Crows, Ravens Often Confused, But Both Viewed Suspiciously

Updated: Mar 3

Crows and ravens are both birds that are all black in color, which might be why some people consider them a bad omen. Both birds have also been portrayed as evil or scary in movies and stories, which probably doesn’t help their reputation.

A crow (left) and a raven. (Photos via Shutterstock)

Because they are both all black, American crows and common ravens are often confused for one another, and we tend to view them both with the same suspicion. In many people's minds, no good comes from crossing paths with either a crow or a raven.


But how do you know if it was a crow or a raven that you saw? It can be hard to tell, but in Illinois, chances are it's a crow. While crows are common across the state, ravens are only very rarely recorded here.


Crows are widespread across nearly all the United States and parts of Canada, but ravens have a much more limited range. Ravens live in the western third of the United States and in parts of the southeast, mid-Atlantic and New England, but they are much more common in the west than the east.

 

Words to know

Omen: An event considered to be a sign of good or evil.

Range: The geographic area where a plant or animal species is found.

Reputation: The beliefs or opinions held about someone or something.

 

In places where these birds overlap, the biggest and most obvious difference between them is their size. Ravens are quite a bit larger than crows; they are about the same size as a red-tailed hawk. And while crows tend to gather in large flocks, ravens do not, but it is common to see a pair of ravens together.


Because crows are so common in Illinois, many people are familiar with their cawing sound. Ravens don't caw. Instead, they make a croaking sound that's similar to a frog.


In flight, look to the birds' tails for clues to help tell the difference between the them. The tail feathers of a crow are all the same length, so their tails have a fan-like appearance. Ravens have longer feathers in the middle of their tails, so they have a wedged appearance when open in flight. How they fly can also be a clue. Ravens tend to soar in flight, riding along on updrafts of air, while crows flap their wings more.


If you can get a good look at the bird, check out the beak. Ravens have more curved beaks than crows. Both birds have eyelash-like bristles where the bill meets the face, but the bristles are much longer and easily visible on ravens than crows.


One last physical difference between the two is the throat feathers. A crow's throat feathers are smooth and sleek, while a raven's are more ragged and shaggy in appearance.

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