Raven vs crows, it’s a showdown of two seemingly near-identical birds from the Corvidae family, including some 133 species. Not only are ravens and crows related at a family level, but they’re also part of the same genus Corvus which contains some 45 species, 9 of which contain the term raven as part of their common name. Ravens and crows are undoubtedly hard to distinguish from each other, so what actually are the differences between them?
The primary differences between ravens and crows are their size and weight, with ravens being notably heavier and also generally longer than crows. The average Common raven measures around 63 centimetres (25 inches) in length and weighs 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds).
Compare that to the American crow, which measures around 40 to 50 cm (16–20 in), weighing around 300 to 600 g (11 to 21 oz), and you can see that ravens are the heavyweights of the Corvid family.
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
By contrast, the Carrion Crow, which is found across Europe and the eastern Palearctic region, is slightly larger than the American Crow, but still considerably smaller than the Common Raven. Carrion crows, on average, are usually between 45 and 47cm in length (17.7 to 18.5 in) and weigh anywhere from 370 to 650 grams.
A Carrion Crow perched on a branch
Even the smallest raven, the Chihuahuan raven, is slightly bigger than most crows. There are other differences, too, such as the thicker, more heavyset bills of the raven compared to the slimmer bill of the crow. Ravens are also generally less social than crows and have longer, thicker-looking feathers.
It doesn’t end there, though. Read on to discover more about the differences between crows and ravens - two highly intelligent and intriguing members of the Corvid family!
Ravens are part of the same genus as crows, Corvus from the same family Corvidae, but they are their own species. Ravens do not form their own taxonomic group within the Corvus genus.
Corvus (the genus) is actually Latin for ‘crow’. So, in some sense, ravens are a type of crows. This doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Ravens retain distinctive features that are distinguishable from any Corvus species that contains the common name crow. Ravens are only crows by one arguably outdated definition.
Whilst it’d be tempting also to assume that ravens and crows are closely related - and they are in some cases - some species of ravens and crows have evolved separately for millions of years. For example, the shared ancestor of the American raven and Common crow dates back 7 million years, meaning they are not as closely related as they look.
Common Raven in flight
It goes both ways, as conversely, the Australian raven is more closely related to the Torresian crow than it is a Common raven. To confuse matters further, the Corvus genus also contains an outlier - the rook - which looks different to both ravens and crows. And if that wasn’t enough, then there is also a bird, the Somali crow, which is also often called the Dwarf raven!
The taxonomic grouping and categorisation of birds can be flippant and changes with new research. There is still no real universal agreement on what a species really is. For example, some jackdaws and larks were also considered part of the Corvus genus until fairly recently where most authorities reassigned them to the genus Coloeus.
The easiest way to think about this is that ravens, crows, rooks, etc, are all different species, and whilst similarities and differences exist between each, the names are still just colloquial and not scientifically formal.
Close up of an Australian Raven
Ravens are generally bigger, heavier and more powerful than crows. In fact, the Common raven and Thick-Billed raven can exceed 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) and 70 cm (28 in) in exceptional cases, making them the largest passerine birds (birds from the order Passeriformes) by some margin.
American crow measurements:
Common raven measurements:
Carrion crow measurements:
The smallest raven, the Chihuahuan raven, is possibly the hardest to tell apart from crows in terms of size and weight, as they’re almost the same size as the Carrion crow or American crow. The next smallest is the Little raven, which is a similar size to the Chihuahuan raven (48 to 50 cm or 19 to 19.5 in length).
So, whilst the majority of ravens are larger than the majority of crows, oftentimes by a considerable margin, the smallest ravens are similarly sized to the largest crows. Size and weight alone is not a consistent way to tell crows and ravens apart, even though the difference between the largest ravens and all crows are quite pronounced.
Another aspect of this worth mentioning is that ravens generally have bigger beaks than crows. The huge bill of the aptly named Thick-Billed raven is 8 to 9 cm long! (3.1 to 3.5 in). This is one of the defining differences between ravens and crows, as crow beaks are slimmer and less curved.
American Crow in flight with a peanut
All Corvids, including everything from jackdaws to magpies, rooks, crows and ravens, are exceptionally intelligent - and are certainly amongst the most intelligent families of birds (and all animals) on the planet. Humans have documented the intelligence of corvids for thousands of years.
Splitting corvids in terms of their intelligence is a difficult task. The Common raven has been observed tackling the most advanced problem-solving tasks of any corvid, but Magpies demonstrate excellent mirror self-recognition, meaning they recognise their own reflection as themselves. Ravens, crows and likely other corvids are also capable of abstract thought, meaning they can infer - or imagine - what other animals are thinking.
A pair of Common Ravens
Another curious aspect of corvid behaviour is their reactions to death - they’ve been observed holding what looks like rituals - or funerals. One theory is that these rituals provide the corvid with information on the cause of death, which may present a survival advantage in the future.
Despite the marginally superior problem-solving skills of ravens over other corvids (in current research), crows are reportedly better at recognising faces than ravens, and some species, such as the New Caledonian crow, exhibit some of the most incredible use of objects as tools amongst any animal on the planet.
Crows also have a unique behaviour of ‘gifting’ objects to humans, which still very much puzzles researchers today.
Deciding which is more intelligent - a crow or a raven - is like splitting hairs (or feathers). Both are remarkably intelligent and continue to fascinate researchers across many scientific disciplines.
Out of the 45 members of the Corvus genus, 9 have the word raven in their common name. So, in terms of the genus, crows are more common than ravens.
Numerically speaking, the Common raven has a global population estimated at around 16 million. The American crow sits approximately 31 million, and the Carrion crow’s population may exceed 100 million.
These are likely somewhat inaccurate estimates, but it’s clear that crows are more common than ravens across much of their distribution. In many regions, crows likely outnumber ravens by around 10 to 1.
American Crow during the winter
Other than their size, weight and beak, there are other differences between ravens and crows.
Whilst both birds are black, crows often have shorter and perhaps more neat looking feathers. Ravens have thicker feathers with longer primary wing feathers. Both birds can have a somewhat oily look to them. Raven tails are also longer in the middle, whereas crows generally have tails of uniform size. Ravens are shaggier and scruffier than crows who have smoother overall plumage.
Crows are usually more gregarious than ravens. Both birds are generally monogamous, mating for life, but ravens spend more time as a mated pair isolated from others. Whilst both birds are territorial and maintain their territories fiercely at times, crows exhibit more gregarious behaviours with regards to feeding and roosting.
This does differ between species, however, as some crows like the Carrion crow are usually more solitary. The Rook is very gregarious, roosting in large colonies - such is the variety of the Corvus genus!
Close up portrait of a Common Raven
Crows are highly adaptable and have come to establish colonies in cities and towns. They are not always so bothered about having to share their environments with other birds, despite being territorial. Ravens tend to avoid areas highly populated with other birds, instead favouring isolated environments and habitats.
Both ravens and crows are capable of complex communication involving a variety of calls. However, mainly due to their size, raven calls are much deeper and more bassy than crow calls.
Close up portrait of an American Crow
Bird hybridization - or inbreeding - has long been a fascination amongst ornithologists. Since ravens and crows are part of the same genus and family, it might not come as a surprise if they could interbreed. However, as mentioned, most crows and ravens are not particularly closely related - at least not in terms of their nearest ancestor. Birds and other animals usually require a near ancestor to interbreed, which many ravens and crows don’t possess.
In addition to this biological incompatibility, interactions between the two species are usually violent and aggressive. In fact, crows and ravens are famed for not getting on at best, hating each other at worst!
There are some contradictory reports, however. In Toronto, Canada, a Common raven started showing up in an area frequented by American crows. Over three years, the raven appeared to be associating itself with one of the crows in the area, later building a nest, mating, and successfully rearing two fledglings, much to the surprise of local ornithologists.
Other sources cite a handful of other documented hybridizations between various corvids, including ravens and crows, also stating that most of these hybridization attempts are successful.
It would seem then that despite some level of biological incompatibility, ravens, crows, and other corvids are undoubtedly capable of interbreeding when conditions are right.
Juvenile American Crow
Traditionally speaking, ravens and crows are viewed as relative enemies to each other. Crows are often seen attacking or otherwise hassling ravens.
This isn’t uncommon amongst birds of the same genus. Ravens do not always take notice of crowing mobbing behaviour and generally possess greater speed and swooping ability than crows - they can evade the mob if they’re actually getting hurt. Ravens are almost never aggressive towards crows - one study suggested that ravens ‘start the fight’ just 3% of the time vs 97% for crows!
As the above statistic suggests, crows are much more aggressive than ravens. Ravens are territorial but rarely display outwards aggression. On the other hand, crows are often seen mobbing other animals and birds, sometimes causing severe damage.
An American Crow mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk
In a word, no. Crows and ravens are usually at loggerheads with each other. They do share territories as they’re both found in similar and overlapping environments, but overall, they don’t like to spend much time in close proximity with each other. Close encounters may result in fights, usually started by crows.
Crows and ravens compete for similar food and nesting sites. They also prey on each other’s nests, attacking and eating nestlings, fledglings and eggs. Studies found that most fights occur throughout the breeding season, where aggression and territorial instincts are at their highest.
All of these factors make ravens and crows naturally antagonistic to each other. This doesn’t just extend between ravens and crows but other corvids too. The entire family is known to be relatively aggressive at times as well as distinctly mischievous!
Two Ravens fighting
It’s common for birds to recognise the calls of other species. This is partly how birds communicate information about their territories.
Crows, ravens, magpies and other corvids can imitate each other and are known for cawing back to each other, likely when establishing their nesting grounds and territories. They don’t talk to each other per se, but there is some level of communication and recognition of important calls and messages.
Get the latest Birdfacts delivered straight to your inbox
© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.