Tower of London welcomes baby ravens for the first time in 30 years
According to popular lore, the fates of both the Tower of London and the wider British kingdom are intrinsically linked with the presence of at least six ravens in the palatial, 1,000-year-old fortress. As a royal decree reportedly issued by 17th-century King Charles II warned, if the birds ever flee their London home, “the Tower itself will crumble to dust and a great harm will befall the kingdom.”
Luckily, there appears to be little chance of this dystopian vision becoming reality anytime soon: The Tower maintains a population of at least seven ravens (the corvid equivalent of “heir plus a spare”), and last week, officials announced the birth of four healthy chicks—the first hatched at the London stronghold since 1989, when the Tower welcomed a baby named Ronald Raven.
The Telegraph’s Jack Hardy notes that Tower staffers installed a new aviary last year in response to concerns over the declining number of legal raven breeders in the United Kingdom. Typically, Tower ravens are bred elsewhere and then brought to London. Of the seven corvids currently housed in the Tower, five were born in Somerset, one was born in Surrey, and one was born in South Wales.
“We decided that it would be a really good idea to see if we could actually breed ravens ourselves at the Tower of London to secure our future,” Tower Ravenmaster Chris Skaife explains in a video posted on Twitter.
Huginn and Muninn, the newborn chicks’ parents, arrived at the Tower aviary toward the end of 2018 but were not expected to be settled in time for the 2019 mating season. Skaife, however, started to suspect the pair had successfully bred after spotting a huge nest that appeared suddenly overnight. On April 23, St. George’s Day, he saw the birds bringing food to the nest, and a few weeks later, he was finally able to approach and assess the scene for himself.
According to a statement, the chicks eat at least once every two hours, feasting on a diet of quail, mice and rats procured by Skaife, prepared by their father Huginn, and passed along by their mother Muninn. All four are growing quickly, quadrupling in size from around 8 centimeters tall at birth to more than 30 centimeters last week. Although the baby ravens are beginning to develop their species’ characteristic black plumage, it will take another year or so for their beaks to become fully black. Come late summer, one of the four chicks, named George or Georgina in a nod to the day on which they hatched, will permanently join the seven ravens (not counting Huginn, Muninn and the newborns) currently in residence at the Tower. The remaining three, according to Metro’s Kate Buck, will be placed under the care of a specialist breeder in Somerset.
Overall, Tower ravens tend to live longer than those in the wild. According to Historic Royal Palaces, the charity tasked with overseeing the Tower and other national landmarks, one corvid lived from 1884 to 1928—an astounding 44 years. Today, the ravens enjoy a diet of fresh raw meat, a once-weekly egg treat and the occasional rabbit.
In a press release, the ravenmaster—author of a 2018 autobiography detailing his singular occupation—concludes, “Having worked with the ravens here at the Tower for the last thirteen years and getting to know each of them, I feel like a proud father.”