In the past month I’ve looked closely at pairs and solo crows. Sometimes I discover they’re ravens. Here are tips for telling them apart, listed from easiest to hardest.
- Tail shape: In flight ravens have wedge-shaped tails, crows have straight-across or curved-tip tails.
- Sound: The raven’s call is a rough “Brock! Brock!” Crows say “Caw! Caw!” Ravens also say a lot of bizarre things.
- Flight style: Ravens soar and sometimes tumble, crows flap. If you see a soaring corvid it’s a raven.
- Social behavior: In Pittsburgh, ravens travel alone or in pairs, crows travel in big flocks or family groups of 3-4. (In Los Angeles there are flocks of ravens.)
- Size (not always helpful): Ravens are larger, the size of a red-tailed hawk.
- Silhouette: Because the raven’s tail is longer and wider, his head looks relatively small and pointy.
- Beak: Ravens have big powerful beaks, crows do not.
These silhouettes illustrate two field marks. On the left, two crows have straight-across or curved tips on their tails. On the right, the solo raven has a wedge-shaped tail and his head looks relatively small and pointy.
Sound is the best field mark if the birds are calling. This audio clip from Xeno Canto has a raven in the foreground (Brock! Brock!) and crows cawing in the background.
Still stumped on how to tell the difference? Here are additional tips and a quiz from The Raven Diaries.
p.s. Click here for an audio treat that includes ravens calling in almost-human voices, recorded in the Adirondacks near Vermontville, NY.