Crow vs Raven

Getting to know the birds in your neighborhood is a great way to start connecting with nature. Bird watching has seen an increase in popularity during the pandemic and there are a lot of resources out there to get you started. Bird identification apps such as ibird Pro, or websites such as Audubon.org, can provide you with a wealth of information about different species, their habits, and habitats. With these resources you can quickly gather a lot of information about birds in your area.

Listening to the songs of the Robin or watching a Mourning Dove strut around can be a lot of fun. But when you transition from observation to identification it can quickly become confusing. Some birds, like the Robins, are easy to identify. However, others can look amazingly similar.

The Henslow’s Sparrow and the Hermit Thrush might look different in a field guide, but catch a glimpse of one them outside and you will be left wondering, “Did that bird have a spotted belly?” or “Did that bird have a stripe on it’s head?” Hopefully, these questions will led you to further exploration and not towards frustration.

Recently, I embarked on my own set of questioning about the difference between Crows and Ravens. Both of these birds are common to my neighborhood and I wanted to know more about them.

Crows and Ravens are similar in a lot of ways. Both are part of the Corvid family and similar in color and size. And, unless you know what to look for you can easily get them confused. The following table compares these two birds to help you determine what bird you are seeing or hearing.

Photo credit: Henry Burton, Macaulay Library
Common
Name
American Crow
Scientific
Name
Corvus brachyrhynchos
Body Size Large 16-32 inches
ColorBlack with iridescent blue
TailFan-Shaped
FlightSlow and Steady, Direct
Sound/VoiceCaw-Caw
Fun FactWill collect shiny objects
such as rings and key
Photo credit: Christopher Lindsey, Macaulay Library
Common NameCommon Raven
Scientific Name Corvus corax
Body SizeLarge 16-32 inches
ColorGlossy black with a purple sheen on the upper parts
TailWedge-shaped
FlightSoars and glides on thermals and updrafts
Sound/VoiceDeep croak or wonk-wonk
Fun FactHas been known to fly upside down

After reviewing the data, I have noticed that there are a few key traits that help distinguish a Crow from a Raven.

  • The American Crow is usually a little bit smaller that the Common Raven.
  • If you are able to observe them in flight, noticing the tail shape will help with identification. The Crow has more of a fan-shaped tail, where as the Raven has a wedge-shaped tail.
  • There feathers are very similar in color. However, the Raven has shaggy throat feathers where as the Crow’s throat feathers are smooth.
  • The Crow has a higher pitch “Caw-Caw”
  • Common Raven voice is very deep and guttural.

Being able to pick out these subtle differences between birds can be really helpful in determine what species you are watching. However, don’t let the pursuit of identification take away from the joy of just watching the birds!


One final note about Corvids:

Corvids consist of about 120 species of crow like birds including the ravens, rooks, magpies, and nutcrackers. Corvids have been shown to be extremely intelligent and have been found to have self-awareness and the ability to make tools. Corvids are found throughout most of the world except tip of South Africa and the polar ice caps.


Resources for further research

5 thoughts on “Crow vs Raven

Add yours

  1. Love this, Mark. I have been an avid bird watcher all my life. There is something delightful in getting to know the species that frequent our neighborhoods.

    1. Hi Kim, I couldn’t agree more! What is really fascinating for me is that the more I start researching different topics, the more I am aware of what I don’t know. There is a world of mystery out there!

  2. This was a great comparison article, Mark. As a birder for several decades, I am often asked the difference between the two, and you covered it all here very nicely.

    1. Thanks Jet! I hope to do a few of these. For example, the Downy vs Hairy Woodpecker or the Purple vs House Finch. I find myself studying these birds until I can really tell the difference. Thanks for the comment!

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