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Do You Know The Differences Between Ravens And Crows?
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 by eNature
Raven showing
Raven showing "shaggy" throat feathers.
© NPS
American Crow, note smaller bill than Common Raven's
American Crow, note smaller bill than Common Raven's
© USGS

Ravens are remarkable birds.  And while not dismissing their cousin crows as the boring wallflowers of the party, ravens have a story of their own that’s worth knowing.

Avian Royalty
Inside the Tower of London, a man called the Yeoman Raven Master watches over a flock of all-black birds. The same was true back in the 1600s when the tradition started. It arose after a soothsayer predicted that the British monarchy would fall if the ravens disappeared.

But even without their caretaker, these birds probably would have survived.

World Travelers
For one thing, ravens are surprisingly adaptable to differing types of habitat. When winter descends upon northern Alaska and other animals depart, ravens remain to feed, frolic, and breed in the subzero chill. At the opposite extreme, ravens will hunt snakes even in the dizzying summertime heat of a place like Death Valley. Indeed, they’re one of the most widely distributed birds in the entire world.

Fine Diners
They’re also one of the most opportunistic. In fact, some people call them wolf-birds because of their close association with wolves, bears, coyotes, and killer whales, the hunters ravens depend upon for kills to scavenge. But ravens do more than pick at the remains of dead animals. Scientists believe that ravens work actively to direct predators to potential prey. With appetites as adaptable as their lifestyles, ravens will eat anything from fur seals to french fries and thrive.

Not Just Pretty Faces
And ravens are smart. Researchers such as Bernd Heinrich have tested raven intelligence with astounding results. For example, a raven, given a dozen crackers, will use one as a tray, with other crackers stacked and carried carefully upon it.

And when confronted with multiple donuts, a raven will pass its beak through the hole of one and then grab the edge of another—a perfect solution to the two-donut, one-beak problem.

Talented Performers
And did we mention that ravens can mimic human speech as well as parrots?  Ravens are quite vocal with as many as 30 categories of vocalization recorded, many used for social interaction including alarm calls, chase calls, and flight calls. 

Ravens also engage in play. Juvenile Common Ravens have been observed sliding down snowbanks, apparently just for fun.

Ravens vs. Crows
Yet despite their intelligence, ravens have not been able to outwit man. Confused with agriculture pests like crows and wrongly suspected in livestock depredation, ravens have suffered much at the hands of varmint shooters. Once prevalent in New England, ravens were locally exterminated and only recently have begun a return to the upper Northeast.

A discriminating birder should have no trouble distinguishing a raven from a crow. Look for the raven’s larger size and heavier bill. The feather tufts at the neck and wedge-shaped tail feathers in flight also differentiate it from a crow. So will its distinctive vocalizations, which include an assortment of low quorks, knocks, and mumbles.

Have you had an encounter with a raven in the wild—or perhaps at the Tower of London?

We always enjoy hearing stories, so feel free to share below.

Learn more about the Common Raven and hear its call. »

And the American Crow is a fascinating bird in its own right. »

(9) CommentsPermalink

Comments

It’s easy to tell them apart IF you have both side by side… here in Oregon, ravens are mostly found in wild areas and crows in town.  The tail shape is the easiest indicator for me.  Sometimes they don’t oblige by calling!

Posted by J Spilker on 7/30

Ravens are quite common around the Burbank CA area. My first encounter was when one perched on my fence making metallic clucking sounds, then swooped over me onto the roof. It was so large compared to the croews I was used to that I began looking up the differences. Now I hear their odd sounds quite often.

Posted by Colleen McAllister on 7/30

I know of someone who ran a couple of miles early every morning.  Two ravens lived on his property in a rural area.  When he ran the ravens flew above him to his turnaround point, a particular utility pole.  the ravens would land on the pole, then fly back home as he ran.  One morning he decided to run further.  The ravens, apparently horrified by this break in routine, landed on the pole and “screamed” at him til he turned around and started the run home.

Posted by Betty Jo McDonald on 7/30

They indeed are discriminating eaters. I left an unattended box of food in the back of my pickup while camping once. When I returned they had raided the box and taken only a couple pecks out of a raw onion. But they had also opened brand new boxes of both Rice Crispies and Wheat Chexs. You couldn’t even tell they had eaten any of the Crispies yet every Chex was gone. Ravens love campers (and wheat, I am guessing. wink

Posted by Ken Ralston on 7/30

We have a raven nest on a cliff in front of our house. One day, as I was photographing the chicks, one of the parents sat on a snag over head and threw spruce cones at me! I have been privileged to watch this nest for seven broods now. They are very serious parents. After the chicks fledge,parents and young (usually 3) stick together for a month or two making a raucous in the forest.

Posted by Judy Hall Jacobson on 7/30

In the areas of California where I have lived, I have only seen them in pairs, never flocks. Their calls are quite distinctive, never crow-like.
Those I have seen in Alaska look smaller tome than ours, but then I never had the two together for comparison. In the deserts of southern California they have proven a threat to gesert tortoises, as they take the young hatchlings, especially to feed their chicks.

Posted by Steve Anderson on 7/30

I have only seen ravens a few times
they are quite rare here in New England. Though I am impressed by their size when I do see them

Posted by emily on 7/30

Raven are very aggressive predators. They peck the eyes out of baby animals in order to kill them. They are much worse about his than crows because they have the curved beak and larger size.

Posted by Meghan Lally on 7/30

I live in central Minnesota. Many years ago a relative raised a raven from young age to old age. He taught the bird how to speak. Very bright bird. Very large bird.

Posted by J. McDonough on 7/30

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