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Raven vs. Crow: How to Tell Them Apart?

crow

American crows and common ravens are quite common across North America. If you like to watch birds, you suddenly start to ID them as soon as something flies by. Both crow and raven are large birds, and they are black, almost identical to one another. 

They both have such a common appearance that many people cannot even differentiate between them. If you know what to look for, you can easily tell the difference. So, all you birders out there, this guide will allow you to identify raven vs. crow easily.

Table of contents

Raven vs. crow

At first, they both might seem identical to their behaviors and various field marks. The reason why most people fail to properly ID them is that they are commonly found in the same region. Ravens frequently move in pairs while crows flock in groups (murder of crows). Ravens and a Red-Tailed Hawk are about the same size. 

Both crow and raven love to be around humans while maintaining a safe distance. They both are opportunists and can sink their beaks into basically anything they can find. It is one reason why they are so fluently found throughout the North American continent. 

Size is the most common factor in judging the difference between crow and raven. Ravens are larger than crows and the raven tail maintains a wedged shape. On the other hand, a crow is smaller but has a longer tail, and it spreads like a fan during the flight. The difference between them both is quite visible if you see them more closely, and you can tell if it is a crow or raven. 

In the following content, we will explore some more characteristics to find out what is the difference between a raven and a crow.

Characteristics

Raven

Crow

Songs and voice

Long gronk-gronk

Short craw-craw

Size

Approx. 25-inch

Approx.  19-inch

Wing shape

Crooked wrist

Straight

Tail shape

Pointed wedge

Straight

Flight

Gliding, soaring with a swishing sound

Silent flapping

Flocks

Pairs or solo

Large flocks or family groups

Color

Black (minor hints of gray and brown)

Black

Behavior

Cunning, playful, involved

Clever, social

Lifespan

10 to 15 years

7 to 8 years

Habitat

Anywhere except the area with urban settlement

Anywhere excluding deserts

Songs and sounds

To begin solving the puzzle of finding the difference between a crow and a raven, let’s have a look at their sounds and call. The typical sound of an American crow has that craw-craw call, which is quite a familiar sound. They have far more evenly pitched syllables if you compare the call with that of a raven’s. 

On the other hand, a raven has a much coarser sound with a rattling call that sounds something like gronk-gronk but with a much slower croaking tone.   

Both these birds have different vocabularies, but the general pattern of their sounds and calls follow the syllables that we have described above. You can say that crows sound more purr and caw while ravens scream and croak. There is quite a noticeable difference between the two when they open their beaks. 

Another easy thing that you can notice to solve the mystery of crow versus raven is that when a crow starts making a sound, usually the group members also join in. However, you will hear the croaking sound of a raven alone and not in groups. Their sounds are very easy to distinguish from one another. 

Size and shape

The second important thing in this crow raven difference is shape and size. The overall size is one of the simplest aspects to differentiate a raven from a crow. An American crow is about 19-inch in size, and it is smaller than a common raven. Its body is a lot more cylindrical, and it has a long tail that opens up like a fan when the bird is in flight. The beak of this bird is very cylindrical in shape, and it’s very pointy. 

A common raven can grow roughly up to 25-inch in size. That is about the size of your Red-Tailed Hawk. Its body is much bulkier if you compare it with a crow, and its tail remains in a wedge-shaped. The body of this bird is bulkier if you compare it with an American crow. The beak of this bird is thicker at the top, and it closes down at the tip. It is heavier than a crow’s beak and looks pretty sharp too. A crow’s beak looks far more delicate than a raven’s. 

Upon first look, you will see that a raven’s throat is broader than a crow’s because it has more shaggy hairs on it. In-flight, ravens look like more a small hawk because it soars whereas crows fly by flapping their wings a lot.

Color patterns and variations

When it comes to color patterns and various other variations in looks, both crows and ravens don’t offer much. They both are black in color with their legs and beaks. There is a slight hint of grey and brown when you see a raven in direct sunlight. Their legs also seem a bit slightly off-color but still in the tone of black. 

Crows are entirely black, including their legs and beaks. Crow feathers have a slight gray hint in them when they are molting. You can see a hint of green and purple, but that is only the reflection of light and nothing more as the feathers are new. You might notice different colors and patterns on other crows from different families and regions. Still, an American crow is entirely black, and there are no patterns on these birds. It is one of the reasons why people end up confusing ravens and crows because they have the same looks. 

There is not much to identify and differentiate between the two when it comes to the color patterns and variations. It is because there is not much on the offer here. It is much more about shape and size because these are the traits that allow a border to differentiate crow vs. raven. 

Behavior

American crows are far more social birds if you compare them with a common raven. You will always find them in groups. They like to interact with each other in large groups. They roost and forge in numbers, and stay together in family groups year-around. 

Their family group may include the breeding couple and their offspring from the past two years. The entire family collaborates to raise the young. They can work together and find a solution to their problems. American crows understand mobbing, and they use this strategy to drive away their predators.

Ravens are extremely cunning, playful, and bold. They are always up to something, but they are less gregarious if you compare them with crows. You will only see them in pairs that live and stay together around the year. But they gather in numbers around a landfill or a circus. Large groups of the raven are their young ones who still need to pair. 

Ravens have a swagger in their walk, and raven flying is a far more graceful sight than crows in their flight. Crow flying involves more wing flapping but silent. They are known to raid other nests as well, and they like to devise plans to solve their problems. These birds are more aerobatic in their flight as well. They are known for their dives, rolls, and catching twigs midair after dropping them.

You can notice from their behavior, both ravens and crows are extremely intelligent, and they know how to work things out. Crows are more social than ravens, while ravens are more cunning and more fun-loving in nature. 

Habitat

Ravens are more commonly found in the Northern hemisphere. However, these regions don’t include the wide-open Great Plains or the eastern forests. You can easily find them in grasslands, beaches, forests, islands, sagebrush, deserts, mountains, tundra, ice floes, and agricultural fields. They are happy to live near human habitations, which include rural settlements, farms and isolated houses. However, in larger or more urban towns, you will find the American crows instead of the common ravens.

Whereas, American crows are highly adaptable. They can live and thrive in any place where there are trees, and a reliable food source is available. They can survive in natural as well as human-created habitats. However, they do avoid deserts because they specifically focus on the areas where they can find trees to perch in.  They also stay away from the forests with unbroken expanses. 

It is exactly why both these birds can thrive in any environment. The birds are highly adaptive, and there are not many regions that do not fall into the habitat for these extremely intelligent creatures. Nevertheless, ravens are not very common in urban settlements where you will find crows and crows look to avoid deserts where ravens can thrive. So you will find both these birds in almost any settlement with a few exceptions for both. 

Tips for field identification

When you see an all-black bird out there in the field, identifying the correct species can be very difficult. A casual look is not good enough to solve the puzzle either. It is especially the case if you live in an area where their habitats overlap. 

However, a closer look will provide you with several differences. You can look at the behavior of a bird and focus on the clues. If it is flying, then you need to pay attention to the shape and size of the wings as well as the flight pattern. 

If the bird is perching, then listen to its calls. You can also notice the body shape and size. If you see them both together, there you can easily identify them by their size difference. When you see more of these birds, you will be able to easily distinguish between them. You can also judge by the area you are living in and whether it falls in the habitat of a black crow or a raven. 

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Conclusion

In conclusion, you can tell the difference between a raven and a crow by the regions in which you are living. You can see whether it falls under the habitat of a crow or a raven. 

Moreover, when a bird is perching, you can notice the calls of that bird. If it resembles gronk-gronk, then a raven is croaking, and if it is craw-craw, then it’s a crow. Ravens are larger in size, and they have a more graceful flight because they can soar and glide, but crows flap a lot.   

10 thoughts on “Raven vs. Crow: How to Tell Them Apart?”

  1. I grew up in Detroit but came to live on a kibbutz in Israel when I was 26. In June I will be 76 and am the grandmother to 13 wonderful grandchildren. In the past two weeks I have been adopted by either a crow or a raven I am not sure which and his mate. Due to reasons connected with ? Covid and my health situation I have been at home a lot. I have a huge big picture window that looks unto a front yard of many big cedar trees that are about 100 years old and were planted as a border for an orchard many years ago. The remaining trees were the border. I sit a lot behind the table in the middle of my living room space and read the paper, eat and watch TV and go outside to sit on the swing. The crow/raven my husband left out some tuna fish on the table on the outdoor patio table and the bird came to eat it and then stood by my big window looking in and gave me a caw caw several times like he could see me and was communicating with me. I started paying more attention to him and he brought his partner. So now we have seemed to established some kind of regular connection. It is very interesting and I love it and feel less lonely. I do not know if the birds are crows or ravens. They come as a couple now a lot. The one is smaller so I assume she is a female. They are not all black they have a lot of grey on their bodies. They are not in a large group. I would like to know how I can make some kind of bird bath for them. I took some interesting photos of the birds from my house through the big window. I put them on our family whatsapp and my grown children said they were nice. We are living through difficult times and my connection with the birds has been a nice happy connection for me.

  2. Tomas G Doss

    About 7 years I had a baby crow fall out of a nest in my backyard and the murder was up there I watched that thing for 7 Days took care of it I never touched it though and you know what, that crow followed me everywhere since, Evan all the way to California where I’m at right now I was amazed and I just saw it today it’s amazing that it still hangs around me now is that common.

  3. thankyou. Im excited to get to know this crow i met in my yard. Iwill feed him and hope to gain his trust. Iwill thy to attract him with fresh water, a shinny object, and a predictable time to get his trust.

  4. Darlene Bowers

    This spring we have a flock of crows in our yard who are VERY territorial. They have chased away all the buzzards, which is a Godsend, but they go crazy when we come in the yard. Is this because they are nesting? We’ve never had them before. They are Very loud but we don’t mind.

  5. Marisela Perez-Barsh

    Thank you Garth for your information. Enjoyed reading it. The comparative chart is nice. I will be using it to see if I can discern the differences.

  6. That was a very informative piece. But, I am still at a loss. I think my 2 regular (daily) visitors are crows but reading your piece they maybe ravens as they are always alone and never in a group. They are very big but I don’t have crows next to them to compare. I will be looking at their beaks next for thickness, and slimness. We have been feeding peanuts, puppy chow table scrapes for three years and they keep coming. Last summer they Brough a third bird, we think their baby as he wanted them to feed him. They were teaching him to feed himself. After fall he never returned. What happens to their babies? Do they make them leave? My two are on their third year coming to the house daily. We only talk to them and never invade their space. I adore them and love watching them fend off the jays and squirrels for the peanuts. They are enchanting.

    1. Hailey Brophy

      Pay close attention to their overall head shape. Ravens are sort of blunt and heavier looking whilst crows have a sharper narrower face. I know it seems hard, especially when you don’t have anything to compare to, but it can be done!

      Also, their offspring may have died, however he may have simply grown up and found his own mate. He may have also just not been brought along on his parents’ snack visits 🙂

      I hope this helps!
      — Hailey Brophy
      Writer @ World Birds

  7. Helmuth & Linda Wiegert

    My wife and I have both become fascinated with Crows and Ravens and have gone as far as naming and recognizing 4 or 5 of them . One is called ” Lilybeth ” and one other is called ” Diana ” . I have purchased several books for my wife and i am in the process of installing several boards on our balcony with round inserted dishes were my wife feeds them twice a day . I am also building a watering station for them . Peanuts are not very cheap but we also give them other foods and scraps . Several retired neighbors are no wondering what we are doing but it is a great hoppy and gives us lots of pleasure every day . One problem however is that a huge ” Sea Gull ” appears from time to time and raids the food . My wife calls him ” Bad Ass ” . Greetings from Dartmouth , Nova Scotia , Canada.

    1. Hope Hickman-Mason

      Love your post; just became fascinated by these big birds! So great to find another couple who enjoys these unusual birds!

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