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( Originally Published 1894 )
The Raven is a large bird, indeed the largest of the British crows, attaining to a length of two feet two inches, and having a stretch of wing of four feet eight inches, in width. It is an historic bird, being mentioned by Pliny who records that a tame one kept in the Temple of Castor, was taught by a tailor whom it used to visit, to pronounce the name of the Emperor Tiberius and of the other members of the Royal family. The fame of the bird brought the tailor riches, but excited the jealousy of his neighbours, one of whom killed the bird. The record states that the offender was punished and the bird accorded a magnificent funeral. The Raven builds its nest in high trees and among inaccessible and precipitous rocks, especially in the Hebrides, and lives on carrion, not disdaining fruit and grain. Like many other birds who afterwards show little concern for their young the Raven is assiduous in its attentions during the period of incubation. The following is from White's °' Natural History of Selborne".
"In the centre of a grove near Selborne, there stood an oak, which though shapely and tall on the whole, bulged out into a large excrescence near the middle of the stem. On the tree a pair of ravens had fixed their residence for such a series of years, that the oak was distinguished by the name of the `raven tree.' Many were the attempts of the neighbouring youths to get at this eyrie; the difficulty whetted their inclinations, and each was ambitious of surmounting the arduous task; but, when they arrived at the swelling, it jutted out so much in their way, and was so far beyond their grasp, that the boldest lads were deterred, and acknowledged the undertaking to be too hazardous. Thus the ravens continued to build nest after nest, in perfect security, till the fatal day arrived on which the wood was to be levelled. This was in the month of February, when these birds usually sit. The saw was applied to the trunk, the wedges were inserted in the opening, the woods echoed to the heavy blows of the beetle or mallet, the tree nodded to its fall; but the dam persisted to sit. At last, when it gave way, the bird was flung from her nest; and though her maternal affection deserved a better fate, was whipped down by the twigs, which brought her dead to the ground. "Ravens are said to pair for life and to live for a hundred years.
Though models of conjugal fidelity, Ravens Parents are said to be very unnatural often showing not only indifference but cruelty to their young. Mr. Moms in his "Anecdotes of Natural History" tells an interesting story of a family of ravens whose mother came to an untimely death. "For a time the surviving parent hovered about the nest, uttering loud and menacing croakings whenever anybody approached. At length, however, he disappeared, and absented himself for two or three days, and then returned with another mate, when a strange scene occurred. The poor half-starved nestlings were attacked without mercy by the step-mother, who, after severely wounding, precipitated them from the nest; two, however, were found at the foot of the tree with signs of life, and with great care and attention reared at the rectory, about half a mile distant, and after being slightly pinioned, were allowed their liberty; but they seldom quitted the lawn or offices, roosting in a tree in the shrubbery. Here, however, they were soon discovered by their unnatural parents, who for a long time used to come at early dawn and pounce upon them with fierce cries." In this case it was the stepmother and not the mother that treated the young ravens so unkindly, and the father may be charitably credited with acting under the influence of his second wife. That the Raven drives its young out of its nest as soon as they are able to provide for themselves is true, but why they should pursue them after they have become independent is not clear. This habit of the ravens, as Mr. Morris points out, may be referred to in the following quotations: "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry" (Psalm CXLVII. q). "Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat" (Job xxxvIII. 41).