The common raven (Corvus corax) is a member of the family of birds known as the Corvidae, which includes jays, crows, and magpies. They are the largest species of songbird and largest all-black bird in the world, with a blue-purple iridescence to their feathers.
Although frequently confused with crows, ravens differ in many ways. Not only is it a much larger bird, a raven's beak is larger and stouter than a crow's beak. The raven has throat feathers that are more pointed and elongated and tail feathers that are wedge-shaped, while a crows' throat and tail feathers are rounded. The raven's call is much deeper and throatier than the crow's and its vocalizations are more varied than the repetitive cawing of a crow. You can hear sound clips at THIS site.
Ravens are found in many countries around the globe, from islands in the northern Arctic to deserts of North Africa, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coasts of North America, in England, Mexico, Turkey, and many other locations. They can survive in many different climates, but most prefer wooded areas, especially along the coast and in the mountains. Ravens probably first breed at 3 or 4 years of age and mate for life. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, but one captive bird reportedly died of old age at 29, so it's believed they live much longer in their natural habitat.
Ravens have been associated with different qualities in various cultures, mythologies, and writings. According to legend, Raven disobeyed Noah during the great flood by failing to return to the ark after being sent to search for land.(Interestingly, there are similar 'flood' stories from very early North American Native cultures long before any contact with Europeans and knowledge of Christian mythology.) In medieval times, the raven stood for virility and was used as an emblem by raiding Viking warriors in Europe.In Norse mythology, the god Odin used two ravens named Hugin and Munin ('Thought' and 'Memory'), to fly the world each day in order to inform him of what was happening. In Tibetan legend, he is also the messenger of the Supreme Being, and many other cultures considered Raven to be the keeper of vast knowledge and sought his guidance. On the other hand, in popular western literature, ravens symbolize darkness, depression, and death (as in Edgar Allan Poe's poem, 'The Raven'), probably due to their scavenging and feeding on dead animals.
Among native cultures, Raven is the 'trickster' spirit, a popular totem, and the creator of man who placed the Sun in the sky.
The Raven plays a prominent role in the spiritual and social culture of Alaska's Native population. The Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, BellaBella, and Kwakiutl all viewed Raven as the creator of the world and bringer of daylight. The raven is also important in the creation of myths of the Eskimo.
There are several versions of how Raven stole the sun and brought light to the people. One has an evil Chief keeping the sun in a box, leaving the people in darkness. Raven turns himself into a seed and hides in a watering hole where the Chief's daughter drank. When she did, she swallowed the seed and became pregnant, and eventually gave birth to a son(who was Raven disguised). The baby cried constantly to play with the pretty ball of light, and when the Chief could stand the crying no longer, he gave the ball to the child. Immediately Raven changed into his true form and flew up into the sky where he placed the sun and brought light back to the people.
The following is another tale from "Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest"
Long ago, near the beginning of the world. Gray Eagle was the guardian of the sun and moon and stars, of fresh water and fire. Gray Eagle hated people so much that he kept things hidden. People lived in darkness, without fire and without fresh water.
Gray Eagle had a beautiful daughter and Raven fell in love with her. At that time Raven was a handsome young man. He changed himself into a snow-white bird. And as a snow-white bird he pleased Gray Eagle's daughter. She invited him to her father's lodge.
When Raven saw the sun and the moon and the stars and fresh water hanging on the sides of Eagle's lodge, he knew what he must do. He waited for his chance to seize them when no one was watching. He stole all of them and a brand of fire also. He flew out of the lodge through the smoke hole.
As soon as Raven was outside, he hung the sun up in the sky. It made so much light that he was able to fly far out to an island in the middle of the ocean. When the sun set, he fastened the moon up in the sky and hung the stars around in different places. By this new light he kept on flying, carrying with him fresh water and the brand of fire he had stolen.
He flew back over land. When he reached the right place, he dropped all the water he had stolen. It fell to the ground and there became the source of all fresh-water streams and lakes in the world.
Then Raven flew on, holding the fire brand in his bill. The smoke from the firebrand blew back over his white feathers and made them black. When his bill began to burn, he had to drop the firebrand. It struck the rocks and went into the rocks. That is why, if you strike two stones together, fire will drop out.
Raven's feather's never became white again after they were blackened by the smoke from the firebrand. That is why the Raven is now a black bird.