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What Is the Difference Between a Raven and a Crow?

An American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) with light markings on the feathers.
A raven (Corvus corax).
You might see crows, not ravens, in cornfields.
A raven.
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  • Originally Written By: S. Mithra
  • Revised By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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The name "crow" is used for an entire family of birds, Corvidae, that includes the raven species. To put it simply, all ravens are crows; but crows can also be jays, magpies, or other birds. The terms "crow" and "raven" are actually very general, and can be used to refer to a number of different related birds in the Corvus genus. In the United States, most people use these terms to refer to the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and the Common Raven (Corvus corax). While these black birds have many similarities, there are differences in their appearance, noises, and habitat.

Differences in Size

The most noticeable difference between a crow and a raven is size; in most cases, the largest black birds in this genus are known as ravens. Common Ravens are noticeably larger than American Crows, for example. Ravens average 25 inches tall (64 cm) with a 4 foot (122 cm) wing span, about the size of a hawk, while crows are around 18 inches (46 cm) tall and their wings span 3 feet (91 cm), similar to a dove.

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Appearance

These two types of birds can also have some differences in their feathers. Both are iridescent black, although a crow's older feathers are often lighter. A raven's feathers shine with a blue or purple tint when the sun hits them, while an American Crow may look purple with green-tinted wings. Crows can fluff their feathers into a mane to show off, while a raven's individual feathers are larger and pointier, giving the throat a shaggy appearance.

Crows and ravens also look different in flight. Ravens tend to soar in the air, and sometimes do somersaults in flight. Their wings are longer and thinner, and the primaries — the main flight feathers on the wings — are also longer and have more space between them. The birds' tails also look different when spread; a crow's tail curves evenly like a seashell, while the tail of a raven meets at a triangular point.

The beak of a crow might look slightly thicker than that of a raven, but the raven's bill tends to be larger in general. It also tends to curve close to the end, while the beak of the crow curves down about half to two-thirds of the way along it.

Sounds

One of the most interesting differences between the two birds is in their vocalizations. As anyone who has tried to dissuade birds from hanging around by putting up a scarecrow knows, the caws of a crow are often considered annoying and repetitive. A raven's voice is more varied, however, and it's able to imitate other birds and animals. Its most distinctive noise is a deep, croaking sound, which is often considered more musical than the call of the crow.

Habitat and Other Differences

Crows are tolerant of noisy, populated areas with people and other animals, which gives them their reputation for harassing the cornfields of farmers, since they like scavenging seeds, fruits, and vegetables in groups. Ravens like privacy in their solitary hunt for insects, fruits, and carrion, so they're more likely to be found in remote woods, meadows, and hills. They adapt well to many different environments, however, and are found even in Arctic areas.

The lifespans of the two birds do vary; a raven often lives 30 years, while a crow only has an average of eight years, though they can live longer in captivity. Crows are also very susceptible to the West Nile virus, and many birds have died from this disease since 1999.

Related Birds

There are at least 9 different species called ravens and 30 species with the name crow, plus a number of sub-species of each. In addition, other species within the Corvus genus include the Western Jackdaw, the Daurian Jackdaw, and the Rook, all three of which are also solid black birds. The wider Carvidae family includes a wider range of sizes and colors, including treepies, choughs, magpies, and jays.

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Discuss this Article

anon928664
Post 46

I see people comparing the intelligence of crows and ravens, while both are equally intelligent along with magpies and the rest of the corvid family. Also technically a raven is not a crow; they are both part of the corvid family. This is sometimes called the crow family but does not mean that a raven is a crow.

anon342772
Post 45

@Kiringqueen: I absolutely remember "Jimmy, the Talking Crow", at Irving Park in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. As a kid, my parents would often take me to that park. I also remember the old bear cave.

anon337307
Post 44

I used to live in S.Calif. and remember birds that I thought were crows, but now think were ravens, bouncing up and down like mad as if they were rocking out to music and doing that weird throaty call, but I think crows do the bounce, don't they? I do remember ravens doing that odd deep throaty cackle type sound. They're so cool. I want one!

anon305004
Post 43

I have been seeing crows with tumors that grow where their talons protrude from. bout 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 crows seem to have these tumors. I think they are caused by weed killers.

anon285433
Post 41

Up here in Canada, the northern home of true crows and ravens, the ravens have black beaks and the crows have white or yellow beaks. There are no crows with black beaks, ever!

anon217855
Post 40

Ravens also have a scoop-shaped tail, whereas the tail of crows are straight across. This is one of the best characteristics to note when the birds are flying because you can't necessarily tell the size.

anon135169
Post 39

In Rockland, NY. I had a friend whose cat had a strange friendship with a crow,they shared food.It was in the cats food bowl.One day the cat got mad,it had gotten older. I should have said it was a kitten. Well it injured the crow's wing.

My friend took it inside. It stayed for six months. It had its own perch and only put his droppings under the perch. I think it was also young because it got twice its size. It would walk on the back of the couch with four or five people sitting there and pluck hairs out of our heads, with no fear at all.

It started to build a nest on a shelf. It's wing had mended. We would say no crow, no crow. Well it started to say crow crow. If we said it, the bird would say it, crow crow.

Well it was really healthy so we put him outside. At first he or she we really did not know just flew back in the door. After a while it was just spring it started staying out longer and longer. Sometimes it would fly back into the carport, but not stay. Later that summer we thought we saw it.

There is one thing for sure all the crows on the block ate cat food in force. Well they ate more than all the cats.We kept them well stocked. That was 1994. Now it's 2010 and I live in Walker Co. Ga.

I have crows. All my friends that come here call them mutant crows. They are huge. They like raw burger. I see them every morning and they wake me up.

These are huge ravens. They are so big and enomorus they compete with the turkey buzzards for roadkill. They are very very smart.

anon130799
Post 38

Most types of crows including magpies, ravens, and blue jays can learn to talk and their tongues do not have to be clipped. They seem to talk more readily than parents. Is a Mynah bird also a type of crow? When I was little a friend of our family had two Mynahs. They had quite a vocabulary. One would sing parts of songs.

anon126807
Post 37

It is not only in the Quran, it is also in the Old Testament in the bible and whatever the Jewish holy book is (torah?).

anon124455
Post 36

A story is mentioned in Quran (the islamic holy book) in chapter#5 verses#27 that when elder son of Adam Cain killed his younger brother Abel, he did not know what to do with the dead body. Therefore the Almighty sent a Raven who scratched the ground, and "showed him how to hide the shame of his brother". it shows how smart these birds are.

anon118230
Post 35

The authority on Ravens is Bernd Heinrick who wrote "A Year In The Maine Woods" and "The Mind of a Raven". I have read the first book 4 times and am ordering the second. Wonderful!

Any nature lover would be nurtured by them. 85 year Gramma

anon103699
Post 33

All these stories about ravens and crows are appreciated. I'm surprised no one has mentioned the "thieving" Magpie (also a crow) known for collecting bright objects (jewelry and coins) and hoarding them in their nests. Not to mention the Ravens of the Tower of London (where the Beefeaters reside and heads were removed!). Legend has it that the Tower will crumble if the ravens leave. I think their wings have been clipped so that the legend will not be tested!

anon98167
Post 32

I've seen ravens in Washington state drop some sort of nut from traffic lights so cars crack it open.

In Montana, when I've been hunting deer, I've noticed ravens will also make noises at you and lead you directly to a deer if you follow them. I assume they do this with other predators as well, since they get to eat what's left over.

anon84914
Post 29

I have trouble with the ravens. they attack our chickens and kill them. they are very clever. when you try to kill them they go to the other side of the field! we hate them!

anon82518
Post 28

ravens have more pointed tails and crows have more round tails.

anon70442
Post 27

i see very big black birds all year long. they live on the roof of our apartment house in south west michigan. they caw loudly. they come and go constantly. i cannot tell if they are ravens or crows. i cannot see the differences in their colors. i would like to know which genre they are.

anon66682
Post 26

On a recent trip to Flagstaff AZ we discovered a high abundance of ravens and crows. Ravens are much bigger and have a different pitch in sound. On one occasion we were quite close to a raven. What a beautiful species, with their dark eyes and beaks. Very surprised to see how large it was up close. Can't wait to return.

anon61267
Post 25

I recently retired to New Mexico, just outside Santa Fe near Tesuque. One day while working on the computer I heard one of my dog's bark, which usually means they want to come inside.

I got up and turned to go to the door when I noticed both dogs (two long hair dachshunds) were already inside lying in their beds. I went to the door to see what it was and noticed a big raven perched on my storage shed roof making the barking sound of one of my dogs! It was amazing. Then I thought for a moment and it all made sense. About a week earlier my dogs were barking and jumping in front of the storage shed.

I went out to see what all the commotion was all about and saw a large raven on top of the shed flapping its wings and cawing with the dogs going wild on the ground below. He/she was teasing them to imitate the voice.

Note: I rent a small guest house in the foothills just outside Santa Fe. End of winter 2009 a pair of ravens built a large nest in a pinon pine tree in front of my place and it's been fun watching their comings and goings. --Jack and the Boys

anon49733
Post 24

Raven is right handed and crow is left handed. This is not a joke by the way, but then again, this is not the best method to identify them. Ravens are larger too and their beaks are "wider and more curved", then again, it's hard for someone to realize it who isn't used to seeing them every day up close. It really is hard to distinguish the two.

anon46361
Post 22

Well kirinqueen, that is very interesting and i thank you for bringing that to my attention! I will see if I can get some more information on that for you! thank you. --Unknown sender

anon43642
Post 21

additionally, a "true crow" refers to the entire corvus genus. "crow" also refers to many different species within this genus (american crow, carrion crow, jungle crow, etc.) there are several different kinds of raven as well. their lifespans aren't that different though. ravens may live over 40 years in captivity, but only about 10-15 in the wild.

anon40563
Post 20

I can absolutely testify that crows can mimic human speech. One spring I was alone at home and heard someone calling my husband's name exactly the way I would call him to the phone. Later I heard "Kitty Kitty" the way I called the cat. Then, while watering plants the precocious critter sat on the water hose, checked me out and promptly hopped atop my head. For the rest of the summer he'd fetch sticks thrown by my young son and even sit atop the horse (who didn't seem to mind at all).

anon38306
Post 19

I grew up in Fairbanks, AK and ravens are the only animals that walk around at -50 degrees, and it doesn't seem to bother them. They will follow you in the air for miles and dig garbage out of the back of your truck.

anon37116
Post 17

now I understand that a crow and a raven are similar and that a raven is really a big crow having some different behaviors. thank you for this clarification.

anon33765
Post 16

While my son was working on my car, at some point he was turning the engine over attempting to start it. I was in the house with the door open and each time I would her a sound that was like an echo of the engine turning over. When I commented about it to my son, he said it was a raven mimicking the sound. Sure enough, I saw it happen later in the day.

I also spent some time on an island that was mostly for a youth camp and a Raven would often say hello there, likely taught by the kids.

anon29910
Post 15

My great aunt had a crow in a cage that could talk. Apparently when they are young, if you fork their tongue they can mimic human speech.

anon27522
Post 14

I once heard a raven say 'hello' when I went by it as it sat in a tree. So it is cool to hear that others have also had similar things happen to them.

anon20728
Post 13

The difference is the number of pinon feathers, a crow has 4 and a raven has 5.

I know you have heard all your life "it's a matter of a pinion" :>)

anon12388
Post 11

my grandma had a crow that used to come to her house and talk to her!!

anon12259
Post 10

Please check Cornell University's birding site. These people know their birds. I think you will find the answer to both the question of color and speech.

anon12229
Post 9

When I was a kid in Tennessee my grandparents neighbor had a crow in a cage that could "talk" (don't know how she got it in that cage). I don't remember what all it could say but I do remember being so surprised that a crow could talk. I have had a interest in them ever since.

anon8160
Post 7

As a child we had a bird, most likely a crow or even a young raven that was photographed standing on my head and eating ice cream (out of a cone that was I was casually lifting up to his beak with my tiny right hand...) he eventually gently took the cone and twisted his head sidewise and flew away. He was a regular in our back yard picnics and gleefully wandered through our feet while I and my 3 brothers stood stone still on the grass, tossing food. My Dad, who taught us to do this, said it was a crow because it did not shine but we all heard him say "jimmy". Not coincidentally that was our name for him...Jimmy the Crow...and when he came around we all flipped out and ran outside whispering Jimmy...

We named him first and he started saying it every time he was out in our trees.

Crows can talk if Dad was right. Being 4 yrs old I can only go by the grainy Browning photo...but he was a big bird...Always Alone...It was in Buffalo in '65 so I'm thinking Crow. whadayathink?

oldcrow
Post 6

Here's an interesting link about white crows... If you go to Cornell University's birding website, they have a great information page about white crows.

Most crows and ravens are entirely black in the U.S., however.

wandoo
Post 5

hi..i`m not sure..but i always thought crows had black eyes and raven's eyes were white

oldcrow
Post 4

pmswam,

I don't know about CO, but here in WV crows and ravens both have black feet and beaks. I love corvids, and it annoys me at Halloween when people put up decorations which include "crows" with yellow feet and beaks. Those are starlings, definitely not crows or ravens.

pmswam
Post 3

OK, I was advised 'verbally' that one could tell the difference between 'crows' & 'ravens' here in CO by looking at their feet! One has black feet and the other has yellow feet... Well, I bought into it since I have seen both colors of crow/raven type birds. Please give me the scoop on this! It is real or memorex? Thanks,

anon193
Post 2

well ravens can be imprinted, like say by a tramatising event. whatever they herd when it happened can be imprinted on the bird and he forever can repeat what he herd. for example: a raven is in its nest and a boy comes and shoots the ravne out of his nest while say" gotcha" forever and ever the bird will be able to imitate that voice and word because it was so tramatising that it imprinted him. i read a book about this. raven can also open doors and remember people by the way they sound. they no when to hide and when its safe to come out. ive never herd of a crow being imprinted before.

kirinqueen
Post 1

Ravens can learn to produce words, much as parrots do. Or maybe it's crows and ravens both--I once came across one I believe was a raven at Irvine Regional Park who repeated "good morning Charlie" over and over. Does anyone else have more data to confirm this?

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