Merlin Attack! Raven or Crow?

Merlin attacks a big black corvid at Renews, NL (photo by Trina Anderson)
Merlin attacks a raven at Renews, NL, 10 July 2018 (photo by Trina Anderson)

Last week in Newfoundland our birding tour witnessed an amazing bird interaction when a merlin attacked a big black corvid in the air.  It happened so fast that we had to think hard about the birds’ identities.

Yes the attacker was a merlin —  a small, streaky dark, very fast falcon that made this sound as it attacked. (Xeno-canto XC332445: alarm calls of merlin pair recorded by Pritam Baruah in Churchill, MB, August 2016)

But was the big black bird a crow or a raven?

Fellow traveler Trina Anderson captured the action with her camera. Before we saw her photos we could only identify the corvid by size and behavior.  We decided “raven” based on the relative size of the two birds and the behavior of the raven.

  • Merlins are 2/3 the size of a crow but less than half the size of a raven.  Overhead the merlin was tiny compared to the bird it attacked, so it had to be a raven. Trina’s photos show the size difference.
  • The black bird barely flapped during the interaction and it flipped upside down in flight (see the last photo). Crows flap hard when they’re under attack and they don’t fly upside down.
  • During the fight it was hard to see the diagnostic field mark — the tail — but Trina’s next photo shows the corvid has a wedge-shaped tail. That means “raven.”
Merlin attacks a corvid, Renews, NL, 10 July 2018 (photo by Trina Anderson)
Merlin attacks raven, Renews, NL, 10 July 2018 (photo by Trina Anderson)
Merlin attack! Raven flips upside down, Renews, NL, 10 July 2010 (photo by Trina Anderson)
Merlin attacks! Raven flips upside down, Renews, NL, 10 July 2010 (photo by Trina Anderson)

It’s hard to tell ravens from crows unless you have some practice.  Get tips on how to tell them apart in this 3 minute video from The Raven Diaries: Ravens vs Crows, they’re different!


(photos by Trina Anderson. See more of photos of our Newfoundland trip in her Flickr album.)

5 thoughts on “Merlin Attack! Raven or Crow?

  1. Who won? I ask because we just had a similar showdown in our yard.
    I have been coaxing the raven into my yard this winter and today the merlin showed up. They had a bit of a cat and mouse interaction on fences and roof tops, but eventually got too far away for me to see.

  2. I’m in Harwood Ontario and have nesting Merlins behind our house. Today on June 16 2019 I watched a Merlin attack a turkey vulture. Even made a thump sound when the Merlin hit the turkey vulture. Amazing

  3. Yesterday in a Sudbury residential area (like Mississauga) I watched a dogfight between a crow and a Merlin. The crow was the agressor and surprisingly strong flier, trying to get the little falcon out of the area. When he would catch up the merlin would do a backflip and whack him on the head but I guess it didn’t hurt him, the show lasted a half hour and I got tired of watching………………..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *