How to Identify a Raven From A Crow

How To Identify a Raven From a Crow:

By: Renee Penny, Conservation Specialist, Kalkaska Conservation District


Left pictures - Common Raven  Right Pictures - American Crow

Left pictures - Common Raven

Right Pictures - American Crow

“That’s a crow. No, wait. It’s a raven. Nope…a crow. Wait….a raven?…A crow?”

Do you secretly have this argument with yourself? No need to fret, we do to sometimes. The large and pesky black bird on the side of the road seems to always give us trouble. They are intelligent creatures that lurk in nearby trees, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to grab a snack.

The Common Raven and American Crow are very similar in appearance and both are found in Northern Michigan. A raven is larger than the crow, and is about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. There are slight differences in their wings as they fly. A crow’s tail feathers are the same length, so when it flies, the feathers spread out and look like a fan. A raven’s tail feathers are not the same length. The middle feathers are slightly longer, so when the feathers are spread out, it is wedge-shaped.  Ravens and crows have differing flight patterns too. Crows will flap their wings a lot to fly, where as the raven will ride the thermal currents in the atmosphere to soar around. When flying the raven’s wings will make a swooshing sound from flapping and the crow has a quieter flight.

If you look closely at a each bird you will notice differences in their profiles. The beak of a raven is bigger and curvier. A crow’s beak will be more slender and sleeker looking. The raven’s throat feathers are also shaggier than the crow’s. Both will have feathers on the top of their beaks, the ravens’ being slightly shaggier than the crows.

Both birds can be very vocal at times. Their voices can be one of the easiest ways to tell them apart. A crow will have a “caw-caw” and purring call that is typically even pitched. A raven will have a croaking/screaming bloody murder “groonk” call that is coarse and rattling sounding. Listen to the sound bites below to hear the differences.

Next time you start to have that silent argument with yourself (“It’s a raven not a crow”) you have a few facts to back yourself up. Just remember to look for “tail-tell” clues like feather shapes, flight pattern and sounds, and vocal calls.

If you are still looking for more information on these birds please visit the Audubon Society where we sourced our information from.