The Differences Between Crows and Ravens

22 Dec

My friend, BEG, asked if I would please talk about the differences between Crows and Ravens. I described those differences briefly but now will do so in more detail.

American Crow

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is a large black bird (16-21 in). They are widespread and common. If you see a large black bird, it’s most likely a crow. They tend to flock and can congregate in extremely large numbers — up to 2 million birds. If you see one crow, you almost always will see 10 more. Crows make a caw-caw sound. Crows in flight show their “fingers” but not as much as a Raven. I didn’t have a picture but found a good one on Flickr {click}. Crows eat carrion but need another animal to open it up first (or decay to soften things up sufficiently — ewwww!)

More walking

Common Ravens (Corvus Corax) are very large black birds (22-27 in). It is larger in every way. Most notably, it’s beak is much, much larger. Ravens have an extremely diverse range — from the Arctic to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. They are generally secretive and are considered one of the smartest of all birds. Ravens also roost in large numbers but much less commonly than Crows. Ravens are more often seen in pairs. Ravens also have a large throat ruff (see below). Ravens make a kronk-kronk sound. However, they also make all sorts of other sounds such as knocks, gurgles, etc. Ravens have a blunt tail. In flight, Ravens’ primary feathers make “fingers” as they are longer and seperate (see below). Ravens also soar more than Crows do. Ravens are also acrobats in the air whereas Crows do not tend toward diving toward the earth, spinning in flight, nor flying upside down as Ravens will sometimes do. Ravens eat carrion and are large enough and strong enough to eat fresh carrion — as evidence by the picture above which was taken in front of my house when a squirrel fell in front of a car. The Ravens ate well that day.

Displaying
Raven showing off his neck ruff.

Common Raven, flying
Raven soaring with his “fingers” showing

For my money, Ravens are so amazing as to overshadow the poor crow. Ravens are larger, louder, and smarter. I admire them so much. I feel so lucky to get to see them everyday at school and at home. A pair moved into our neighborhood and I’m thrilled by that. They are social and solitary; smart and secretive. I don’t say this to offend fans of the American Crow — they are amazing as well but for me, the Raven is something else again.

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27 Responses to “The Differences Between Crows and Ravens”

  1. Draftnik 22 December, 2007 at 5:57 am #

    I’ve been wondering about the differences too. Thanks for posting that. All the more interesting since I scored a raven on that critter test. Eat your heart out, Liza. ;-)

  2. robin andrea 22 December, 2007 at 8:44 am #

    Thanks for such a good lesson. Even though I’ve been watching birds for a few years now, I still haven’t been able to discern the distinguishing characteristics. This will really help.

  3. lizalee 22 December, 2007 at 9:06 am #

    Draftnik, my jealousy knows no bounds!

    Robin Andrea, I’m glad it’s helpful.

  4. mon@rch 22 December, 2007 at 11:31 am #

    This is great! So many times I forget that not everyone knows the difference! Great job sharing you knowledge with these great birds! My Ravens never let me get close enough for a photo!

  5. mary 22 December, 2007 at 6:48 pm #

    Good info, Liza. I’ll just have to admire the American and Fish Crow. No beautiful ravens around here!

    You do get the best photos of them…

  6. lizalee 22 December, 2007 at 8:04 pm #

    Thanks for the comments. I enjoyed putting this together.

  7. jayne 23 December, 2007 at 3:12 am #

    What a great tutorial Liza! Thanks!

  8. Silvia 10 January, 2008 at 7:59 am #

    PBS had a show on ravens recently: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/ravens/ . It was very interesting.

  9. Summer 12 January, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    Thanks for this! I am originally from Oklahoma and the Midwest so I was very familiar with crows. Up until a couple of years ago I had only seen one raven. One sighting – luckily a close one, and that beak gave it away for sure. A little over a year ago we moved to New Mexico and now live in a place where ravens are a daily site. What magnificent birds. I have a photo of one standing on our bird block. I guess all the little birds flocking around caught his interest and he dropped down to check it out. He strutted around and lorded it over the smaller birds for awhile, then flew away.

    Here’s the photos of him:
    http://demented-pixie.com/bird_watchers_notebook/data/361.html

  10. Jack 2 May, 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    I highly doubt that ravens are smarter than crows.. do not underestimate the crow. They are one of the only bird species that can use tools to gather food. For example, if a crow can’t extend his beak into the ground far enough to reach a grub.. he will get a stick and make the distance. I’d say they have equal intelligence. Also, there is some big loud crows out there, some up to 30″ long. Its hard to say which is louder.. I’ve witnessed both animals.

  11. Professor Birdbrain 22 May, 2008 at 6:48 am #

    Great article. I wrote an Ed-Tainment story about a Raven, Reginald the Common Raven who lives in Utah. Drop me an e-mail and I will send it along. tj@professorbirdbrain.com aka Tim Moreland. Also I am presently in Ely, MN and have observed the largest Ravens I have ever seen in the US & Canada.

  12. April 22 May, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    I just witnessed a crow attacking a parakeet-the crow had feathers sticking to his beak as we pulled up next to them. We attempted to shoo the crow away so the parakeet could fly away which it did however the crows followed and struck at the parakeet in mid-air much like a hawk. The parakeet was able to fly to a small tightly branched tree and hide in there while the crows circled the bottom. We shooed them away but I am certain they will circle back. So I no longer believe crows eat food that others have killed but are able to kill for themselves much like their raven relatives.

  13. jAke mAchAdo 23 October, 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    man this is so cool
    and yeah im a huge raven fan but never got a CLEAR desciption of the differences between them and stupid crows

    ps: poor squirrel :(

  14. maggie 5 November, 2008 at 11:46 am #

    BACK IN THE MID 1990S I SAW A COUPLE OF RATHER LARGE BLACK BIRDS IN MY VEGGIE GARDEN. THEY DID NO HARM, BUT I WAS ASTONISHED THAT THEY WERE SO BIG. I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES. WHEN I MOVED IN 1999, I NOTICED THESE BIRDS AGAIN. I HAVE SEEN THESE BIRDS OCCASSIONALY ON AND OFF. YESTERDAY I SAW THREE. I DECIDED TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE. THEY ARE THE MIGHTY RAVEN AND THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL. THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS WEBSIGHT AND TEACHING ME HOW THEY ARE DIFFERENT FROM THE BLACK BIRD AND CROW IN LOOKS. MAGGIE

  15. June 27 January, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    I am sure by now you have read Bernd Heinrich’s magnificent book; The Mind of the Raven, but just in case anybody else needs something great to read that has hardly anything to do with politics or weapons of mass destruction . . .

  16. Jacqueline Pearce 27 February, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    Hi. I just came across your blog and have been enjoying dipping into it. I am also a fan of ravens (and crows), which have both made their way into my blog. Here are a couple links, if you’re interested:

    http://wildink.wordpress.com/2007/02/13/bird-brains-and-trickster-tales/

    http://wildink.wordpress.com/2007/01/22/the-three-legged-crow/

    • Liza Lee Miller 27 February, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

      Thanks for visiting!! I will take a look at your raven and crow posts.

  17. Fastceptor 25 February, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I have also witnessed the Raven fly upside down. Bryce Canyon, Utah ’95 A raven appeared not ten feet in front of me flying upside down and had flown up the canyon wall before rising into view. It eyed me for a full three seconds before rising on the updraft and not uprighting itself untill almost out of sight. It then repeated the stunt as if to answer my disbelief! Yes, they do fly upside down.

    • Liza Lee Miller 25 February, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

      Wow! What a story — amazing! And what an amazing place to see such a performance! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Al Blake 13 August, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Have Crows always been endemic to S Cal?

    I know Ravens have…The ancient people along
    the coast believed one or the other( not sure which) were the messengers of Chingchinich
    a profit who born on Catalina,Island and came
    to the mainland to teach the people how to live
    their lives

    • lizalee 14 August, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

      I have to admit ignorance to how long Crows and Ravens have been along the California coast. I love having both of them here now, however. There are lots of Northern California and farther up the coast legends about Raven. Most of the Pueblo Indians have legends about Ravens and Crows as well.

  19. summer picnic 15 November, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I’ve been wondering this for so long, so thank you for this informative post (and visual aids!). I live across from a cemetery and wanted to believe that the shadowy birds were ravens; alas, your post illuminates that they’re crows.

    • lizalee 20 February, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

      Ravens or crows . . . it’s not going to matter much. They both add a lot of ambiance to a cemetery! Enjoy!

  20. Karen 22 July, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Love both Ravens and Crows! But I have to agree with Jack above, “Do not underestimate the intelligence of crows.” An amazing (also sad) documentary worth checking out is, “The Murder of Crows”. Apparently scientists now rate a crow’s intelligence second only to porpoises and apes! wow.

  21. Karen 22 July, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    correction: the documentary is, “A Murder of Crows” (not “The..”). It has double meaning since “a murder of crows” is like “a gaggle of geese”.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Quiz! « The Egret’s Nest - 7 January, 2008

    [...] 7, 2008 by Liza Lee Miller So, now that you’ve all become experts (ha!) on the differences between Ravens and Crows, I have a [...]

  2. Raving about my most viewed photo « Liza Lee Miller - 30 July, 2011

    [...] I thought maybe it’s been seen so much because it was on my 2nd most popular post, The Difference Between Ravens and Crows.  But it’s not.  It’s not my best picture of a raven or my most interesting picture [...]

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