Raven or Crow? Listening Maybe the Only Answer (with Videos)

American Crow perched in a tree
American Crow perched in a tree.

How can we tell a raven from a crow? Birding season is about to begin in earnest. Now’s a good time to brush up on identifications.

Crows and Ravens Hanging Out Together?

Sometimes when I am looking at a murder of crows, or a couple of black birds walking along the ground, I wonder if I’m not seeing the ravens for thinking their crows? I’ve written before how much I admire crows.  Are there ravens around here? How could I tell the difference between the two birds.

A mixed flock? I understand ravens and crows don’t travel in mixed flocks and crows will attack ravens.

Location? The two species overlap in my area. Ravens like more mountainous regions and crows like more open habitats. Sure. But birds have wings and they fly wherever they darn well please.

Checking Out the Tails and Beaks

After studying the two birds, I doubt I will be able to tell them apart except by their tail shapes, and depending on the angle, that may not help much. Or their beak sizes, which won’t help if they are high in a tree or flying high overhead and I can’t see the beak or its shape.

But first the differences between the tails. Crow tail feathers spread out in a wedge shape while the bird is in flight. Raven tail feathers take on a wedge-shape.

Raven beaks are heavy and chunkier than a crow’s.

One Species or Two?

Often in identification of any being (including humans) the individual with the most characteristics that mirror the ideal, are used as the example. Many other individuals in a group may not look like the “ideal”. All members of a group vary in appearance and sound, even birds.

Can Crows and Ravens Hybridize? Yes, it’s rare but they can and sometimes do. See the post Can Crows and Ravens Hybridize? on the Corvid research blog.

Also What Is a Species? on the Scientific American blog.

I wonder if this is yet another example of humans making two bird species when there actually might just be one. Maybe Ravens are a bit bigger with chunkier beaks than crows. Yes, ravens maybe be larger in size. But I have a cousin who is 6’4’’ tall to my 5’1’’. We are still the same species and closely related.

Learning the Sounds and Calls

The best I can do is learn the sounds of their voices. So, in the spirit of making things easier and simpler, I share these videos of crows and raven call and sounds. Because this is the only way I will probably be able to identify the two species.

How Do You Identify Crows or Ravens?

If you have any tips, on identifying a raven or a crow, let us know in the comments below? Is there any other species of animal you have a hard time identifying?

And being birder we say it is a bird or a raven because we want it to be. Chickadees – black-capped or Carolina? I rest my case.

More on Corvids

A Murder of Crows? What does it mean?

American Crows

Birding By Ear: Learning Birds Calls and Songs

We're Listening

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