Written and Illustrated by Jeannie Nicklas
There are several ways to distinguish the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) from the Northern Raven (Corvus corax) and a popular pun in the world of bird geeks has been made about the difference in pinion or flight feathers. They both have the same number of pinion feathers but when in flight, crows have five “finger” feathers that are prominent while the raven have 4 very long finger feathers.
When attempting to identify them as they fly overhead, another trait to look for is the rounded fan shape of the crow’s tail feathers as opposed to the diamond or wedge shape of the raven’s. They also have their own flight style as the crow flaps continuously while the raven spends most of its time soaring. Listen for their distinctive calls – the crow “caws”; the raven has a “guttural croak”.
If you are lucky enough to get a closer look, you can take note of their size. The raven is 2 lbs. larger and has a thick, heavy, curved beak with bristles on the top and shaggy throat feathers. Crows are more similar to the size of a pigeon, weighing about a pound.
Socially monogamous, mating for life, they can both be a little promiscuous at times. Ravens are more serious about their lifelong partner, living in isolated, remote environments for up to 30 years. Crows have about an 8-year lifespan and are known to live in gregarious groups which are referred to as a “murder” of crows.
Both have been observed holding a funeral of sorts for their kin – almost as if they are studying the site for the cause of death. Both of these members of the corvid family are fascinating. They are exceptionally intelligent and are capable of abstract thought, meaning that they can imagine what other animals are thinking. Face recognition is another admired skill. Perhaps these intelligent traits have influenced their mysterious role in literature and folklore for many years.
What do crows and ravens eat?
Do they come back to the same nesting site?
Do crows and ravens get along?
You can find out the answers to these questions and learn more about our forests and wildlife by joining us for our Naturalist Snowshoe outing on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 a.m.