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three-eyed monkey

How far can ravens fly in a day?

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The subject came up recently in a thread and it got me curious. I don’t know if GRRM ever answered this in SSM but I checked the wiki and searched the forums but despite finding some good threads on ravenmail, came up blank on this question. I checked the net about the daily range of a raven in realworld, but again found nothing consistent. Maester Aemon proved some help, without answering the question directly.

“Doves and pigeons can also be trained to carry messages,” the maester [Aemon] went on, “though the raven is a stronger flyer, larger, bolder, far more clever, better able to defend itself against hawks ….”

I don’t know if “stronger flyer” means a raven has greater speed or range? As doves and pigeons can be trained to carry messages as well then I figured ravens must be somewhere near as fast, otherwise we might expect to see maesters keeping both ravens and pigeons, the latter being used in situations where speed is of the essence. If there is little difference between the speeds of the birds, it would be far more practical to keep ravens only due to the other advantages ravens have, as listed above by Aemon. But if a pigeon was, say, twice as fast as a raven then it might be worth the effort to keep a pigeon or two handy for those urgent messages. So I’m guessing pigeons might be faster, but not by a huge amount.

So, how fast are homing pigeons? Well, here are a few extracts from various online sources.

… Flights as long as 1,100 miles have been recorded by birds in competitive pigeon racing. Their average flying speed over moderate distances (about 500 miles) is around 50 mph, but speeds of up to 58.7 mph have been observed in top racers for short distances (99 miles). …

… The longest distance flown on one day by a racing pigeon, is the 751 miles from Lulea to Malmo, in Sweden, when birds released above the Arctic Circle at Lulea at 0100 hrs, in the Midnight Sun Derby, were recorded home in Malmo, 751 miles to the south, seventeen hours later, having flown the entire course at an average speed of 44mph. …

… In Great Britain distances of over 723 miles have been flown on the day, by pigeons flying home from Nantes in western France to Fraserburgh in Scotland. Released at 0600 hrs in the morning the birds have been timed in their lofts before 10.00 at night. …

... The race, which is considered to be the Grand National of pigeon racing, saw more than 1000 birds fly home to Scotland from Reims in France. [The winner’s] four-year-old pigeon, Better Still, proved the fastest, covering the 582 miles back to Dundee in just under 14 hours on Friday. …

I’ve read some posts that suggest it takes 5 days for a raven to cover the 300 mile journey from Deepwood Motte to Winterfell, and others that suggest it takes 8 days for a raven to fly the 600 miles [approx.] from Winterfell to Castle Black. That would put the daily range of a raven between 60 and 75 miles per day, ten times less than a homing pigeon. Which seems rather slow, considering Pony Express couriers rode between 75 and100 miles per day, as could Mongol cavalry, and Roman mounted-infantry could cover 60 miles in a day.

So, what do people think?

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Probably ~500 miles in a single day, maybe only ~250 per day for a multi-day journey. They would need to feed.

Thanks for the reply Bright Blue Eyes, I tend to agree that a raven could go 500 miles in a day. And welcome to the Westerosi Amateur Ornithology Society, membership so far... 2.

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I've just looked a bit further into the matter and now i have to disagree...

In general, flight velocity of birds ranges from 20 to 50 miles per hour. For sustained flight, larger birds typically fly faster than smaller birds. A common flying speed of ducks and geese is between 40 and 50 miles per hour, but among the smaller birds it is much less. Herons, hawks, Horned Larks, ravens, and shrikes, timed with an automobile speedometer have been found to fly 22 to 28 miles per hour, whereas some of the flycatchers fly at only 10 to 17 miles per hour. Even such fast-flying birds as the Mourning Dove rarely exceed 35 miles per hour. A Peregrine Falcon will have difficulty catching a pigeon during a level chase at 60 miles per hour, but this predator can probably exceed 100 miles per hour during a stoop from a greater height onto its prey, although this velocity has never been accurately measured.

http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/migratio/speed.htm

Apparently pigeons fly way fast in a leveled flight than ravens.

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Another fun fact about ravens, especially concerning the LC's raven:

1.The raven is the largest bird of the crow family: it is twice heavier than a common crow at 1.3 kg (3 pounds), being 60 cm (two feet) long, with a wingspan of almost 1 m (3.3 ft). Ravens can live 40 years in the wild and 70 in captivity.

So the raven could haven been around for a long time ;)

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I should think there's a good argument for in-world ravens, as opposed to real world, being faster and stronger than in-world pigeons. Otherwise, not unlike our history, the Maesters would have logically chosen pigeons as their airmail carriers over ravens.

As such, I would be comfortable attributing a 500 or 600 mile/day (fair weather) travel range to asoiaf ravens.

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European or African?

(Somebody had to ask this. Come on.)

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@ mcb. Lol.

@ nyos. Nice find. So, even if a raven can only average say 25 mph, that's still 300 miles in twelve hours of flight. That would make Deepwood Motte to Winterfell a one day trip, Winterfell to Castle Black ~ 2 days. I could buy that. It does beg the question why we don't see more carrier pigeons in use like Sun said.

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@ mcb. Lol.

@ nyos. Nice find. So, even if a raven can only average say 25 mph, that's still 300 miles in twelve hours of flight. That would make Deepwood Motte to Winterfell a one day trip, Winterfell to Castle Black ~ 2 days. I could buy that. It does beg the question why we don't see more carrier pigeons in use like Sun said.

I believe i can make one strong argument:

It's GRRM's world and he explicitly states, that ravens are stronger flyers than pigeons => asoiafRavens fly faster than irlPigeons

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Thanks for your curiousity, three-eyed monkey! I learned something from reading this thread, and it's definitely changed my perception of mail delivery in Westeros. Though the question is: does GRRM know anything about rl bird speeds?!?!? There's also the issue that we seldom know the actual distances between many locations.

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Ravens can hit 35mph or so. But I figure they could cover 20 miles in a hour... One day, minus sleep, rest, huntng/eating, I'd say maybe 250-300 miles is possible..

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Thanks for the interest and input guys. [The ornithological society is slowly and quietly expanding.] The concensus seems to be that if they are like real-world ravens then we're talking +/- 300 miles per day, but due to what Aemon said about ravens being stronger flyers,it could mean that GRRM-world ravens can fly +/- 500 miles per day.

The question is, was Aemon right or wrong? There may be one thing that suggests these are not run of the mill ravens. Real ravens are quite clever, or so I read, but they don't talk or mimic like parrots as far as I know. Now, I know the ravens in the books are being warged by BR or Bran but that aside, how do they make the sounds for words like Corn, Kill, King, Theon, Snow and Fire. Ok, Corn or kill might be close enough to a quork, or a caw, or whatever ravens do, but how does a raven make an 'S' sound or an 'F' sound. Add to that what maester Tybald told Stannis, he said that on rare occasions they find a raven that can learn the names of four or five castles and fly to the right one on command. And of course Bran learns that the ravens once could speak the messages and had no need to carry letters. This might strongly suggest that we are dealing with special GRRM-world ravens and that Aemon does know what he's talking about.

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It does beg the question why we don't see more carrier pigeons in use like Sun said.

IIRC, the reason is ravens are less likely to fall prey to hawks than pigeons are. They are slower, maybe, but more likely to survive and carry the message to the destination.

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The speed of pigeons noted by everyone above are for racing pigeons, which are the result of an intensive long term breeding program. The Westerosi ravens used for mail delivery (Corvus corax citadelis?) are also undoubtedly the result of a similar program. We should expect them to be faster than wild ravens. They could very well exceed racing pigeon speed. I'm trusting Aemon on this.

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Real world ravens are perfectly capable of making all of the sounds of human speech and some interesting noises that we can't manage. (The "tok!" call springs to mind.)



They're also capable of learning places and going where they're asked, probably lots more than five, though that sort of thing would be really hard to train for in a world where taking the raven and showing it the place where it's meant to go would require months of travel for the trainer.



I've no idea if GRRM is really interested in birds, but normally a 'strong flyer' and a fast one aren't necessarily the same thing. A strong one would, I should think, go further and in more types of weather, not necessarily faster.



You can't really breed a raven to be extra-fast like one can a pigeon. They don't really have the body-type to be super fast birds. Wild type pigeons are already built for quick turns and speed. But ravens do something that pigeons don't -- true soaring. A bird can go a long way with less effort by circling in an updraft to get very high and then gliding down at a shallow angle to make distance without having to resort to powered flight.



One can suppose that a raven might know more than one destination -- maybe it is customary that the same bird goes to The Wall from Winterfell and can make the return trip, while a pigeon only goes home and has to be carried back to the source point. One might also suppose that, apart from being more resistant to predators, the raven can go further without having to stop to forage, because he's bigger and because he can use the soaring trick to conserve energy.


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How does the speed and range of a pigeon or raven compare against the speed and range of a dragon?


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600 miles is about the distance from King´s Landing to Acorn Hall or Cider Hall. Is that agreed?

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