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.
The Alderaan was sorely puzzled. It had been told that Humans found interaction with other humans of the utmost importance, and no mistake, now that the crew of the Ra’ Rei was relaxing in a pub, Human Steve was interacting with another Human. The interaction was very, VERY weird, though: the two were communicating by means of pointing, very slow spelling, broad gestures and much exaggerated facial expressions instead of simply speaking human.
Xiraan observed their interaction: the other human was female (she had the lactating glandes on her chest), and was much, much different from Human Steve: her facial features were far more pronounced than Human Steve’s, with a big, flat nose, high cheekbones and a sloping forehead. Her skin was of a different colour, too: darker, much, much darker, almost black.
Later, as they boarded on the Ra’ Rei again, Xiraan interrogated Human Steve. “Why did you interact so weirdly with the female human? Didn’t she speak Human like you do? I heard that there are some of your people who cannot speak or hear, was this the case?”
Human Steve looked truly puzzled for a moment or two, but then his expression cleared. “Ah, no, no. She does not speak English- that would be the language I speak. There is not a single language on Earth, I believe that there are about seven thousand…” he explained. “Not everyone speaks english, even though it is the most spoken language in the world…”
Xiraan bristled his antennae, completely taken aback. “Seven thousand languages?? How is this possible? You are of the same specie, aren’t you?”
“Oh, indeed we are” answered Human Steve, moving the shoulders in that peculiar upward movement that usually indicated uncertainty or that he did not care overmuch. “But we have been around for quite a while, and we have been separated into hundreds and hundreds of different groups, so we all evolved different languages, too. She comes from Nigeria, which is very far from where I come from, and she does not have any english to speak about.”
The insectoid was aghast. Different systems of communications?? Thousands of them?? It didn’t make any sense, it was not practical! But then… thinking about it, Humans were rarely rational or practical.