How to Tell a Raven From a Crow

These black birds may look similar in some ways, but several distinctive traits help set them apart.

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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?

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. 

We’re back looking up at that tree. Now can you tell? Is this an American crow or a common raven?

That’s a raven. The bird calls you hear on BirdNote come from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. To hear them again, begin with a visit to our website, I’m Michael Stein.

Adapted by Dennis Paulson from a script written by Frances Wood.
Calls provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Ambient track American Raven recorded by R.S. Little, American Crow recorded by G.A. Keller.
Forest ambient and featured raven recorded by C. Peterson
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to     September 2012     Narrator: Michael Stein