There are a lot of large black birds here in northern Washington. Are they ravens, or crows? (I think ravens are the largest members of the crow family.)
Someone once told me that crows vocalize, “Caw!” while ravens vocalize, “Wahk!” I’m not sure that’s accurate. I’m guessing the birds around here are ravens, even though they say “Caw!”, because there are a lot of them and they are an important symbol in tribal culture. It seems a fair (if not good) assumption that since there are American aboriginals here, and since ravens are a part of their folklore, and since there are a number of black birds here, that the birds are probably ravens.
But I’m not sure.
Are there any sites with photographic side-by-side comparisons between crows and ravens?
Consulting my Sibley guide, it would appear that there are both Common Ravens (Corvus corax) and Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) in your neck of the woods. The main distinguishing characteristic is size, size, size: adult crows are roughly 17" from beak to tail, while ravens are 24". Wingspans are about 36" and 54", respectively.
Other identifying characteristics are: a very elongated head & bill on the raven; a wedge-shaped tail on the raven, compared to a fan-shaped on the crow; a shaggy throat on the raven, compared to a smooth one on the crow; and a pronounced “brow” on the raven.
As for the voice, the raven’s voice is described as “Incredibly varied: from low, deep, baritone croaks to high, bell-like and twanging notes. Long, hoarse kraaah; lower, hollow brrrronk; and deep, resonant prruk are typical.” The crow is described as “Call varied; typically the familiar full-voiced hoarse carrr or caaw with great variety of inflection and pitch. Also a rapid, hollow rattle tatatato; sometimes soft call prrrk similar to Common Raven.”
And I should insert here that it was surprisingly fun to write out all those “bird words”.
Ravens are also extremely intelligent (for a bird) and may even use crude tools. You almost never see a raven lying dead on the highway. They’re savvy and smart, with a penchant for french fries and the foil from cigarette packets.
JohnnyLA We have Crows here in the NW. Ravens are solitary. Have you seen fewer that 12 on the power lines? Maybe that’s only if your car is parked under the power line:)
I looked them up in Webster’s New Explorer Desk Encyclopedia It tells me ravens live in “undisturbed areas” Our crows will live in a condo on Alaskan Way, if there is a car to poo on.
Our ravens are relatively solitary although pairs are common and they will congregate around food sources. As I remember crows they often flock. Crows go “caw, caw, caw …” repeatedly and quite rapidly while ravens tend to emit single “aawks” which might be repeated at intervals.
And ravens are noticibly big birds with a large, heavy bill.
I wonder if the Loony Toons confused the hell out of anyone else on this matter. In the cartoon the crows, Heckle and Jeckle are huge. For years I thought crows were bigger than ravens for this reason. Good thing I was eventually set straight
Thanks for the link, Q.E.D. It looks like the easiest way to tell would be to look at their tails. Ravens are larger than crows, but it might be hard to judge size without seeing both at the same time. These birds are roughly a foot or so long.
According to an article I read in National Geographic (January 1999, which I found on their site), saying they’re “extremely intelligent (for a bird)” isn’t quite right - they’re pretty smart for any kind of animal. I remember the story citing an ornithologist who hung a bit of meat from a long perch so the birds couldn’t reach it directly. The crows he tested would bend over to pull up the string and then drop it to (unsuccessfully) try grabbing the meat, while almost every raven he tried would, on the first try, pull up the string, step on it to hold it in place, and get the meat. Track down the article to read about a flock of ravens tormenting a golden eagle so they could steal his lunch.
Heckle and Jeckle are supposed to be magpies, not crows, although except for their white chests they don’t look much like them. (And they were Terrytoons, not Looney Tunes.) Cartoons are generally of limited use as a source of information on natural history.
Some of the things which are definitely crows in my neighborhood (the discussion came up before) are bloody huge. Two things I’m still moderately curious about:
1 - why crows I’ve seen in the western states are so much larger than their eastern counterparts. I’m in the Silicon Valley, and I’ve noticed very large crows in Arizona recently as well.
2 - how come the crows moved in about 2 years after I did? When I first moved in, I would have had to go out into the country to see a crow. Then, crows started showing up all over residential neighborhoods. Now, we have an assortment of them out there sitting on telephone wires and the trees in people’s lawns cawing on most mornings.
Your Encyclopedia is a little misleading. The population of ravens on the California desert has increased because of the increased food supply from people moving into the desert. The ravens scavenge garbage and more people generate more garbage. Dumpsters around here have lots and lots of ravens gathered around them if the lids are left open.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times the increased raven population is a threat to the desert tortoise because the birds are also predators who take the young tortoises.
I heard that at Edwards AFB they send people around to kill the ravens/crows because of the threat to the desert tortoise. The way it was described to me was that the birds were captured in nets or traps, and the person would spray a poison in its face. Supposed to be painless. FWIW, I heard about this aroun 1990. I have seen no documentation to support the story, but I do know that organizations in that area are serious about protecting the endagered tortoises. Killing birds to protect them may be true, or it may not be true.
Yep. I’ve lived in Silcon Valley for quite some time, and it’s only in the last few years that the crows have “come home to roost.” They are smart little buggers, too. You can just tell by the way they look at you.