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Which the raven, which the crow?
October 28, 2017
Excerpted from

There’s something about crows and ravens that seems almost spooky, making them the unofficial mascots of Halloween. Flocks of them aren’t called an “unkindness of ravens” or a “murder of crows” for nothing. But not all black birds are the same.

Can you tell the difference between ravens and crows?

You’re outside, enjoying a sunny day when a shadow at your feet causes you to look up. A large, black bird flies over and lands in a nearby tree. You wonder: is that a crow or a raven?
Maps: Kenn Kaufman
From left: North American ranges of the Common Raven and American Crow. Purple means common in all seasons; light purple means uncommon in all seasons; red means common when breeding; blue means common in winter; light blue means uncommon in winter.

These two species, Common Ravens and American Crows, overlap widely throughout North America, and they look quite similar. But with a bit of practice, you can tell them apart.

You probably know that ravens are larger, the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. Ravens 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 the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, it opens like a fan. Ravens, however, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open.

Listen closely to the birds’ calls. Crows give a cawing sound. But ravens produce a lower croaking sound.

While crows caw and purr, ravens croak and scream bloody murder. A raven's strut is often punctuated by a few two-footed hops. In flight, ravens ride the thermals and soar, whereas crows do more flapping.

Common Ravens are much less common than American Crows in the Eastern United States. Out West, it's a toss up. Look for ravens foraging in pairs; crows are highly sociable and will hang out in murders and communal roosts.

We’re back looking up at that tree. Now can you tell? Is this an American Crow or a Common Raven?
Photos: Ed Oakes/Audubon Photography Awards, Brian Kushner, Arend Trent/iStock, Andrew Lunt/Audubon Photography Awards
Clockwise from top left: Common Raven, American Crow, American Crow, Common Raven.
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