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Ravens and Crows - Who's 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 over. 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 distinguishing 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, menacing-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.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  American Crow [50118] recorded by G. A. Keller. Common Raven [137574] recorded by G. Vyn. Ambient recorded by C. Peterson.
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 2018/2019  Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# 091605corvid AMCRCORA-01b-2010-09-28   AMCR-CORA-01c

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