If you live in a city, you’ve probably been privy to the cawing of some black birds. Maybe you happen to be around Bothell, Washington, where thousands of crows migrate to a local college campus daily (they have for years). Or maybe you just really liked that one poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Either way, while we all kind of understand that crows and ravens are two different birds, we probably don’t know exactly what’s up between the two. So what’s the difference between a crow and a raven?
What’s the Difference Between a Crow and a Raven?
Appearance & Sound
You’d think that two black birds that people generally consider ominous wouldn’t have a lot of distinct differences. Well, to the average non-bird-watcher like us (unless you’re a bird watcher reading this), that would be mostly the case. Crows or ravens sitting on top of a tree or a powerline are probably going to look almost exactly the same at a distance–you might not be able to tell them side by side since we recognize both birds by shape and color (mostly color). We’ll get into it later, but you’re less likely to see large groups of ravens–so if the group is large you’re probably not looking at ravens.
Anyway, ravens are typically bigger than their crow counterparts. As in ravens are about 2 to 3 times heavier than crows. Their tails also look different, raven tails look more wedged–opposed to the crow’s fan-like tail. Depending on the type of crow/raven there’s also wing shape. But this seems to be a less consistent indicator.
Crows and ravens also sound different. If you’ve thought about crows at all this post, you most definitely heard their signature “caw” in your head. For those who haven’t, the onomatopoeia probably didn’t help. Ravens, conversely, have a lower-pitched call, more often described as a croak.
You probably know that both crows and ravens are incredibly smart. At least some species anyway. Both ravens and crows belong to the corvus genus, which is to say they’re pretty similar. The corvid bird family is known for having proportionally large brains, and smarter crow species like the New Caledonian crow are even smart enough to make and use tools. They’re also even more proficient than other corvid avians when it comes to cognitive tests. To benchmark–they’re up there with 5-6 year old humans, if not smarter.
Luckily for those afraid of these black birds (not the jet), the New Caledonian crow appears to be the exception opposed to the rule. You can think of them like humans compared to other primates (where the other primates are the rest of the corvid family in this analogy).
Unluckily, though, is how smart the baseline is. Both crows and ravens are known for their ability to not only remember faces–but also hold grudges. Not only do individual birds hold grudges for weeks (or even months!) at a time; they also spread those grudges to their friends. So yeah, that bird you tried to kick on your way to work is probably bad-mouthing (squawking?) you right now. Seattle crows have learned to strafe their human targets–and only attack from behind. It’s oddly tactical.
Ravens appear to be a little smarter on average, though (probably in part to their relative size). There was apparently a time where crows and ravens were tested with fake eggs (that looked like food). The crows just stopped taking them, but the ravens started systematically destroying them. Maybe they’re not smarter, they’re just petty.
A large part of the crow’s reputation comes from their large groups. The imagery of crows blotting out the sky is something that can actually happen–considering how thousands of crows can group up together. It doesn’t help their reputation that groups of crows are called “murders” either (ravens are typically flocks but they’re sometimes referred to as “treacheries” or “conspiracies”).
Outside of their reputation, crows tend to group up, while ravens do not. They are considered solitary, though they can travel in pairs. Ravens may also co-parent, which probably speaks further to their intelligence on some level.
Crows and ravens also don’t really like each other all that much. Despite being half their weight, crows will often mob ravens. Generally this occurs only when the crows outnumber the ravens (typically it’s just one raven).
|Fan-Shaped Tails||Wedge-Shaped Tails|
|Caw-like Call||Lower, Croak-like Call|
|Travels in Large Groups||Solitary|
|Generally (Slightly) Dumber||Generally Smarter|
Can’t get enough of the corvid family? Wait nevermore with this Edgar Allan Poe quiz here.