7 Key Differences Between a Crow and Raven

Do you know the difference between a crow and a raven? Many people mistake these two big black birds for one another, but there are some notable differences between them.

This article discusses the 7 key differences between the crow and raven including:

  1. Size & Appearance
  2. Intelligence
  3. Behaviors
  4. Sounds
  5. Relations
  6. Feathers
  7. Movements

I’ve been a backyard birder for more than 20 years. In that time I’ve seen and heard my share of crows and ravens. Would you believe I never bothered to know the difference until I dove into the research for this article? True. I guess I was more obsessed with the cardinals, bluebirds, and chickadees 😉

Still, it’s fascinating to realize just how different these birds really are! Let’s get started …

1. Size and Appearance of a Crow vs Raven

Crows and ravens are both blackbirds, but there are some key differences between them. Crows are typically smaller than ravens, and they have a more triangular-shaped head.

Ravens being larger, measure 24 to 27 inches from head to tail and 3.5 to 4 inches for the wings. On the other hand, crows are 17 inches from head to tail and have a wingspan of 2.5 inches. 

Checkout this video showing both birds on the same wire. The quality isn’t the best but it still gives you a great visual.

Crows also weigh half the weight of the raven. Crows weigh about 3/4 – 1.5 pounds, while ravens weigh about 1.5 – 3.5 pounds.

In addition, ravens have a more rounded head shape.

Another way to tell the two apart is by their beaks. Crows have a pointed beak while ravens have a thicker, more curved beak.

When it comes to the difference between ravens and crows, their tails are one of the most noticeable features. Crows have wedge-like shapes, while ravens almost always possess more curved feathers that make up a fan-like shape when open (fanning).

2. Intelligence of A Crow vs Raven

While crows and ravens are both brilliant birds, the raven is considered one of the most intelligent animals on earth.

Ravens can make tools and use them to solve problems, which shows just how smart they are. According to Science Magazine, ravens plan for tasks beforehand just like humans do. 

Crows also show signs of intelligence in their ability to problem-solve and adapt to new environments, though not as good as the ravens. Crows, however, have a sharp memory and can remember human faces.

Crows can recognize threatening people and still be hostile to them when they meet. They have high social intelligence and know every human is different and needs to be approached differently. Often cautious around new people, crows only approach people they have interacted with before.

3. Behaviors of A Crow vs Raven

Both crows and ravens are scavengers, which means they like to eat dead animals. They can also be carnivores, meaning they will eat live prey if necessary. Other than eating the same kinds of food, there are some differences in their behaviors.

Crows prefer living in open areas, while ravens prefer to live in forests and other wooded areas.

Also, crows travel in groups, while ravens like traveling in pairs.

When it comes to body language, Ravens have the upper hand. They can articulate their elongated throat feathers for various displays that crows couldn’t even dream up!

Ravens are pretty distinguishable. While most songbirds rely on smooth and hair-like features, these feathered warriors prefer something more robust – always knowing exactly how much dramatic flair they need when facing off against a bird or larger animal.

a ravn upclose showing massive thick feathers
Raven

As for migration, ravens don’t migrate and live in their natural homes. On the other hand, crows partially migrate; some crows take the trip while others prefer to stay home. See the maps below depicting the range in which the American crow and common raven live.

American crow's range map
American crow range map. Compliments of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Common raven range map
Common Raven’s range map. Compliments of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

4. Sounds of A Crow vs Raven

crow with mouth open calling
A crow calling.

Crows have an even cawing sound they make when communicating with each other or warning other birds about potential danger.

American Crow Call

Ravens can also make this same sound, but their most common call is something called a “croaking” noise!. The croaking sound is much throatier and deeper compared to the even cowing sound of the crow. Ravens make this croaking sound when trying to attract a mate or establish dominance over other ravens.

Crows are said to have a vocabulary of at least 250 words. Check out this video of a backyard birder who taught his backyard crow to say “hello”.

5. Relations of A Crow vs Raven

Are crows and ravens related? The answer to this question is yes, but they are not the same. Both birds belong to the same genus, the Corvus genus, but are members of different species. 

Not all ravens share the same species: for example, we have all types of different ravens flying among us, including the Common Raven, Forest Raven, Chatham Raven, Chihuahuan Raven, and more. These are all members of their own species, but still all corvids and still ravens.

On the other hand, crows belong to their own respective species: the American Crow, the Common Crow, the Rook, and the Western Jackdaw, among others, are all corvids like ravens but are distinctly classified as crows due to their defining characteristics.

5. Feathers of A Crow vs Raven

The raven is a bird with highly glossed plumage that shows iridescent greens, blues, and purples. Sometimes, there’s an oily sheen to the feathers, making them appear even more colorful than they already are.

a crow perched on tree trunk on bright background and looking at camera
Crow
Raven sitting on the branch
Raven

Crows also possess these color-changing traits but not as much, so you can tell one species from another by looking at the amount of shine on their respective feathers.

The shiny type will have less reflecting properties while others don’t quite reflect light nearly as much due to either being too dull or having no reflections coming off it.

Compared to crows, ravens have fluffier feathers, especially around their heads.

7. Movement of A Crow vs Raven

Ravens and crows are not the same. Ravens soar while Crow fly, but you can see differences when they’re on land too!

For example, crows usually walk around like humans do (never jump about or flap their wings in flight mode like most birds do) for exercise purposes. 

Some even say crows walk like a super models! Check out this video for a chuckle:

A raven will hop from foot-to-hand then back again with a combination of both methods to get to his destination fast enough without running into any obstacles (or else getting eaten).

Another difference is that ravens can do somersaults when flying or even fly upside down.

They do have a similarity in behavior – they both stick together for safety and share food resources when possible.

Conclusion

Crows and ravens are similar in that they’re both large black birds but that’s where the parallels end. One bird is bigger than the other, one is smarter than the other, their feathers are different, they have different sounds, they behave differently, they’re related but not closely, and they move around differently.

Next time you see a large black bird in or around your yard, consider some of the key differences such as size, movement, or behavior to decipher whether it’s a crow or a raven. Then lean back and enjoy their presence. You just may discover a newfound fascination in these big black birds. I know I did!

Happy birding!

More than 25 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers.