Crow vs. Raven: What’s the Difference?

Crow vs raven

Are you curious about the differences between crows and ravens? Well, you’re not alone! These two birds are often mixed up, but they have some remarkable differences.

While both crows and ravens are black birds, crows are smaller with a fan-shaped tail and a distinct cawing sound. Meanwhile, ravens are larger, have a wedge-shaped tail, and produce a deeper, croaking call. They also behave differently; crows are more social, while ravens are more solitary.

This article will take a closer look at these subtle yet significant differences between crows and ravens. It’ll cover everything from their appearance to their calls, helping you become an expert at telling them apart. Let’s start!

Summary of Crow vs. Raven

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchosCommon Raven Corvus corax
Adaptable to various environments, including cities, towns, agricultural areas, and forests.
Prefer wilder areas like thick forests and mountains, but can also be found in urban settings.
16–21 in (40–53 cm)
22.1–27.2 in (56–69 cm)
11.2–22 oz (316–620 g)
24.3–57.3 oz (689–1625 g)
All-black, with smaller bills and fan-shaped tails
All-black, with thicker bills, shaggy throat feathers, and wedge-shaped tails
High-pitched caws, rattles, and clicks
Deep gurgling croaks
Flight Speed:
25–35 mph
Flight Speed:
25–40 mph
Highly intelligent, known for their excellent memory, adaptability, and ability to use tools
Slightly more intelligent, showing advanced skills in problem-solving, planning, and tool use
Omnivorous: insects, seeds, fruit, carrion, small animals, and human leftovers
Similar omnivorous diet, but may prefer larger prey and carrion
Up to 8 years
Up to 23 years
Often symbolizes death, mystery, and transformation. In some cultures, they are seen as a trickster or a bad omen.
Associated with mystery, intelligence, and foresight. In many cultures, they are seen as messengers from the spiritual world.

Key Differences Between Crows and Ravens

Crows and ravens might look similar at first glance, but when you take a closer look, they’re actually pretty different in some ways. Below are the key differences between these two remarkable birds.

1. Habitat and Distribution

Crow gazing into the distance

Both crows and ravens are found all over the world, but where you see them can be different.

Crows are really good at adapting to different environments. They’re especially common in open spaces near places where people live, like towns and cities.

You’ll often see them in parks, gardens, or even busy streets, making the most of the food and nesting spots these areas offer.

Ravens, on the other hand, tend to prefer wilder and remoter areas. You’ll often find them in places like wild forests, mountainous regions, and deep woods.

While they can occasionally be seen in cities, they generally stick to less disturbed areas, where they can find plenty of opportunities for scavenging and hunting.

2. Size and Weight

Raven looking upwards

Size is the most noticeable difference between crows and ravens. Crows are smaller birds, measuring around 16 to 21 inches in length. Their weight varies from 11 to 22 ounces.

In contrast, ravens are much larger. They can reach lengths of around 22 to 27 inches, which is comparable to the size of a hawk. This makes them about twice the size of crows.

Ravens are also significantly heavier, weighing up to 57 ounces. That’s more than double the maximum weight of a crow!

Another key difference is in their wingspan. Crows have a wingspan of about 2.5 feet, which is decent for birds of their size. Ravens, however, boast a much larger wingspan, which ranges from 3 to 4 feet.

Because of this big difference in size, it’s not hard to tell the two species apart, especially when they are observed together.

3. Physical Appearance

Crow pecking at the ground

Despite sharing a similar all-black appearance, crows and ravens differ slightly from one another.

Crows are generally smaller and have a sleeker look. Their feathers have a light, glossy sheen, and their beaks are shorter and straighter compared to ravens.

Moreover, they have a distinct fan-shaped tail that is noticeable when they are flying.

On the other hand, ravens are bigger and look tougher. They have shaggy feathers around their throats and thicker, curved beaks. Additionally, when exposed to sunlight, their feathers can take on a bluish or purple sheen.

When in flight, you’ll notice that their tail is shaped like a wedge, which is a clear sign that they’re ravens and not crows.

4. Vocalization

Raven standing on grass in the clearing

Crows are known for their familiar “caw-caw” sound. This sound is sharp and clear, and it’s often heard in a series. But crows don’t just stick to cawing; they have a wide range of other sounds, too.

They can produce clicks, rattles, and even sounds that resemble bells with their voice. These sounds vary in pitch and intensity, which makes crows quite vocal and expressive birds.

Meanwhile, ravens sound totally different. They have this deep, echoing croak, often described as a “gronk-gronk” sound. It’s much lower in pitch than a crow’s caw and sounds kind of rough.

Ravens can make other noises, too, but their deep croak is the most recognizable.

5. Flight Speed

Crow standing proudly on a stump

Crows and ravens fly at similar speeds, but their flying styles are quite different. Crows fly at a speed of about 25 to 35 miles per hour.

They flap a lot, which makes them very agile and great at quick turns and sudden changes in direction. This comes in handy when navigating through all sorts of spaces, from tight cityscapes to wooded areas.

In contrast, ravens have a more relaxed flying style but are nonetheless capable of reaching speeds between 25 and 40 miles per hour.

Using thermal updrafts to their advantage, they usually soar through the sky with grace and less flapping.

These updrafts help ravens conserve energy during long flights, which allows them to glide effortlessly over longer distances.

6. Intelligence and Behavior

Raven perched on thick branch

Both belonging to the corvid family, crows and ravens are renowned for their exceptional intelligence and behavior.

Crows are highly intelligent birds. They are great at solving problems and can even use tools. They also have an amazing memory, especially for remembering people’s faces.

Their intelligence is particularly evident in their complex communication system, which includes a wide range of vocalizations for different scenarios.

These birds are also more social, often seen in larger groups, which allows them to learn from each other and adapt to various environments.

Ravens are similar to crows in many ways, yet they are slightly smarter. A study in 2020 found that ravens, as young as four months old, exhibit cognitive abilities comparable to adult great apes.

This includes a deep understanding of how things work, like what causes something to happen, and sophisticated social cognition skills, such as social learning, communication, and understanding others’ perspectives.

The study’s findings are groundbreaking as they suggest that ravens develop complex cognitive skills at a very young age, a trait previously thought to be exclusive to primates.

Furthermore, ravens are known for their playful nature and ability to mimic sounds, including human speech. They tend to be more solitary or found in pairs, unlike the more social crows.

Fun Fact: Crows and ravens are known to engage in “anting,” where they allow ants to crawl on their bodies and feathers.

This behavior might seem odd, but it’s believed that the formic acid from ants helps rid them of parasites and provides a form of natural pest control for these birds.

7. Diet and Feeding Habits

Crow perched on a branch looking to the side

Known for their omnivorous and opportunistic feeding style, crows will eat almost anything they can find. This includes insects, seeds, grains, small mammals, carrion, and even human leftovers.

I have the pleasure of living near a local park where crows are a common sight, and it’s always interesting to observe them in action. These clever birds have become skilled scavengers, particularly around the park’s picnic areas.

Although some people might find it annoying, I can’t help but admire their ability to thrive in an urban environment and find food among our trash.

Ravens, while also omnivorous, lean more towards a carnivorous diet. They mostly feed on meat, including small mammals, reptiles, birds, and carrion.

That said, ravens, just like crows, are versatile eaters and will happily eat grains, seeds, and bugs if given the chance.

8. Lifespan

Raven standing on moss

Crows generally have a shorter lifespan compared to ravens. In the wild, crows typically live for about 7 to 8 years.

However, in captivity, where they are safe from predators and have a steady food supply, they can live much longer, sometimes up to 30 years.

Meanwhile, ravens tend to live longer. The average lifespan of a raven in the wild is around 10 to 15 years, with some individuals living even longer. The longest recorded lifespan for a raven in the wild was 23 years.

Their longer life expectancy can be attributed to their preference for less populated and more pristine habitats, where they face fewer threats and have reliable food sources.

9. Cultural and Symbolic Significance

Alert crow standing on a branch

Ravens and crows hold significant symbolic and cultural meanings in many different societies. In some cultures, crows are often seen as omens of bad luck or death, perhaps due to their black color and association with carrion.

In ancient Greece and Rome, crows were seen as symbols of Apollo, the god of divination and healing.

There’s this story about Apollo turning a white crow into black as punishment for delivering bad news, which reflects the crow’s association with prophecy and transformation.

Similarly, ravens are rich in symbolic meaning. Often linked to the supernatural, they are seen as guides to the mystical realms.

In Celtic folklore, ravens are associated with Morrigan, a goddess of war and death, and are seen as guardians of the dead.

Norse myths have ravens, too. Odin, the chief god, had two ravens who flew around the world to gather and bring back information. This highlights the raven’s role as a symbol of intelligence and knowledge.

How to Tell a Raven From a Crow

The first thing you should look at to distinguish a crow from a raven is their size. When compared to crows, ravens are roughly twice as big.

Next, listen to their calls. Crows have a high-pitched, cawing sound. Meanwhile, ravens have deeper, croak-like calls with a broader range of tones.

And if you catch them in flight, check out their tails. Crows’ tails are shaped like a fan, while ravens’ are more wedge-shaped or triangular.

Moreover, watch how they fly. Crows flap their wings more often and have shorter, rounder wings. Ravens, on the other hand, are known for their graceful, soaring flight and have more pointed wingtips.

Check out this video to learn more about how to tell these two birds apart:

Ravens and Crows, What's the Difference? - Ask A Scientist

Frequently Asked Questions

Two ravens perched on tree branch side view

Are Ravens and Crows Related?

Ravens and crows are indeed related, with both belonging to the Corvidae family. While they have some differences, they share common traits like high intelligence, adaptability, and omnivorous diets.

Are Ravens More Aggressive Than Crows?

Crows tend to be more aggressive than ravens. This is partly because crows are more social and often found in larger groups, which can lead to more territorial and defensive behaviors, especially during nesting season.

On the contrary, ravens like to keep to themselves more, so they don’t get into as many fights.

Can Crows and Ravens Interbreed?

Crows and ravens normally don’t interbreed. However, in a study by Beth Jefferson in 1993, a rare case of successful hybridization between these two species was documented.

The hybrids were almost raven-sized, with the wedge-shaped tail of a raven and the head structure of a crow. This unique case shows that, under certain conditions, crows and ravens can produce hybrid offspring.

We hope this article has clarified the differences between crows and ravens. If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments below.

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