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Ravens and Crows - Who Is Who

They look a lot alike, but there are subtle differences...

Is that big black bird a crow or a raven? How can you tell? Ravens (seen right here) often travel in pairs, while crows (left) are seen in larger groups. Also, study the tail as the bird flies overhead. A crow's tail is shaped like a fan, while the raven's tail appears wedge-shaped. Another clue is to listen closely to the birds' calls. Crows give a cawing sound, but ravens produce a lower croaking sound. To learn more about crows and ravens, you can visit All About Birds. Or, get information when you take a class from your local Audubon society.

Full Transcript


Ravens and Crows – Who’s Who?
Adapted by Dominic Black from a piece by Frances Wood and Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote.

[Suburban street ambient and Northwestern Crow sound]

So you’re walking down the street, minding your own business. And a trashcan’s been tipped o-ver. And eagerly picking through the riches strewn across the sidewalk are several black birds. They’re crows. Or…ravens. No, definitely crows…maybe.

How can you tell the difference? Well, first off, crows give a cawing sound:

[Northwestern Crow’s caw, caw]

But ravens are croakers:

[Raven’s croak]

And while Common Ravens and American Crows look quite similar, there are a few key distin-guishing features that can help you tell one from the other.

Ravens are larger, the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. And they often travel in pairs, while crows are seen in larger groups. Also, watch the bird’s tail as it flies overhead.

The crow’s tail feathers are basically all the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, it opens like a fan. But ravens have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open.

But the bill is the really easy way to tell – because the raven has that chunky, grey-black, mena-cing-looking beak that pretty much says "Yeah, that’s right. I’m a Raven. So?"

The crow’s bill, on the other hand, is still decently sized, but is somewhat more…modest. And most likely it’s a crow you'll see picking through the trash. The ravens prefer the woodlands and open spaces. They’re a bit more on the wild side.  


The bird calls you hear on BirdNote come from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Orni-thology. To hear them again, begin with a visit to our website, I’m Michael Stein.


Adapted by Dominic Black from a script by Dennis Paulson, based on a piece written by Frances Wood.
Calls provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Ambient track American Raven recorded by R.S. Little. American Crow 50118 recorded by G. A. Keller. Common Raven 137574 recorded by Gerrit Vyn.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2014 Tune In to   September 2014  Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# 091605corvid AMCRCORA-01b-2010-09-28   AMCR-CORA-01c

comments 4Show

I'm an amateur part time bird watcher and have a fondness for crows and now for ravens. Prior to this all I knew was that blue jays were related to crows. The information you have provided explaining the differences between these wonderful birds is much appreciated. Thank You!

Thanks; good info and a lot of help in differentiating the two birds.

My husband and I love watching crows and ravens. Once you learn the difference they're even more fun to watch.

Corvid Pop Culture Trivia: Netflix's show "BoJack Horseman" includes cameo by a raven called Cameron Crow with an indentity crisis. :)

Thank you very much for this wonderful information about crows and ravens. My husband and I have been trying to learn about these differences for quite some time. Now we know and are very glad to have this good info.


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