Unless you’re an ornithologist, it’s easy to get confused between different bird species because many of them look quite similar.
Almost no pair of birds causes so much confusion as the raven and the crow, however.
Both of these birds have similarly-shaped bodies and black plumage, which makes them easy to mix up at first glance.
However, there are some key differences between these beautiful and striking birds that can help you to tell them apart.
If you’re interested in learning the difference between a raven and a crow, you’re in the right place.
We’ll be going over physical and behavioral differences between crows and ravens so that you can understand these birds better.
Are Ravens And Crows The Same?
Many people buy into the misconception that ravens and crows are largely the same type of bird, or even that a raven is a type of crow. Neither of these things are true.
Although ravens and crows do belong to the same genus, they are two different species. They are both part of the Corvus genus and the Corvidae family, but ravens can’t be considered the same species as crows because they don’t have a taxonomic group(see also: Unkindness: Delving Into The Unfortunate Name For A Group Of Ravens) of their own.
It’s understandable that a lot of people get confused on this point, though, since the word Corvus actually means ‘crow’ in Latin.
Despite what this may seem to suggest, though, this doesn’t indicate that ravens are a type of crow.
Outside of etymology, there are many features that distinguish ravens from crows, as we will see over the course of this article.
These birds may be somewhat related but they have evolved differently, meaning that while they might look very similar, they have evolved to be very different birds.
Raven Vs. Crow Comparisons
Bearing in mind the fact that crows and ravens, despite belonging to the same genus, have evolved differently, there are numerous ways in which ravens and crows differ from one another.
Here are just some of the ways you can differentiate between crows and ravens.
Some of these will only be observable if you’re able to sit and watch the behavior of both birds for a long time, but others are physical differences that you can spot immediately.
First, let’s talk about how crows and ravens differ from one another in terms of appearance. This takes into account various factors such as size and plumage.
On average, ravens tend to be larger than crows.
Of course, there will be outliers in both crow and raven populations when it comes to size, so a particularly small raven might be smaller than a large crow, but generally speaking, ravens will be the larger of the two.
The average body length of a Common raven is about 25 inches, which translates to roughly 63 centimeters.
In some cases, ravens can grow as large as 28 inches in length. Meanwhile, your average american crow only grows up to a maximum of 20 inches in length, with smaller crows measuring about 16 inches.
That’s a range of between 40 and 50 centimeters.
Ravens also tend to be heavier than crows. While a raven might weigh anywhere between 2.6 lbs and 3.3 lbs (that’s 1.2 – 1.5 kilograms), crows are much lighter, weighing just 450 grams on average (they can range from 300 grams to 600 grams).
Things get more complicated when you consider different raven and crow species.
For example, the Chihuahuan raven is the smallest of all ravens, and its average size is basically the same as that of the American crow.
So, depending on the individual species of raven or crow you’re looking at, you might find it very difficult to differentiate based on size alone.
Luckily, there are other physical features you can look at to tell crows and ravens apart. For instance, regardless of the size of a raven’s body, they will usually have larger beaks with more of a curve than crows.
If the black bird in front of you looks like it has a slim, barely-curved beak, then it’s probably a crow.
Additionally, although you might think that telling crows and ravens apart based on their plumage would be a futile exercise since both have black feathers, you can actually look at the feathers to tell the difference.
Crow feathers are typically shorter and look neater overall, whereas a raven’s feathers are thick and long.
Pay special attention to the tail feathers since this is where most of the more noticeable differences are.
When you look at a raven’s tail, you can see that the feathers in the middle are longer and stick out. This is usually not the case with a crow’s tail feathers.
Basically, if you see a black bird that could either be a crow or a raven and it has scruffy-looking feathers with tail feathers that stick out in the middle, it’s likely a raven.
On the other hand, if the feathers are short and uniform, it’s probably a crow.
If you’re struggling to figure out whether the bird in front of you is a crow or a raven, bear in mind that you’re much more likely to see a crow than a raven in your day to day life.
This is because while the population size of the Common raven (according to estimates which are probably not entirely accurate) is about 16 million, the global crow population is much larger.
There are about 31 million American crows in the wild, whereas the Carrion crow population is estimated to be around 100 million.
The number of ravens versus crows in different regions may vary, but in general, you’re likely to have 10 times as many crows in your area compared to ravens.
Another way you may be able to differentiate between a crow and a raven when you spot a black bird is by considering the environment in which you find yourself.
If you’re in a highly populated town or city, the chances are that the black bird you’re looking at is a crow.
This is because ravens don’t like to be in densely-populated areas and will usually isolate themselves in quieter environments with fewer birds.
On the other hand, crows will be perfectly content to spend time in city environments in the company of many other birds.
Since you can’t get a direct insight into the mind of any bird you spot on your daily travels, and since most people don’t have time to sit and bird-watch for hours at a time, you probably won’t be using intelligence as a factor in identifying a crow or a raven when you see one.
However, it’s worth knowing how intelligence differs between these two species.
First of all, crows and ravens are both Corvids, as are other birds such as rooks, magpies, and jackdaws.
All of these birds are very intelligent, and they’re actually rated amongst the most intelligent birds (and animals) in the world.
While it’s easy to compare Corvids to other bird families in terms of intelligence, it’s less easy to figure out how Corvids compare to one another when it comes to smarts.
Both ravens and crows have been found to demonstrate abstract thinking. This means that they can take a guess at what other birds and animals might be thinking at any given time.
This is a very impressive skill that most non-human animals don’t have.
When a fellow Corvid dies, both of these species have been observed to ritualistically stand around the body in a way that resembles a funeral.
Some people interpret this as a sign of emotional intelligence, whereas other experts suggest that they might be doing this as a way to figure out the cause of death, making it a potential survival mechanism.
One way in which ravens seem to surpass crows in the category of intelligence is in problem-solving. Ravens have demonstrated advanced problem-solving skills and can complete complex puzzles.
Meanwhile, however, it is thought that crows have better facial recognition than ravens and New Caledonian crows, specifically, are also very adept at using different objects as tools.
In fact, they’re better at doing this than any other animal in the world.
Not only can crows handle objects with ease, but they have also been observed bringing objects as gifts to humans. This is a behavior that experts on the species still haven’t gotten to the bottom of.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to say whether crows or ravens are smarter because they have different strengths. Ravens are slightly better at problem-solving whereas crows are better at using tools.
It’s safe to say that both ravens and crows are extremely intelligent animals.
If you have the opportunity to watch ravens and crows going about their daily lives, you’ll notice both differences and similarities in their behaviors.
While both crows and ravens mate for life, meaning that they’re monogamous animals, crows are able to spend more time away from their partners whereas ravens tend to isolate themselves as a pair.
This makes sense since crows have more gregarious temperaments compared to ravens.
Speaking of mating, some sources have reported that ravens and crows may occasionally nest together and even mate together with success.
However, for the most part, ravens and crows will not mate with one another. This is because they are largely biologically incompatible due to not being as closely related as most people think.
Additionally, because both species are so territorial, interactions between these birds often goes south quite quickly and isn’t likely to lead to mating.
Ravens and crows are equally territorial for the most part, but again, due to the crow’s more aggressive temperament, they tend to have the edge with this.
In fact, when ravens and crows get into a fight, it’s usually the crow that attacks the raven, not the other way around.
This is interesting since ravens are usually the larger of the two, but it actually makes sense because ravens are faster and are able to escape more quickly, so crows need to be more on the offensive in these situations.
You might be able to tell a crow from a raven if you familiarize yourself with the different sounds (known as calls or vocalizations) that both birds make.
Neither the crow nor the raven has just one call that you can memorize to identify them. They both have a variety of different vocalizations that they use in different situations.
For example, crows and ravens will have different calls to communicate imminent danger than, for example, to announce themselves to other members of their species.
On the whole, however, you will notice that ravens have deeper calls than crows. If you’re hearing a higher-pitched vocalization, it’s more likely to be a crow than a raven.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do Crows Attack Ravens?
We mentioned earlier that crows usually attack ravens, not the other way around. But why do crows feel the need to harass ravens in the first place?
Well, ravens and crows tend to like the same nesting sites and feed on the same food sources. This means that they’re essentially in competition with each other for survival.
Since ravens are the larger of the two birds and also have better speed and swooping ability, crows compensate by basically mobbing the ravens and trying to get ahead in a fight.
Breeding season is an especially popular time for fights between crows and ravens because territorial behaviors are more instinctual during these periods.
Are Ravens Stronger Than Crows?
We know that ravens are larger than crows on average, but which bird is stronger? Well, on a bird versus bird basis, the raven is stronger than the crow.
However, crows are more adept at using the power of their flock to take on flocks of ravens and win, so while one raven could beat a crow in a fight, a flock of crows may be able to overpower a flock of ravens.
Do Crows Seek Revenge?
You might have noticed that we talked about crows having great facial recognition earlier in this article.
What you might not have realized is that this ability is connected to an interesting behavior experts have observed in crows: the tendency to seek revenge.
If a person has caused harm to a crow or a member of their flock, these birds have been known to remember the face associated with the incident and look for revenge.
This is a very interesting trait that hasn’t been observed in many other animals.
Are Crows Friendly To Humans?
Just because crows have the ability to remember the faces that wronged them and seek revenge doesn’t mean you should fear and avoid crows at all costs.
If you treat crows with kindness, they are actually likely to respond with friendliness.
We mentioned earlier that crows have been known to bring gifts to humans, and while experts are not 100% clear on why they do this, it’s possible that it’s in response to perceiving specific humans as friendly.
So, if you feed crows and make it clear that you’re not a threat, the crows are likely to be friendly toward you, too.
What Are Crows And Ravens’ Favorite Foods?
For the most part, a crow’s diet is made up of fruit and seeds. This can include grapes, pecan nuts, nightshade berries, oats, wheat, corn, and even poison ivy.
In contrast, ravens are more opportunistic in their feeding habits and since they’re larger, they can also feed on smaller mammals and eggs as well as berries. Carrion isn’t off limits to your average raven.
How Far Can Crows And Ravens Fly?
Your average crow can fly up to 40 miles per day.
On the other hand, because of their larger wingspan, ravens can sometimes fly as far as 100 miles in a day, although this is a pretty exceptional distance and most ravens will not travel this far in 24 hours, partly because they don’t generally have a reason to do so.
Can Crows And Ravens Sleep While Flying?
Yes, most birds have the ability to sleep while in flight. However, they’re not just falling asleep while flying for hours at the time.
The kind of sleep that ravens and crows get from flying is pretty momentary and actually only involves resting half of their brain.
This is how they’re able to ‘sleep’ while maintaining enough awareness to keep flying and not get themselves into trouble.
How Long Do Crows And Ravens Live?
You might be surprised by how different the average (see also: Are Echidnas Marsupials? (The Answers Might Surprise You)) lifespan is for crows and ravens given how similar they look. Here’s a hint: one of these birds can live for almost 4 times as long as the other.
On average, a crow tends to live for about 8 years, whereas ravens can live for up to 30 years.
The exact lifespan can vary depending on what kind of raven or crow you’re talking about, but in general, ravens live for quite a while longer than crows.
You might find it difficult to tell crows and ravens apart from first glance, but once you get to know the unique features of these birds, you should be able to identify them correctly.
On average, ravens are larger than crows and have longer middle tail feathers whereas crows are smaller with more uniform plumage. Ravens have longer, curved beaks where crows have shorter, straighter beaks.
Crows are more aggressive than ravens and have shriller vocalizations. They’re more likely to be found in towns and cities whereas ravens prefer to be more isolated.
These are just some of the areas in which crows and ravens differ.