Common ravens in the southwestern United States, 1968-92

By:  and 
Edited by: Edward T. LaRoeGaye S. FarrisCatherine E. PuckettPeter D. Doran, and Michael J. Mac



The common raven (Corvus corax) is a large black passerine bird found throughout the northern hemisphere including western and northern North America. Ravens are scavengers that frequently feed on road-killed animals, large dead mammals, and human refuse. They kill and eat prey including rodents, lambs (Larsen and Dietrich 1970), birds, frogs, scorpions, beetles, lizards, and snakes. They also feed on nuts, grains, fruits, and other plant matter (Knight and Call 1980; Heinrich 1989). Their recent population increase is of concern because ravens eat agricultural crops and animals whose populations may be depleted.  

Ravens are closely associated with human activities, frequently visiting solid-waste landfills and garbage containers at parks and food establishments, being pests of agricultural crops, and nesting on many human-made structures. In two recent surveys in the deserts of California (FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants 1989; Knight and Kawashima 1993), ravens were more numerous in areas with more human influences, and were often indicators of the degree to which humans affect an area.

Annual Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) conducted nationwide by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) indicated that raven populations in several parts of the country significantly increased during 1965-79 (Robbins et al. 1986). This increase concerns resource managers because ravens feed on agricultural crops and animal species of interest to humans. For instance, in the deserts of the southwestern United States, ravens prey on young desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii; Berry 1985; Fig. 1), which in the Mojave and Colorado deserts are listed as a threatened species by the USFWS (Federal Register 1990). Because of high levels of raven predation on tortoises, the Bureau of Land Management has taken action to reduce this predation (BLM 1990, 1994). We report here on a 24-year trend in raven abundance along roadsides in the deserts of the southwestern United States and surrounding regions, where increasing raven populations interest resource management agencies (BLM 1990; USFWS 1994).

Our analysis of BBS 1968-92 data focuses on arid lands and neighboring habitats in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. We used data from 137 39.2-km (24.5-mi) routes within the following BBS strata: Great Basin Desert; mountain highlands of Arizona; Sonoran-Colorado Desert; Mojave Desert; basins and ranges, including portions of the northern Mojave and Great Basin deserts; Central Valley; and southern California grasslands, California foothills (southern California routes only), and Los Angeles ranges combined into one (coastal southern California).

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Common ravens in the southwestern United States, 1968-92
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher National Biological Service
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description 3 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Our living resources: A report to the nation on the distribution, abundance, and health of U.S. plants, animals, and ecosystems
First page 73
Last page 75
Country United States
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