Raven vs. Crow: What’s the Difference?

Ravens and crows are highly intelligent birds but distinctive species altogether. They may look alike, but keen observation will show you the difference between them.

Sep 9, 2023By Andrew Olsen
raven crow difference

Crows and ravens are often associated with mystery and intelligence, but have you ever wondered about the distinctions between these remarkable birds? While they are both part of the Corvidae family, they are two distinct species. They share some similarities and are specific species with unique characteristics. We’ll explore the key differences between common ravens and (American) crows, shedding light on their appearance, behavior, habitat, and more.


Raven vs Crow Physical appearance
Photo credit: facts.net

One of the most noticeable differences between ravens (Corvus corax) and American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is their appearance. While both birds belong to the Corvidae family, ravens are larger than crows, measuring around 24 to 27 inches (61—69 cm) in length compared to the 17 to 21 inches (43—53 cm) of crows. Ravens have a more massive wingspan, spanning, on average, up to 53 inches (134 cm). In comparison, crows typically have a wingspan of about 36 inches (91 cm).

Feathers play a crucial role in distinguishing these birds. Ravens possess shaggy, elongated throat feathers called ‘hackles,’ contributing to their rugged appearance. In contrast, crows are omnivores, and have a sleeker and more compact appearance because of their shorter throat feathers. Another critical distinction is the shape of their tails: ravens exhibit wedge-shaped tails, whereas crows have fan-shaped tails.

Coloration is another differentiating factor. Crows have uniformly black feathers with a glossy sheen. In contrast, ravens often have a more iridescent appearance, reflecting shades of blue, purple, and green in certain lighting conditions. These variations in size, feather structure, and coloration provide visual cues to distinguish between crows and ravens.

Vocalizations and Communication

crow and raven dancers
Image credit: The Urban Nature Enthusiast

Both crows and ravens are highly vocal and communicate with various calls and vocalizations. However, they differ in the complexity and range of their vocal repertoire.

Crows are known for their diverse vocalizations, including a distinctive cawing sound often associated with them. They can produce a wide range of calls, from territorial and alarm calls to softer cooing sounds during social interactions. Crows also can mimic other birds and even human speech, showcasing their remarkable vocal skills.

Ravens have a more extensive vocal range and exhibit a wider range of sounds. Their calls are deeper, throatier, and more guttural than the crows’ caws. We recognize ravens by their deep croaking calls, sometimes described as a ‘cronk’ or ‘gronk.’ They can produce a variety of complex vocalizations, including musical notes, and even imitate other animals.

Both crows and ravens use their vocalizations to communicate with members of their species, convey warnings, defend their territories, and coordinate group activities. Their distinctive calls and vocal abilities (follow the link to listen to their different calls) contribute to their intriguing nature and make them captivating subjects for research and observation.

Behavior and Social Structure

common raven in flight
A common raven in flight

Crows and ravens exhibit distinct behavior patterns and have different social structures, offering unique insights into their lives and interactions.

Crows are highly social birds that form tight-knit family groups known as ‘murders.’ They are known to engage in cooperative breeding, with offspring from previous years assisting their parents in raising new nestlings. Crows are highly intelligent and display problem-solving abilities, using tools, and even cultural behaviors such as using specific tools for specific tasks, which they can learn from each other.

Ravens, too, are brilliant and display advanced problem-solving skills, and are also known to use tools. However, their social structure differs from that of crows. While ravens form breeding pairs, they are often more solitary in their habits than crows. They tend to be less gregarious and generally prefer to forage and explore alone or in small family groups.

Another notable difference lies in their feeding behavior. Crows are opportunistic omnivores and adapt their diet to various food sources, including insects, small animals, fruits, and carrion. They are often observed scavenging and can exploit urban environments effectively. Ravens, on the other hand, are also opportunistic feeders but tend to have a broader diet that includes larger prey items like small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They are known for caching food and storing it for later consumption.

Habitat and Range

Common ravens
Photo credit: Milan/Adobe

Crows and ravens have distinct habitat preferences and ranges, although they can overlap in certain areas. Crows are highly adaptable and can thrive in a wide range of environments, from dense forests to urban areas. They are commonly found in North America, Europe, and Asia, and their population has expanded due to their ability to exploit human-altered landscapes.

On the other hand, Ravens tend to prefer more remote and less populated regions. They are widespread across the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of North Africa. Ravens are often associated with wilder landscapes such as mountains, forests, and tundra regions. They are also seen in national parks alongside wolves. Some scientists theorize that they even form bonds with their wolf friends but don’t feel bad if a raven won’t befriend you; it’s just not their nature. Crows do like making friends with humans, though!

A Final Caw

Urban america crow
Photo credit: Alan Schmierer/Flickr

In conclusion, while crows and ravens belong to the same family and share certain traits, they have several key differences. From their physical appearance and vocalizations to their behavior, social structures, and habitat preferences, these birds showcase distinct characteristics that make them captivating subjects of study and observation. Understanding the differences between crows and ravens allows us to appreciate their unique qualities and deepen our knowledge of these remarkable avian species.

Andrew Olsen
By Andrew Olsen

Andrew is a proud cat dad of three spoiled cats, Schopenhauer, Poppy, and Empress Sisi. Growing up with various pets instilled a lifelong love for animals in him. His work in environmental management, particularly water governance, gave him first-hand experience with the delicate balance between humans and animals — domestic and wild. His favorite hobbies include browsing and buying cat toys, gardening, growing fresh catnip for his cats, drinking tea, and reading with a cat on his lap.