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Is That a Crow or a Raven?

At a distance, it is difficult for many people to tell the difference between a crow and a raven.
 I think this is a crow, because I checked the wing and feather shape with photos in my field guide.

Is that a Crow or a Raven?


Hey, Wendy – is that black bird over there a crow or a raven?  I used to mentally cringe whenever someone asked me that question.  Not because it was a stupid question, far from it.  But because I had a hard time telling them apart myself.

Not knowing something has always been a challenge to me – so I decided not only to find out but more importantly, to also figure out how best to explain it to people out on the trail.  I discovered several differences, some of which are easier to recognize than others.

1.  Ravens are bigger than crows.  Yeah right, that really works when the birds appear no bigger than black specs in a vast blue sky.  But for the record, the field guide states that Common Ravens weigh 2.6 lbs, are 24” long and have a wingspan of 53”, while the American Crow weighs 1 lb, is 17.5” long and has a 39” wingspan. 

2.  The Raven has a wedge-shaped tail (comes to a point) while a Crow has a fan-shaped tail (rounded).  This best seen while the bird is flying with its tail fanned out.  But birds aren’t always flying; you can’t see the shape of the tail while the bird is sitting.

3.  Ravens have heavier bills and thicker, shaggier throats.  Let’s see, do I really want to compare a Raven’s throat to a double-chinned human?  I might be insulting some members of my audience.

4.  Both Ravens and Crows have a wide variety of calls, including the familiar “caw-caw”.  (Crows also make clicking noises by the way.)  But the Raven has a deeper, raspier croak.  Think of it this way:  do you remember the movie “City Slickers”?  Billy Crystal speaks with a clear voice.  Jack Palance (may he rest in peace) has a raspier growl.  Billy is the Crow – Jack is the Raven.  Now if I could only figure out how download those bird calls onto my cell phone as ring tones, I’d be all set.

In the meantime, if you want to hear a sample call of each bird, you can visit the Cornell University Ornithology Lab online.

Common Raven:

So you see it’s not always easy to tell the difference between a Crow and a Raven, especially in the field.  You look for a combination of clues and make your best deduction.

I’ll end this story with a request for all you birder out there.  If you have any clues to share, please feel free to post a comment.

Our next “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” hike will be at Towsley Canyon on Saturday, December 2 from 5 – 7 PM.  Join us at the entrance to the park as we learn that "Not all creatures take a long winter’s nap". Bring a jacket, water and wear close-toed shoes. Towsley Canyon is on The Old Road, 1/2 mile south of the Calgrove exit off the 5. We hike when it’s drizzling but heavy rain cancels.


You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Wend y Langhans

More info on Wendy is available by clicking here.

For our complete hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to

To see what’s playing on radio station KHTS, go to tune in to AM 1220.

Is That a Crow or a Raven?

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