For the first time in roughly 100 years, the District has a pair of ravens that have set up a nest in the city.
(No, not the Baltimore football team.)
Real ravens, as in birds. Think Edgar Allan Poe.
The pair of ravens has made their home underneath a bridge along the Potomac River. Experts don’t want to reveal the exact location because the birds are in a period of incubating their eggs.
“It is a sensitive period for them,” said Dan Rauch, a biologist with the District’s Department of Energy and Environment. “We need to give them some space.”
Although they share the same black plumage, ravens are larger versions of crows, with an average wingspan of 46 inches, 10 inches longer than their smaller cousins, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They also have a distinct diamond-shaped tail, vs. the rounded ones of a common crow.
They have been spotted a handful of times in the past over the District, but they likely were chased off by development or hawks or bald eagles. This marks the first time in at least a century that the birds have bred here, Rauch said.
Typically, ravens make their nests in mountains or cliffs. And ravens had pretty much disappeared from a number of mid-Atlantic areas for years. The closest they have been known to live to the D.C. area is parts of West Virginia and Sugarloaf Mountain near Frederick, Md.
“This is rare but becoming more common,” Rauch said of the ravens in the District. “This is not their natural habitat.”
Ravens have been slowly making a comeback and are “starting to repopulate and move back” into the Potomac River area.
The last time ravens were sighted as a pair with a nest in the Washington area was in Montgomery County in 2006 near the Cabin John area, according to Rauch.
Ravens are very adaptive, and that’s likely what attracted the birds to the area under a bridge, experts said.
“They think they’re up on the side of a mountain face, nesting in a cavity,” Rauch said. “They don’t know it’s a bridge.”
He said the area where the ravens have put their nest is secluded and doesn’t have as much traffic as downtown. Plus, they have a food source with the Potomac River nearby.
“It resembles the usual habitat that they prefer,” Rauch said.
The incubation period for ravens is about 24 days, and then young ravens typically wait 40 to 45 days before leaving the nest. Rauch said he plans to monitor the birds from afar using a long-range scope to document the nesting. Then he will try to figure out how many birds hatched.
Birds uncommon to the area have been known to make D.C. their home, making plenty of news with crowds watching and social media following their movements. Remember the snowy owl?
In 2014, a snowy owl captivated Washington as it was spotted around downtown. It survived being hit by a D.C. bus and evaded D.C. police at one point. It died in Minnesota, apparently after being hit by a vehicle on a highway.