Hey guys, welcome back. Today is one of the smartest animals in the world that’s not a primate (and it might even be smarter than some of them), the common raven. Famous for many reasons, including a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, the raven is often, to non-birders, confused with a crow. While both birds are related to each other, and look similar, they are actually pretty different and easier to differentiate than some realize. The biggest thing people don’t seem to get right is size. I’ve run into numerous non birders that think a crow is a raven. After all, they know ravens are large birds. They just don’t always realize how large. I’ve even run into people that have come into the nature center where I work that thought the crows they were seeing were ravens, and the grackles were the crows. Crows are pretty large, but they’re nowhere near the size of a common raven. Common ravens are comparable in size to a red-tailed hawk. Their bodies are roughly the same size, but the raven has shorter wings; about a four foot wingspan!
Size isn’t the only way to tel them apart. Voice is another. The crow has the very distinct “caw!” sound, while the raven is a much lower croaking noise. Ravens also have a larger, heavier bill in relation to their heads. Behavior is another good thing to look for. Crows are often found in large groups, ravens not so much. Common ravens are loners; you’ll typically not see more than two at a time. Common ravens also soar like a raptor, a behavior that a crow doesn’t do.
Common ravens are found mostly out west and throughout Canada. They’re limited to the Appalachian Mountains in the east, but in recent years that range has been spreading. I saw my first soaring over Central Park. I was surprised. I didn’t know NYC had any. Turns out there was a pair that lived in (or near) the Hellgate Bridge which is a railroad bridge over the East River that connects Queens to the Bronx via Randall’s Island. I lived near that bridge and saw on more than one occasion one of the resident ravens chasing one of the resident red-tailed hawks! Here in northeast Ohio, ravens aren’t common, but a few years ago a pair showed up at a park near me; Lake Erie Bluffs. They’ve been seen every winter since first being spotted a few years back. At the time of this writing, I have missed them each time I went to try and add them to my Ohio list. Oh well.
Ravens are incredibly smart. Some out west have learned that gunfire means there might be a freshly killed carcass, so the sound of a gunshot actually draws them closer. They will work together with one bird creating a distraction, while another raids the nest or food cache of the animal they’re distracting. They also love to play aerobatic games and can be seen doing aerial tricks like somersaults, dives, and even flying upside down! They can even mimic human words. Just search YouTube, you’ll find ravens that can actually speak “nevermore.” Next up, we head to the beach for a large and easy to ID shorebird. See you then!