Tell Crows & Ravens Apart — Corvid Clarity


Raven and Crow photographs in head and shoulders profile for comparison

How can you tell if it’s a crow or a raven?

This question often comes up in my email and social media so I thought I’d re-post this blog from a few years ago.

I was partly inspired by having coincidentally photographed both a crow and a raven in very similar poses and both against a red background just recently.

I thought it was fun to see the two images together.

Crow against a red garage wall in an East Vancouver alleyway

Raven against a red roof at a ski hill in North Vancouver

The two pictures highlight a couple of the most obvious differences between crows and ravens. You can see that the raven’s beak is a lot heftier than that of the crow. The raven also has that rather opulent display of throat feathers

There are a lot of excellent resources to help out with learning to tell ravens from crows (more on these later) — but in this post I’m working mostly from my own observations, made from over a decade of daily corvid-watching.


First of all, if you just catch a glimpse of a crow/raven mystery bird flying over you — check out the tail shape.

The raven’s tail feathers form a diamond shape, while the crow’s tail is in more of a flat-edged fan arrangement.

Crow and Raven Flying Silhouettes

Raven in Flight

Photograph of a crow taking off from a branch

While you’re watching them in flight, note if they’re doing more soaring or flapping.

Raven are more prone to  using the air currents for long, effortless glides, while crows tend to rely  more on flapping.

That being said — I have seen crows having a lot of fun on windy days, just riding the gusts of wind like a roller coaster.


As I mentioned earlier, the raven is distinguished by a rather magnificent arrangement of throat feathers — something like an very luxurious cravat.

Photograph of raven showing off throat feathers

Crows, while also (of course) magnificent in their own way, are less generously endowed in the cravat department. Sometimes, when they fluff up as part of grooming, or to look fierce, their throat feathers can look a bit “raven-y” — but generally they’re smoother.

Fluffed-up crow in “fierce” mode.

Normal chest feathers on a relaxed crow (Bongo)


Having been unable to persuade either species to remain still while I measure them, I’ve had to rely on information gleaned from the internet here.

Ravens, I’ve read,  measure up to 67 cm (26 inches) long with a wingspan of up to 130 (51 inches).  Their smaller relatives, the crow are about 46 cm (18 inches) long and have a wingspan of around 95 cm (36 inches).

Unless you happen to see them sitting side by side at an equal distance from you, it’s difficult to make an identification based on size alone.

Crow Raven Size Comparison

In this case the two birds were more or less the same distance away, although the crow was a bit higher up in the tree, probably making him look a little smaller.

Raven and Two Crows on Wires

Raven and two crows — here the crows are considerably further away, making the scale deceptive.



If you see a large black corvid being mobbed by one or more smaller ones, you can pretty much guarantee that the big one is a raven and s/he is being harassed by the crow Neighbourhood Watch committee.

Crows Mob Raven

In spite of their family connections, ravens will blithely raid crow nests for a tasty egg snack — putting them firmly on the crows’ “naughty list” along with eagles, hawks, racoons, squirrels, coyotes, cats and etc.

Crow Raven Pursuit


Both crows and ravens normally mate for life.

photograph of a raven pair standing head to head

A raven couple

Crow couple, Echo and Earl

In the city, crow pairs tend to claim half a block or so as their territory. They spend most of their daylight hours there and will usually chase off other crows who cross the invisible crow boundaries.

Crows flying and sitting on wires at dusk at Still Creek

At night, however, the Vancouver crows turn to safety in numbers as protection against dangers that lurk in the dark. Just before dusk the crows gather in larger and larger groups as they all fly, sometimes looking like a river of crows, to the roost at Still Creek. It’s “the more the merrier” as they congregate around the roosting area , with lots of loud crow calling before they all settle in for the night in tree branches or on Hydro wires or buildings.

Many crows on wires at dusk at Still Creek Roost

Ravens don’t form roosts, but they do seem to gather in larger groups when there’s a good food source to be shared. Not always, but occasionally, the area around the local ski hill parking lots have lots of ravens hanging around together.

It’s not the size of the crow roost by any means, but it does seem to be a social occasion.

It’s on days like these I’ve witnessed the ravens playing with snowballs and engaging in other playful activities. It always seems to be that they gather when there are a lot of humans up at the ski hill, dropping food and leaving sandwiches unattended. A sunny Spring Break ski day seems to draw a lot of ravens to the parking lot as it did the day of the Raven Soap Opera in Two Acts.


By far the easiest way to tell a crow from a raven is by the sound they make.

Crows caw and ravens have more of a croaking sound. But that’s a great simplification of their complicated call sets.

Here are just few examples to help you tell them apart:


This is probably the most common corvid you’ll hear in a city. This example is Marvin and Mavis expressing their displeasure at our cat being out on the deck.


This is another crow call, less often heard because it’s a softer, more intimate form of crow-munication.


This seems to be the most common raven call I hear, both in the city and in the mountains.


This beautiful sound is more like the crow’s rattle call – more subtle and melodic – almost like water dripping or a hollow bamboo tube being tapped.

See also: When The Raven Knocks


In this clip a raven seems to be performing a jazz concert of different subtle sounds — an example of how complex corvid language is.


When it comes to confidence and attitude, ravens and crows have so much in common.

Both are highly intelligent birds — you can almost hear the cogs of their brains whirring as they work out myriad “risk/benefit” calculations when they come close to humans.

Raven and Crow photographs in head and shoulders profile for comparison

It’s really not surprising that both crows and ravens are often characterized as tricksters in stories and legends.

Crow Raven Dancers



Kaeli Swift – Corvid Research

One of the best places to find out all about corvids is on Kaeli Swift’s awesome blog Corvid Research.  Kaeli covers every corvid related topic you can think of in her posts. You can also follow her on social media and participate in her skill-building weekly Crow or No? contests.

John Marzluff

His books In The Company of Crows and Ravens and Gifts of the Crows, are just full of interesting information on both of these amazing birds.

 Bernd Heinrich

For lots of information and studies on raven behaviour, check out Heinrich’s Ravens in Winter and Mind of the Raven.


Audubon: How to Tell a Raven From a Crow

Cornell University Birdlab : Crows and Ravens by Kevin McGowan

See also:

Vancouver’s Urban Ravens

Crow Gifts of All Kinds

The Colour of Crows

Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-up

Learning to Speak Raven




14 thoughts on “Tell Crows & Ravens Apart — Corvid Clarity

  1. I have always believed ravens were less urban than crows, though you are lucky to live in a city so close to so much gorgeous nature! I have only seen ravens in my small bedroom community in the Willamette Valley once, and that was during the height of terrible wildfires that I believe drove them west out of the mountains.

    • There are many more crows than ravens, even in Vancouver, which is so close to the mountains. But, in the last few years, I’ve noticed more ravens in the city. Near us is a Sktrain line that runs, for several miles, along a creek that’s been cleaned up and reclaimed in the last few years — so that it once again has fish in it, and lots of other wildlife along it. Ravens have been making nests along that line for at least four years now. In my immediate neighbourhood, they seem to come and go. There were several around every day for weeks, but now none. I wonder if they just make little day trips from the mountains — not very far for a raven.

  2. Hi June, another Knowledge Hunter article of great interest & learning, thanks my friend. I had serious gloom because the black bamboo kept dropping its leaves after transplanted in a lovely large pot of fresh shroom manure. Gardenworks told me it was like giving steak to a baby! Dug it back up, rinsed off the very much alive root ball & planted it w/fresh organic container soil & I can see evidence of tiny green bits happening. Phew, I really dreaded begging for a 4th piece from you! FYI, one Halloween I bought a $25 set of crows wings (I know, alas!) & came to ABC Photo as a dark angel. Well Matthew our digital guru & fashionisto supremo spent $140 for a set of superior raven feather wings from England. We made quite the pair of angels from the dark side! Thanks for the corvid news & my Bambino the black bamboo!

    • I can’t say I’ve noticed this, Melissa. Both ravens and crows can look more or less shiny depending on where they are in the moulting season and what the light is like. I’ve seen some shabby-looking ravens in late summer and some extremely shiny crows on a sunny day when their new feathers have just come in. Not to say it isn’t the case that ravens are generally shinier, just that I haven’t noticed it.

      • Good point — although the ravens that I see in winter often are in some larger groups — usually drawn by food bounty of some sort, such as Spring Break at the local ski hill with the attendant increase in dropped bags of chips and other random edibles. The ravens seem very good at knowing where and when these extra scavenging opportunities are going to occur. But it is true that ravens don’t go to a nightly roost like the Vancouver crows.

  3. Loved the article! You didn’t mention that crows live in large groups, while ravens live with one or two others. If you see a corvid near you and it’s the size of a chicken, it’s a raven!

  4. All I know is that there are some pretty big blackbirds in my back yard. Okay! Now I will look closer. Thanks for the detailed article.

  5. I love this collection of info and shared it with new Vancouver residents as a cornerstone of Vancouver wildlife info.

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