It's the size of a hawk. It's common only in wilderness areas. It's long since been driven out of settled areas by shooting and poisoning.

I am speaking of the common raven.

Raven pairs can be seen soaring like eagles on flat, outstretched wings unlike that of the slightly V-shaped pattern of the American crow. Just a couple of times, while hiking and cross-country skiing near the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at the end of January, was I able to see common ravens in their elaborate courtship flight maneuvers. They included dives, tumbles and rolls. I was told that males are the ones doing the awesome aerial acrobatics, but I'm not sure as both sexes look alike.

The raven is larger than the crow. Both are all black, but the crow lacks the raven's large head and bill and shaggy throat feathers. Ravens produce low, raspy "kronk-kronk" calls in marked contrast to the higher-pitched "caws" of crows. However, both these species have varied vocalizations.

A year-round resident in Minnesota that lives mainly in the northeast quarter of the state, the common raven is one of the earliest birds to nest each year. Nest building or repair begins in February.

Ravens are known to use the same nest site for many years, and they mate for life. They're scavengers, eating insects, fruit, small animals and carrion. Frequently they hang around wolf packs. It is thought that ravens use their keen eyesight to provide wolves extra protection. In turn, the wolves provide the ravens with leftover food.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.