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




Mr Walker’s Bad Monday

There’s a lot of local crow news right now (Wings, Bongo, P.Earl) but unfortunate circumstances bring me back to the Walkers today.

I saw the Walkers on the weekend and all seemed totally fine, if a little soggy.

This morning I saw Mr. Walker, but he wasn’t walking. He did fly over to me and then I saw his eye …

I tried to convince myself I’d got mixed up and this was Wanda, who IS blind in one eye — but I knew it was Mr W and they eye injury looked quite different from Wanda’s. Also, the other eye.

Wanda in the cherry tree last week

I put out a call for help from bird rehabbers and those with more knowledge than me on social media and received lots and lots of great suggestions. I also got in touch with our local wildlife rescue association, sending photos, and they suggested we take a wait and see approach.

I’m sincerely hoping it’s just a minor injury and he’ll recover without me having to attempt to get him into a box. I have zero crow trapping experience and I fear he is likely smarter than me.

Besides which, it would be a terrible time to take him away as Wanda is already, as I mentioned in the last post, making begging sounds and showing other signs that she’s either laid eggs or is about to, and will be 100% dependent on Mr Walker for food in the nest for awhile.

I went for a second visit this afternoon and saw the Walkers together at our usual meeting tree.

Mr Walker on the lower branch

I did notice in one of the photos I took this afternoon that his eye was open a little, which seemed like a big improvement, so fingers crossed it looks better and not worse tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.



© junehunterimages, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


Sounds of Springtime

It can be a bit confusing to hear the sounds of fledgling crows begging loudly for food as early as April.

We’re still weeks away from the excitement of the first fledgling appearances — so what’s going on?

You’re hearing the sound of female crows begging food from their mates. They sound just like hungry fledglings and also adopt the classic begging pose — wings out, head lowered.

It’s just another part of the nesting dance. The construction of the nest is probably complete and the female is getting ready to lay eggs, but first she needs to remind her mate that she, just like the helpless fledgling she’s mimicking, is going to be relying on him for food soon.

The Walkers have been displaying this behaviour for a week or so now.

Mr Walker feeding his mate, Wanda

Shortly before laying eggs the female crow loses feathers on a patch of her underside so that her body heat will pass to the eggs without any feathery insulation getting in the way. This is called a brood patch — and only the mother crow has one — so for two to three weeks it’s her job to sit on the nest and incubate the precious eggs, while her mate is responsible for guarding the nest and keeping her fed. If he fails, she will be brooding in more way than one …

Wanda (blind in one eye) in a cherry tree

Wanda is starting to insist that Mr. Walker feed her, even when she’s got a beak full of food already,  just to jog his crow brain into remembering his coming duties.

Mr. Walker, dependable father to be

Here’s a little phone video series of the current daily routine.

Part one: As always, Mr. Walker dashes along beside us. At the moment his route is decorated with drifts of pink snow from fallen cherry blossom petals.

Part two: As usual, Wanda arrives at the peanut destination first (having come via air travel) and gets first dibs on the snacks.

Part three: in spite of having more than her share of peanuts, Wanda insists that Mr. W feeds her some of his. He gallantly obliges.

The Walkers at Home

Let’s hope the Walkers have a successful season. Like many of the local crows, their 2022 nesting efforts went unrewarded, so a couple of new little Walkers this year would be extra nice.

Junior Walkers 2021

Mr Walker, reporting for parental duty


You might also like:


© junehunterimages, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content