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Crow or Raven?

I was talking with someone the other day, and they told me they saw what looked like an unusually large crow. When I said that what he saw was very likely a raven and not a crow, he seemed a little surprised. What’s interesting is that about ten minutes before our conservation, I watched a raven fly over top as I walked through the parking lot.

Apparently, there are a good number of people who were not aware that we have ravens here in our state. Crows? Yeah, we have plenty of them, and we see them all summer and all winter long. While crows are found here all year around, that doesn’t mean that individual crows stay the entire year. Actually, crows that breed here will likely migrate south starting in late September or early October, and those crows are replaced by crows migrating south from areas further north.

While digging into this subject a bit, I came across something else that I, too, was surprised to find out. Crows and ravens belong to the family Corvidae, but I found that we also have a third species here in Pennsylvania in the same family — the fish crow. The fish crow is most commonly found in southeastern Pennsylvania and along the Susquehanna River but is no doubt often mistaken for the common crow. The fish crow is smaller than the crow, and its call is a short, nasal chu-cuh as opposed to the caw of a crow. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a fish crow; I may have, but like a lot of people, I didn’t realize it. Something else I found that also surprised me is that the crows, ravens, and fish crows are all classified as songbirds-really?

The common crow tends to favor woodlots, but they are also comfortable in farm fields, while the common raven tends to be found in the more mountainous northcentral region of the state. Ravens also seem to prefer more seclusion for successful nesting.

Ravens often go undetected, and for good reason, since they are often mistaken for crows, but there are some differences. Ravens are larger than crows, with a wingspan of about four feet. The raven has a much larger, heavier bill and shaggier, thicker plumage, especially around the throat. The tail of the raven is rounded or wedge-shaped, while the crow’s tail is more squared. In flight, the raven will flap its wings less and tends to soar more than a crow.

Ravens, like crows, will often be found feeding on the same things; rodents, insects, grain, fruit, bird eggs, and refuse. Like crows, ravens can often be seen feeding on dead animals along highways; they are often spotted along Interstate 80 feeding on the abundance of dead animals. Like crows, ravens also possess sharp eyesight and hearing, and they are judged to be among the most intelligent of all birds.

Even with all of this information to help distinguish the various species, I still found it difficult much of the time to pick out a raven or, worse yet, a fish crow amongst a flock of crows.