Out of the 810 species of North American birds, only crows and ravens are completely black. But they have much more in common than color. Along with their cousins, the magpies and jays, they’re among the smartest birds on the planet. But which is which? And who’s smarter? Let's check it out. And watch out, there’s a crow-or-raven quiz at the end!
Q. So who’s smarter? Crow or raven?
A.It’s hard to say. Crows make tools, play games, and outwit other species in search of food. Check out this story about a crow fooling a young Glaucous-winged Gull on the beach.
A Rook, a close cousin to the American Crow, may have been the culprit in setting the roof of Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage on fire, when all he wanted was to smoke out some parasites under his wings, with a smoldering cigarette. That story.
A New Caledonian crow named Betty is famous for her tool-making skills and even turned up on an official postage stamp.
A researcher of crows at the University of Washington, John Marzluff, discovered that the birds can recognize individual faces -- and remember a person for his action -- for better and for worse. (Note: Be careful what you do to crows!)
The raven, on the other hand, has an uneven reputation. Bhutan has taken the raven as its national bird. In Sweden, however, the raven may be seen as the ghost of a murdered person. In Britain, they’re revered -– and a few are royally maintained for their entire lives in the Tower of London.
In a contemporary story, an employee of Grand Canyon National Park tells how a raven tricked his dog out of her bone.
And biologist and bestselling author Bernd Heinrich writes that, “Ravens associate with any animals that kill large game -- polar bears, grizzlies, wolves, coyotes, killer whales, and humans,” and may even help lead wolves to their prey. Listen to that show.
Q. So how to tell the two apart? Which is a crow and which a raven?
A. Some pointers:
- Ravens generally travel in pairs, while crows are often seen in larger groups except right before the breeding season.
- If you can, study the tail as the bird flies overhead. A crow’s tail is shaped like a fan, while the raven’s tail appears wedge- or diamond-shaped.
- Another clue is to listen closely to the birds’ calls. Crows give a cawing sound, but ravens produce a lower croaking sound.
- A raven may weigh four times as much as a crow. Its beak is heavier, too, and it often appears to have a shaggy set of feathers on its throat.
The BirdNote show, Ravens and Crows - Who Is Who? explains how you can tell a crow from a raven.
And here are still more stories about crows and ravens!
- The Crafty American Crow
- A Crow Funeral, with Tony Angell
- Crows’ Night Roost
- Crows Preening
- The Raven’s Love Song
- Crow Parents, Fearless Defenders
- Do Crows Sing?
- Crows 'n' Chips
- The Benefits of a Raven's Black Feathers
As promised, here's the quiz!
In each of the three photo pairings in the story, which is a crow and which is a raven? (Scroll down for the answers.)
Top photo of birds’ heads: American Crow, left, and Common Raven, right (both photos by Tom Grey).
Middle photos of perched birds: Common Raven, left, and American Crow, right (both photos © Tom Grey).
Bottom silhouettes of birds in flight: crow, left, and raven, right (crow © Greenfinger; raven photo © Mike Hamilton).
This blog post first appeared on AWayToGarden.com.