Crows and Ravens

Credit: June Hunter

Look at these profiles — when it’s this simple, you think “How could I ever confuse the two?” But it’s rarely this simple.

Of course, the American Crow and the Common Raven are very different birds in many ways, but the untrained eye — or the trained eye, at times — can easily confuse one for the other under less-than-ideal conditions. If you were to see a Crow and a Raven sitting on the same branch, no problem if only because the Raven is a much larger bird. But it’s very unlikely you’d ever see them on the same branch, as Ravens and Crows strenuously avoid hanging out together. Taken singly, especially in motion, it can be hard to tell what you’re seeing. But there are attributes that give away the identity of each if you stop thinking “Big Black Bird” and look at specifics.

American Crow gliding — Gary Hart

The Raven has a bigger beak; it’s as long as the bird’s head and very thick, with shaggy feathers around its base and less of a forehead rising from it. The crow’s beak is not small, but it’s not as long as the head, not as thick as the Raven’s, lacks the shaggy hairs and there is the gentle curve of a forehead behind it.

Common Ravens soaring — Gary Hart

In flight, there are more distinguishing factors. The Raven has a large, wedge-shaped tail where the Crow has a shorter tail that is only slightly rounded. Crows often travel in groups, even large groups — Ravens travel solo or in pairs almost exclusively. Ravens like to soar, with their wings held flat like a Hawk’s — Crows will coast, with their wings held in more of a “V” but they are not soaring. Crows pretty much flap their way, in a smooth “rowing” motion, everywhere they go.

On the ground, if size hasn’t already given away the ID, you’ll notice that both birds walk, but the Raven will do a little hop every so often; the Crow will not.
And the voices. Crows are very social and they’re also noisy animals, chatting among themselves at high volume. Their most frequent sound is a “Caw,” though they also make a rattling sound that is akin to one of those in the Raven’s far more extensive vocabulary. Ravens grunt and croak and twang and rattle — they never caw.