The Tower Ravens

Everyone has heard tales about how if the ravens were ever to leave the Tower of London, the building would crumble and fall, but there is a little bit more to it than that. No one has an exact date for when the ravens were first held in captivity at the Tower but their presence there is shrouded in myths and legends. According to the most common legend there must be a minimum of six ravens in residence at any time in order to stop the Tower from crumbling and the monarchy from falling.

Photo by Tony Parkin
Photo by Tony Parkin

Back in the 1600’s John Flamsteed held the position of Royal Observator and worked in his observatory in the White Tower, he is known to have complained to Charles II that the ravens were interfering and causing obstructions to his work. The king, wanting to keep things running smoothly, ordered that the ravens be destroyed, his order was swayed when the king heard the tale that devastation would follow the removal of the ravens.

The Raven Master

One of the beefeaters at the Tower of London is the dedicated Raven Master who cares for the ‘unkindness of Ravens’ that reside at the Tower. At the moment there are seven ravens in residence (just in case) and they are housed by the Wakefield Tower. As with other animals held in captivity they have all been given names. The ravens currently in residence are Hardy, Odin, Thor, Cedric, Gwyllum, Munin and Hugine.

They are well fed consuming a full 6oz of raw meat and blood soaked bird food every day. They also enjoy eggs and are rather partial to rabbit which is fed to them with the rabbit in its natural state, plus they get the food scraps from the Tower mess kitchens. They are probably the best fed ravens anywhere in the world. In order to stop them flying away the raven master clips one of their wings, the procedure is painless but it makes their flight so unbalanced that they cannot fly very far.

Bad Behaviour Will Not Be Tolerated

There are rules that go along with being the most cosseted ravens in the country, and there have been birds in the past that have been dismissed from their duties at the tower on the basis of their bad behaviour. For example raven George was dismissed from his duties at the Tower in 1986 due to his unnatural taste for television aerials, he had been in residence at the Tower since 1975 and was ‘retired’ to the Welsh Mountain Zoo.

What many visitors to the Tower fail to realise is that a raven can live for a long time, and the ravens that they saw when they visited the Tower as a child will probably be the same birds that they see when they return as an adult. For example raven Jim Crow lived to the fabulous age of forty four! During the WWII London bombings the number of ravens was reduced to one with raven Grip being the only one in residence.  It was also believed that during the raids another bird, raven Mabel was bird-napped.

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