Ravens and Crows

My husband Andy has been urging me to write a piece about the differences between ravens and crows.  That seemed like a good idea to me, since the extent of my knowledge was merely a vague “ravens are bigger.”

First of all, ravens are crows, but crows are not ravens.  The Common Raven and the American Crow are members of the corvidae family.  Magpies and jays are also corvids.

A raven is typically the size of a hawk, while the smaller crow is about the size of a pigeon.  And the two birds differ in shape as well as size.  The raven’s tail ends in a triangular point, while the tip of the crow’s tail is more-or-less straight across, perhaps a little rounded.  The raven has a flatter head than the crow.  And their beaks are different.  Experts explain that the crow’s beak is sharper and shorter than the raven’s, that the upper part of the raven’s beak is more curved than that of the crow.   Even so, the two birds’  beaks look practically the same to me, and I would not use their beaks to try to tell them apart.

An easier-to-detect difference, I think, is the shaggy ‘ruff’ of feathers around the raven’s neck, different from the smooth feathers surrounding the crow’s neck.

The two birds clearly behave differently during flight.  While the raven mostly soars silently, the crow flaps its wings and calls again and again.  And upon landing, the crow flicks its wings and tail feathers, while the raven simply sets its feet down, ‘calmly,’ without excess movement.

Ravens and crows can be fairly easily distinguished by their sound.  The raven sounds like this:   the raven\’s call The crow sounds like this:  sound of a crow The raven’s call is deeper and throatier than the crow’s call, which can be described as louder and harsher.

The crow and raven often share habitat, but each has its own preferences.  Ravens prefer a more natural environment and can be found in forests, deserts, and tundra, usually at higher altitudes.  Crows are found throughout America’s lowlands, especially in agricultural areas.  And crows do extremely well in urban areas.  I even read (Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds by Lyanda Lynn Haupt) of two crows spotted near a garbage can in a McDonald’s parking lot;  they were dipping fries in honey mustard sauce and then eating them!

Another difference, not noticeable to the observer, is lifespan.  A raven typically lives about 30 years, while a crow lives only about eight years.

Another difference between the two corvids, it seems to me, is image.  Crows are commonplace, everyday birds, while ravens have an air of the exotic.  The term ‘raven-black hair’ sounds beautifully vivid;  ’crow-black hair’ wouldn’t be the same.

And in Edgar Allan Poe’s beloved poem “The Raven,” the following verse is just a sample of the dark, foreboding mystery associated with the raven perched above the writer’s chamber door:


`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’


April Moore

2 Responses to “Ravens and Crows”

  1. Patsy Wagner Says:

    Very interesting, April. I will be listening and looking more carefully now.

  2. Gila Says:

    April, thank you for ending my lifelong confusion about ravens and crows. Still a bit confused as I look at the pics above and the pics with the calls. The Ravens tail does not look like a V to me and the crow’s tail looks like a rounded W to me..?

    Please help us with jonquils and daffodil which I believe have similar relationsihp to each other as ravens and craws. -:)

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