Little Ravens are omnivores although less likely to eat carrion and more likely to eat insects (see Rowley & Vestjens). They have been known to hunt small birds (see Cardilini et al, below).

Shows three Little Ravens, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Little Ravens

shows Little Ravens, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Little Ravens at rest

Little Ravens, Corvus mellori, breed between April and December. Their breeding tends to be in late winter and early spring, although they may also respond to environmental changes such as rainfall. They form pair-bonds for life and occupy a breeding territory only for the time needed to raise their young. According to the sources, Little Ravens are known to gather in flocks and to “perform synchronised acrobatics to and from roosting sites”.

There was a large flock in the Reserve on the day these images were taken, wheeling and calling, with individuals roosting in the eucalypts in the grassy woodland area to the south.


The LV Field Naturalists indicate that both Little Ravens and Australian Ravens have been sighted in the Reserve. Australian Ravens, however, tend to be uncommon.

Distinguishing between the five native ravens and crows (corvids) in Australia can be difficult: they’re all black, have pale eyes, they’re of similar size and appearance. This article by Sean Dooley for BirdLife Australia explains the identification challenge. He also provides a useful table which outlines the differences.

In the case of Little Ravens, their throat hackles are smaller in size than that of the Australian Raven –  and throat hackles can be seen in this image below. The other way to distinguish them is by call. Dooley’s article provides sound files for each of the corvids. The Little Raven does not have the extended dying caw at the end of its call like the Australian Raven does.

Shows smaller amount of throat hackles in Little Raven, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Little Raven: shows throat hackles, not as prominent compared with Australian Raven

Shows white eyes and finer beaks of Little Raven, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

White eyes and finer beaks: Little Raven

Sources and further information

Cardilini, A.P., Ekanayake, K.B. & Weston, M.A. (2012) Little ravens ‘Corvus mellori’ hunt, kill and eat individuals of two species of shorebird, The Victorian Naturalist, 129 (1), http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=050261365688375;res=IELHSS

Chapman, G. (2012) Australian birds: Little Raven http://www.graemechapman.com.au/library/viewphotos.php?c=422&pg=1 – this resource has some great pictures and information, as well as a call to listen to.

Debus, S. (2012) Stone the crows! Could corvids be Australia’s smartest export? The Conversation, 27/01/12. http://theconversation.com/stone-the-crows-could-corvids-be-australias-smartest-export-4346

Dooley, S. (2012) Birdlife Australia – The trouble with ravens. http://birdlife.org.au/australian-birdlife/detail/the-trouble-with-ravens – the article mentioned above.

Life in the suburbs (n.d.) Corvus mellori http://keys.lucidcentral.org/key-server/data/03050501-000c-4503-8203-0a030507090d/media/Html/Corvus_mellori.htm –  a useful summary of information

Rowley, I., Braithwaite, L.W. & Chapman, G.S. (1973) The comparative ecology of Australian corvids. III. Breeding seasons: CSIRO Wildlife Research 18(1), 67 – 90. http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/CWR9730067.htm

Rowley, I. &  Vestjens, W.J.M. (1973) The comparative ecology of Australian corvids. V. Food: CSIRO Wildlife Research 18(1), 131 – 155. http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/CWR9730131.htm

Rowley, I. (1973) The comparative ecology of Australian corvids. II. Social organization and behaviour: CSIRO Wildlife Research 18(1), 25 – 65. http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/CWR9730025.htm

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