When those ‘Four-and-twenty-Blackbirds’ got baked into that ole pie back into the 18th Century, did anyone question which blackbirds they were referencing? When Edgar Allan Poe dedicated a whole poem to “The Raven” did he make his selection of one bird over the other, because “crow” wouldn't have tripped off the tongue as eloquently?
Blackbirds in general may appear similar in many ways, but if one was to look closer, there are several distinctive traits and features that distinguishes these two species.
How do you tell them apart?
The Common Raven [Corvus corax] and the American Crow [Corvus barachyrhynchos] are found throughout North America. They both belong to the order: Asseriformes and the family: Corvidae, along with jays and magpies.
But size-wise, there is a marked difference between these two high-flyers. Ravens are larger than crows. They are about the size of the Red-tailed Hawk.
Ravens also travel in pairs, while crows are seen more than often in a flock.
Their tail feathers are a give-away as well. A crow’s tail feathers are basically the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, they appear like a fan. Ravens on the other hand, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped, when in flight.
Caws versus Croaks
If you listen closely to these two blackbirds, it will become clear that they basically speak different languages. Crows give a ‘cawing’ sound and ravens delivers a lower croaking vibrato.
The Bird Academy describes it this way: “From the territorial “caw, caw” of the American Crow to the guttural croak of the Common Raven, each species has a repertoire of sounds that helps it survive and thrive.”
Interesting to note, the calls of crows and ravens and are so individually distinctive, that their respective family members and close associates can recognize those they know well . . . even if they are out of sight; i.e. heard but not seen!
Happy Couples vs. Gang Bangers
In this video, titled: “Ravens vs Crows, they’re different!” the videographer details some additional differences between ravens and crows based on where and how they live.
There is also a somewhat comical assessment some birdwatchers have determined as a major difference between these two blackbirds: “Ravens are are like the mid-western married couple that buy a farm, raise their kids and live and work it as a married couple for life. Crows? Well, crows are more like inter-city gang bangers!”
The only question that theory poses for me: If ravens are the more domesticated of the two species, why did Edgar Allan Poe depict the raven as a sinister harbinger of news? Perhaps, like the character in the poem who was pining for the lost of Lenore, the raven also lost his mate, and his pronouncement of "nevermore" was an empathetic understanding of the joint sadness he and the lonely man were experiencing?
Your thoughts fellow birds of a feather? What differences have you been able to discern?