WWe were walking along a hollow road when we heard it Kronk, kronk and kronkThe unmistakable, distinctive sound of a raven. It’s a sound I know from trips to the Scottish Highlands, but it was not one I had heard on home ground. So, at first, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
We saw the bird flying low above us as we looked up through the leafless branches. It was easy to see the bird’s diamond-shaped tail and barrel-shaped chest. The long, thickset neck was ruffled with hackles-looking throat feathers. Two carrion crows climbed onto the treetops to mob the bird. They were both dwarfed. Ravens are larger than buzzards, with wingspans between 120cm-150cm and weighing up 1.5kg.
This once common species was nearly extinct in lowland Britain after decades of persecution by egg collectors and gamekeepers. Nestlings were also taken for the pet trade. The population began to increase in the middle of the 20th century as birds left their upland strongholds to recolonise large swathes of their former range. This area was only visited occasionally by ravens until very recently.
In the last 10 years, they have become breeding birds, with pairs nesting on Portsdown Hill and Chichester cathedral, much to the dismay of the resident peregrine Falcons, and Stansted Park estate which is less that five miles from my patch. British ravens are largely sedentary but young birds disperse in their first winter.
One crow dived down and attempted to strike the ravens with its outstretched claws. The other swooped in sideways, but both were gracefully outmanoeuvred and tucked in by their larger cousin. This flipped upside down and was able to roll out of their path. The raven took control of the next flowing wingbeat and soared across fields. As the raven sailed towards the cemetery, sunlight glanced off of its wings, its glossy black plumage with a dazzling petrol-blue and purple sheen.