What is the Difference Between a Crow and a Raven?

The harsh bark, haw, or chatter of crows and ravens have only served to make their shadowy appearance outside our windows feel more ominous.

It’s not surprising that both crows and ravens show up repeatedly in literature, often as an omen of some kind, usually accompanied by a hidden knowing and foreboding.

The corvids are remarkably successful, social animals and the genus Corvus contains perhaps the most intelligent of the lot. It’s this genus that houses both crows and ravens and telling one from the other can sometimes be a bit tricky.

Crows Vs Ravens
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photogism/50105625577/

Here’s a look at some of the differences between crows and ravens.

1. Taxonomy

There are 42 Corvus species among the Corvidae family, this excludes other awesome birds like the magpie and the jackdaw, who occupy different genera within the family.

Among those 42 species exist the crows, the rooks, and the ravens. Rooks are a single species, Corvus frugilegus, which leaves us only with 41 corvid species to differentiate!

Unfortunately, taxonomy won’t help us much here. Ravens and crows are not taxonomically distinct; crow species are as related to raven species as they are to each other.

So, the terminology is used more loosely, and based on other attributes.

2. Physicality

The first and most reliable difference between ravens and crows is in their size. Ravens are essentially the largest species of crow, so they are bigger, heavier and have a wider wingspan.

Some crows have a white vest, like the pied crow, but confusingly, this is considered by some to be a crow-sized raven, on account of it being able to hybridise with another baffling exception to the rule: the pygmy raven. So, size isn’t everything; there are other features to look out for.

When they’re flying, ravens appear to have longer necks and more pointed wings, with a wedge-shaped tail. Crows have blunted wings and a fan-shaped tail. In flight, ravens tend to soar, while crows flap.

On the ground, they also move differently. Crows will walk, while ravens will do a combination of walking and hopping.

When sitting you can see the beak is more robust and thicker. Another key thing to look out for is whether they have a mane or ruff. When crows fluff up, they get a hearty frill around their necks. Ravens don’t look as neat, and take on a shaggy, scruffy look when they’re fluffed up. 1

A Raven
A Raven

3. Vocalization

Crows have one of the most recognizable calls of any bird, and will ‘Kaw’ repetitively in what amounts to an experience that is equal parts annoying and scary for the receiver. Usually, a single kaw is followed by a series of almost mocking, shorter kaws, loud and grating.

Ravens are a little more refined and have a deeper, croakier call that appears to have more detail and complexity in their call.

What they’re saying remains a bit of a mystery, but there’s no question both are smart enough to be saying something interesting.

4. Intelligence

You’d find it hard to tell these two apart with an IQ test; both are incredibly smart animals, able to recognize faces, communicate clearly between their flocks and even use tools. These are birds who have complex social structures with friends and enemies.

But there are some interesting differences in their development! Crows appear to be a lot less trusting as they grow up, or at least, a lot less curious about new people as youngsters.

This inherent lack of curiosity isn’t as present in ravens, who are seemingly more social with strangers as they grow up. 2

5. Socialization

Despite this early-stage cautious in crows behavior both crows and ravens are deeply social. But their social networks differ. Crows are usually seen in larger groups, while ravens tend to travel in pairs.

But ravens, too, will gather in groups, and while a group of crows is called a murder, a group of ravens is much less of a blot on their record. The collective noun for a group of ravens is an “unkindness”.

The specific details of corvid sociality vary from species to species, and even population to population, so these rules aren’t hard and fast, and juvenile ravens will gather in rowdy teenage clusters, known as “vagrants” before settling down in pairs as adults. 3

American crow
American crow

6.  Life expectancy

There’s some overlap in the longevity of crows and ravens, too, but ravens are generally a lot longer-lived at up to 15 years in the wild.

Crows don’t live as long and typically reach seven to eight years.

7. Aggression

Ravens may be up to twice as heavy as crows, but the latter have aggression and large numbers on their side.

Crows almost always are the aggressors in altercations between the two species, and ravens very rarely show the same interest in violence toward crows.

Crows are more than capable of bearing a grudge, too, and can remember those who’ve gotten on their bad side.

In one experiment, researchers put on masks and shouted at crows, who not only recognized and scolded people in the same mask for weeks afterwards but recruited their friends to do the same.

Whether ravens can remember human faces isn’t clear – they might just be too friendly to show it. 4

Final thoughts

So there you have it – crows versus ravens!

Crows and ravens aren’t taxonomically distinct: both are species of crow in the Corvus genus, and ravens are just a particular group of large crows with a handful of other features that set them apart.

Ravens are generally more tight-knit, though will gather in large groups as juveniles. They have thicker bills and larger wingspans and talk with a little more eloquence than their Kawing cousins.

But both are exceptionally intelligent animals, able to solve problems, teach their young and communicate in intricate detail.

Fact Sources & References

  1. https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/resource-sharing/state-pubs-blog/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-a-crow-and-a-raven/
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00265-015-1935-8
  3. https://www.iflscience.com/raven-vs-crow-do-you-know-the-difference-69451
  4. https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/grudge-holding-crows-pass-on-their-anger-to-family-and-friends