January 18, 2012

When a Crow is a Raven

The Common Raven is a large member of the crow family (corvidae) at home whirling over the canyon lands of the southwest and bedfellow to wolves around a moose carcass in the great white north. Ravens hold a permanent place in the collective modern psyche: trickster and stealer of the sun, the cause for poetry, story, and rhyme. In the northeast however ravens float around the edge of the urbanized world like cowboys peering in the window of the mall; not scared just unclear to the purpose of this place. Bird watchers in Southern New England rarely see these large black birds however, in the past decade the Common Raven has been gaining breeding ground in Massachusetts. In part due to the maturing forests, no longer logged for timber.

Finding a raven in Southern New England is still not easy, but knowing how to separate a crow and a raven can be. While in some ways a raven is large crow there are actually visual clues that can help you identify a raven without the lucky comparison of a crow sitting next to it. Ravens are rarely seen in numbers larger than two or three. Their large beaks give them a “big nose” look and their tails have a distinct wedge shape that a Crow’s does not. Watch also for the long “fingers” of the wing, primary flight feathers that reach out into the sky and seem to spread further apart than a crow’s. Voice is another give away. While crows produce an incredible array of cawsclicks, snaps, and barks the raven is best known for a booming, throaty “aaaawwwack. Think of a baritone compared to a tenor. Ravens also nest very early, beginning in the late winter. Listen for the call and response between a pair of birds carrying large sticks. Finding a raven’s nest early can provide weeks of watching.


Michaela Kennedy said...

I came to your post after looking for the difference between a crow and a raven. We have a lot of crows down here in Rhode Island; but today, I saw two monster black birds in the trees out back, looking a bit different from the usual crows I see. The beaks were a bit bigger, and light colored as well. Even though people say we don't have many ravens in Southern New England, I'm convinced these giants were ravens!

Anonymous said...

Saw 6 or 7 ravens fly over and perch in a dead tree next door. The only reason I know they were ravens not crows is BC I have a great friendship with a few neighborhood crows after feeding them peanuts every day for a few years. These ravens live or roost by the woonasquatucket river. My mother lives on the river in north prov. And has seen/heard them as well. So happy to see their numbers are growing in Ri. Wish I could find out about more sightings in Johnston north prov so I could see more of these beautiful birds

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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