how would one tell the difference between a crow and a raven?
You might be surprised to learn there are a lot of different species of raven and crow! The taxonomic difference between a raven and a crow (that is, whether a species gets named of or the other) is size and lifespan rather than genetic grouping. When comparing the species most of us are most familiar with – the American crow (C. brachyrhyncos) and common raven (C. corax), which will be the two I’m focusing on here – you can’t exactly tell the bird’s age most of the time, so if you have other animals or objects to compare the bird to, size is often the first clue.
The common raven is is massive for a passerine. It’s the size of a red-tailed a hawk, with a wingspan over four feet. Crows, on the other hand, are typically about the size of an African grey parrot. Compare someone holding a crow vs someone holding a raven:
And lemme tell ya, it’s one thing to READ about how big they are, but it’s another to SEE it.
If you see a corvid in flight and can’t get a bead on its proportions, the shape of the tail and flight feathers is another good identifier. A crow’s tail is triangular or fan-shaped, while a raven’s is wedge-shaped (ie the middle tail feathers are longest). Both have well-defined primaries, but a raven’s are much deeper and tend to spread wider. Ravens tend to soar a lot, too; crows are consistent flappers.
Finally, if you can get a good look at the head, the differences are pretty obvious. A raven has a beak that hooks at the end and is as long as its head (or in the case of a Chihuahuan raven, longer than!) while a crow’s beak is straighter, shorter, and lighter-looking in general. Both have nasal bristles, but the shape these bristles form is different due to beak size (a raven’s often looks squared off). Crows are kinda shiny and a bit fluffy; ravens are iridescent and have a very distinctive “beard” of shaggy feathers at their throats which bristles up like hackles when they call.
Finally, their voices are a bit different – a crow’s flat, high caw vs a raven’s deep, resonating kronk – but both species have a very wide range of natural vocalisations and are accomplished mimics. [This video] has some great examples of the caw vs kronk sounds.
I see people repeatedly confuse crows with ravens. Which is admittedly fairly easy to do. This is somewhat helpful. I would also look online or with local park rangers to see if one or the other are actually found in your area if you’re still not sure from looking at one. The difference in size alone can be a good indicator. I know many want to collect bits they may have left behind for workings. Or see their appearance as significant. So do your research first!