In 2010, I started befriending the crows in my neighborhood. Every year, there's at least one new baby crow to introduce myself to.
What's the Difference Between Crows and Ravens?
Ravens and crows are both all-black birds that have a lot in common and belong to the same family (Corvidae), but they are definitely not the same. In North America, American Crows' and Common Ravens' territories often overlap, and although these birds look the same flying high, they are very different. There's a very long list of things that differentiate them, but most people just want to know about the visual differences—so this article will focus on the observable differences between American Crows and Common Ravens.
It's easy to tell the difference between crows and ravens, but you have to know what to look for.
How can you tell them apart?
- Crows sound different from ravens. It might take awhile to learn to hear it, but ravens and crows make different sounds. Crows caw; ravens croak. The crows' noise is higher-pitched, while ravens' is lower and kind of rattly or hollow-sounding. Click on the video to hear the difference yourself.
- They act different. Ravens and crows have many similar behaviors (see below), but it is more unusual to see a raven by itself. Ravens are mostly seen in pairs, but crows have a more complicated social scene: they hang out individually, in mated pairs, with their children, and in flocks.
- They prefer different types of environments. Ravens gravitate towards more remote, quiet, and wild settings, while crows feel much more comfortable in cities and other populous places.
- They look different: From afar, it might be difficult to tell the difference, but the closer you get, the more differences in size, shape, and beak and tail shape you'll see. Ravens are significantly larger than crows, and their wingtips, beaks, and rictal bristles—those whiskery feathers around the face and beak—are different, too. Read below for a full description of these differences.
- They eat different things. Both ravens and crows are omnivores, both scavenge for garbage and carrion and also hunt small insects and mammals, and they both love to pilfer the eggs and nestlings of other birds. However, ravens tend to eat more meat than crows do. This might be because, in general, ravens live in wilder, more remote areas where there is more prey and less opportunity to scavenge from humans.
- They fly differently. Ravens soar on thermals, while crows do more flapping. Not only that but, in the air, a raven's wingtips look longer (like a pianist's fingers) while crows' are less so (more like the piano's keys).
Similarities and Differences Between Crows and Ravens
16 – 21" tall; .7 - 1.4 lbs (crows are smaller than ravens)
21" – 26" tall; 1.5 – 4.4 lbs (ravens are larger than crows)
straighter and slimmer
larger, curvier, and more shapely
most places, including rural farms and urban cities
prefer more remote, wild, quiet settings
omnivorous scavengers (more likely to scavenge)
omnivorous scavengers (more likely to hunt for small mammals)
all the tail feathers are about the same length
the feathers in the tail are longer in the middle
shorter primary feathers
long, fingery primary feathers
Rictal and Neck Feathers
may be present but not as prominent
ravens look more whiskery than crows
How to Tell a Crow and Raven Apart
Ravens are much larger than crows:
When comparing adults to adults, you'll notice that ravens are significantly larger than crows.
- Crows grow to be 16 – 21" tall, while ravens reach 21" – 26".
- Crows can be 7 - 1.4 lbs, while ravens reach 1.5 – 4.4 lbs.
- An adult crow's wingspan is from 2 to 3 feet, while a raven's is 3 to 4 feet wide.
Crows and ravens have different tails:
If you see a black bird flying in the sky, observing the tail's silhouette can help you identify what kind of bird it is. A crow's tail feathers are all about the same length, while a raven's form a point in the middle of the tail. Crows' tails are shaped like fans, while ravens' are wedge- or diamond-shaped with longer middle feathers.
They have different beaks, too:
A crow's beak is slimmer and straighter than a raven's, which is much fuller, curvier, and shapelier.
Ravens might look more shaggy and whiskery:
- Crows and ravens both have rictal bristles (those whiskery feathers around the beak), but a raven's might cover nearly half its bill.
- The feathers under a raven's beak at the neck might be fluffier, shaggier, or more pronounced than a crow's slim neck.
Listen to the Different Sounds Crows and Ravens Make
Do Crows and Ravens Act the Same?
For the most part, crows and ravens have more in common than not, but there are a few differences in temperament and behavior.
- They both mate for life. This doesn't mean they never, ever split but that, in general, they stick to one partner. If one mate is killed or maimed or if a couple is unable to breed successfully, they might find new partners.
- They're both omnivores who also scavenge and sometimes hunt, although ravens are more likely to hunt and crows more likely to scavenge. They both love to pillage other bird species' nests for eggs and fledglings.
- They're both crazy-smart puzzle-solving, tool-inventing geniuses. In fact, some say that the intelligence of these corvids matches or exceeds that of a chimpanzee.
- They both might gather in large flocks during wintertime to forage and roost, or to scavenge a large carcass or meal, but ravens are less social and more likely to pair off with their mates.
- They're both very suspicious of humans, but ravens—especially ones who live in wilderness—might be even more standoffish than crows.
- Crows are generally more aggressive, assertive, and feisty than ravens.
- They both strut around like little bosses, unlike other birds that can only hop.
Do Crows and Ravens Get Along?
Not particularly. They come from the same corvid family, but that doesn't mean they get along. Crows often act like real jerks around ravens, mobbing and harassing them. According to a study published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, 97% of the time, when crows and ravens interact, crows are the aggressors. This is likely because those big, bad ravens compete with and predate upon their littler cousins. That's why you might see a gang of little crows gang up on a raven to escort it out of their territory and away from their clutches of tempting eggs.
Being able to fly to Argentina, come back, and land in the same bush—we don’t value that kind of intelligence in a lot of other organisms. We’ve restricted the playing field of intelligence to things we think only we can do.
— Kevin McGowan, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Who's Smarter: Ravens or Crows?
I'd love to see a crow face-off with a raven in some kind of IQ test, but as far as I know, researchers don't have a firm answer for this. Suffice it to say that they're both crazy geniuses.
- They both seem to recognize and memorize human faces, and somehow to communicate this information with one another.
- They both understand how to barter and trade (and don't like it when the trade is unequal).
- They both invent and use tools.
- They both have been observed plotting or pre-planning tasks.
- They have both been observed performing tasks that human children are unable to accomplish.
Which Is Friendlier to Humans: Crows or Ravens?
If you've ever met either a crow or a raven, you've probably noticed how suspicious they are of humans. In general, neither of these types of birds want to get too close to people. They see us as a mixed bag: a possible food source, but also a cause for concern. Thousands of years living side-by-side with humankind were more than enough to teach these birds to be leery of humans. After all, most humans view black birds as bad omens, evil spies, harbingers of doom, or thieves with wings.
But because they tend to live in more heavily populated areas, crows are probably slightly more used to humans, and likely a bit more game for interaction. If you'd like to get closer to the crows in your neighborhood, read How to Make Friends With Crows to learn how.
Crows vs. Ravens: Who Would Win?
Since ravens are bigger, you'd think that they'd always physically dominate the slightly smaller crows, but you'd be surprised. A raven might win in a one-on-one face off, but that's not how it happens in nature. I often see groups of crows mobbing or harassing lone ravens in my neighborhood. Crows are notorious for ganging up on larger birds.
In Why do crows attack ravens? The roles of predation threat, resource competition, and social behavior, a study by Benjamin G. Freeman and Eliot T. Miller from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, if these two birds fight, it's the crows attacking the ravens 97% of the time. Of course, crows don't attack ravens for no reason: skirmishes between the two happen more frequently in winter or during the crow’s nesting season, most likely because the crows are protecting their nests and food sources from the larger predators.
I see a black bird with yellow eyes: What is it?
There are many different types of black birds with yellow eyes, but none of them are crows or ravens. Both of these birds are all black: black eyes, black skin, black feathers (although the very young ones' eyes might be bluish and feathers might look brownish or whitish).