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Friday, October 17, 2014

How Do You Tell a Crow from a Raven?

“How do you tell the difference between a crow and a raven?” These scavengers look similar, but there are a few ways to distinguish them.

Ravens are about a quarter larger than crows and have shaggy feathers around their throat. They have longer bills; longer, more narrow wings; and their tails are wedge-shaped as opposed to crows’ rounder, fan-shaped tails.

The subtle differences of appearance are harder to notice when you aren’t seeing the two birds at once, but fortunately, they also have different behaviors to watch for. Ravens are less sociable than crows, often appearing only one or two at a time, although Fred J. Alsop III writes in Birds of North America that they’ll move in larger groups in the winter. While crows tend to fly in a steady, methodical way, ravens will soar, riding the thermals and updrafts, and pairs will engage in impressively aerobatic courtship flights.

Crows and ravens are both members of the corvid family, along with jays, rooks, and magpies. Corvids are considered some of the most intelligent birds. Magpies, according to Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers, are thought by some to be even smarter than parrots, and have been observed grieving their dead. In 2008, Michelle Nijhuis wrote an article for the New York Times exploring crows’ and ravens’ ability to remember faces. As it turns out, ornithologists have been harassed in the field by birds they've trapped in the past. John Marzluff, a biologist at the University of Washington did a formal experiment on the phenomenon and concluded that crows are indeed remembering the faces of the researchers who trapped them, and will continue to pester them around campus. 

Both birds are mimics, and, according to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, can imitate human speech. However, if you’d like to hear their typical calls and learn to tell them apart by sound, Bird Songs: Eastern/Central, Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central and Lang Elliott’s Know Your Bird Sounds: Volume 2 are all available for checkout at the Newton Falls Public Library.

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