Who among us wouldn't love to own a pet raven or crow? These beautiful animals, long admired for their romantic association with darkness and despair, are icons of modern pagan and gothic culture. But it's not just their macabre beauty that makes them interesting pets: ravens and crows are among the most intelligent animals on Earth, on par with chimps and dolphins. Their intelligent antics make them intriguing companions, and they tend to bond very strongly with their owners. Like parrots, crows and ravens can learn to imitate human speech, often even attempting simple "conversations" with their human friends!
Unfortunately for corvid enthusiasts, pet crows and ravens aren't easy to come by. The Migratory Bird Act, first implemented in 1916, bans anyone (with the exception of licensed wildlife rehabilitators) from owning any migratory bird native to the United States. Protected species include the American crow and its close relative, the common raven. Despite centuries of fossil evidence and human art showing that common ravens are a native species, many people mistakenly believe that they were imported from Europe. In fact, the common raven is found throughout naturally North America, Europe, and Asia, and traveled between continents during past ice ages via the Bering Land Bridge. As a result, common ravens in the U.S. are genetically indistinguishable from their relatives in Europe and Asia-- although some of the birds in California hold a separate genetic legacy of their ice-age ancestors!
Since they are both native species, it is illegal to keep American crows or common ravens as pets, because wildlife officials fear that it could lead people to "kidnap" baby birds from their nests to sell. Given how common crows and ravens are in the United States, this might seem like an irritating and unnecessary precaution, but, without it, it's very likely that our native bird populations would be threatened by people recklessly seeking to sell novelty pets.
For this reason, the only way that you can legally and ethically acquire a pet raven or crow is by picking a species that is not native to the U.S. and does not migrate to any portion of the U.S. The most common corvid species chosen as pets are the white-necked raven, a very common species found through much of Africa, and the pied crow, a closely related animal also endemic to Africa. Some breeders also sell hybrids between the two species, which share traits of both parent species.
White-necked ravens and pied crows never migrate to the United States, so it is legal to own them under the Migratory Bird Act. Neither species is endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and, due to regulations that prohibit the transport of wild birds across oceans, we know with confidence that all white-necked ravens or pied crows sold in the U.S. are bred and hand-raised in captivity. It's both legal and ethical to own these beautiful black birds as pets.
If you decide that you want to buy a pet raven or crow, you'll need to find a skilled, reputable breeder offering white-necked ravens or pied crows. Because African corvids aren't bred as widely as other exotic birds like macaws or budgies, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for them--at least $2,000, and possibly as much as $6,000. Since it's unlikely that there is a breeder very close to you, anticipate an additional cost to ship the animal (or for you to travel to pick it up from the breeder).
While this may seem like an extravagant cost, it's a reminder of one important fact: the decision to acquire a new pet should never be taken lightly or made on impulse. Crows and ravens are extremely intelligent creatures that require specialized attention and care. It is arguably more difficult and time-consuming to properly care for a pet crow or raven than to care for a high-need dog, and crow owners have described them as being much like babies. Just as you wouldn't adopt a child without carefully considering the significant costs (literal and metaphorical) associated with the adoption, you shouldn't adopt a crow or raven on a whim. However, if you do decide that one of these birds is right for you, it is well worth the money and effort to add such a social, intelligent, and delightful creature to your family.