Ravens Versus Crows

When I speak of ravens or crows to people, often they want to know what difference exists between the two. Usually, they know of a size difference, but want to know how else to differentiate the two. Therfore below, are listed some of the defining physical differences, social/behavioral deffences, as well as some expert thoughts and perceptions on the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and common raven (Corvus corax).

"To get at the mind of a crow is a great challenge, but to get in the mind of a raven, as I found in living with one for a year, is an even greater one. Ravens are, to enthusiasts like myself, at the top of the avian pyramid in mental attributes."

-L. Kilham from "The American Crow and Common Raven"

"Given the tendency of corvids to be large, intelligent, adaptable, ground-foraging birds independent of trees, it is probably only a slight exaggeration to say that the raven (C. corax) is the ultimate Corvid. If so, it is also at the top of the most species-rich and rapidly evolving line of the birds. Is is the ne plus ultra of up-and-comming birds."

-Bernd Heinriech from "Ravens in Winter"

Physical Differences: Crows average around 17 inches long, and ravens about 24-27.

Range/adaptive skills: While both crows and ravens have experienced persecution in the eastern United States, the crow managed to adapt and increase in numbers, while the ravens greatly declined (although recently the raven is making a comeback in places like Maryland). B.Heinriech says this may be due, in part, to the raven's propensity to reuse nest sites, which are easy to find and destroy. Additionally, ravens, utilizing carrion more than crows, probably disappeared along with the wolves and buffalo. Poisons to rid wolves from the landscape also contributed. Agriculture, however, increased in the east, increasing the crow's food base and ability to increase in numbers.

Diet: While both are commited to being vociferous omnivores, ravens are drawn to carrion (especially sheep), while crows may be less picky.

Vocalizations: For the sake of basic reference, a crow's call is a "caw" and a raven's is a low and slow croak.

Interspecies relations/behavior: L.Kilham, from The American Crow and the Common Raven (1989)wrote that he observed ravens repeatedly chasing crows from a feeding station, always resulting in the crow dropping the cache. This would unnerve th crows to no-end; causing them to gather at a roost and caw vehemently, yet they still repeated the cycle.

After his four winters of observation and eperimentation, he learned that the raven's (unmated juveniles) possibly "recruit" others to a food source because, by sharing with others it gains "friends," from which it may gain a mate from in the future due to its foraging abilities. While mated pairs are more-or-less anchored to their localized nesting area; low status juveniles are left to form wondering unmated "gangs." Thus, mated pairs would not benifit from "recruiting" others to a food source, and likewise, juveniles are careful not to tip-off dominant mated adults.

More information can be obtained from Ravens in Winter, by Bernd Heinrich (1989).

Email: tkarki@hotmail.com