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I live in Massachusetts, which is part of New England, in the Northeast section of the United States. We have a large number of birds I identify as crows, and only crows. I've heard of ravens, but thought they were mainly found in Europe and other countries in that region of the world.

A friend recently told me that, although there are other species of crows, those I see most frequently are probably called the American Crow. She also said the Common Raven, which looks similar to that crow, lives year-round in a large portion of the United States, including New England.

Now that I know ravens exist here, I'd like to know if I've seen them, or are fortunate enough to have some living in my yard.

In terms of physical characteristics, behavior, diet, or other factors, how can I tell the difference between the American Crow, and the Common Raven that lives in America?

  • Ravens are the ones with the 5ft wingspans. – ShemSeger Jan 16 '17 at 4:56
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    Thanks for posting this question. You can not imagine how many people I know have asked this very question while walking along mountain trails. – Ken Graham Jan 16 '17 at 15:41
  • @ShemSeger If you want to add a few things to the comment about the wingspans, it could be a helpful answer. It's a significant factor which Charlie Brumbaugh didn't mention in his excellent answer. (There are some size descriptions in one of his linked resources, but having as much information as possible visible right here was one of my goals.) I'll leave it up to you. Thanks! – Sue Jan 16 '17 at 16:52
  • @Sue, Ravens are dramatically larger than crows, in fact, they prey on crows. I was going to provide an answer with a picture of a raven eating a crow, but remembered that you're not a fan of that particular aspect of the great outdoors. – ShemSeger Jan 16 '17 at 17:50
  • I live in Alaska. Ravens are what we have instead of pigeons. Ravens are great fun to watch because their behavior is distinctive. These birds are wicked smart and extremely ornery. It's no wonder that they are held sacred by many. This video contains scenes like I've seen dozens of times, a raven harassing the hell out of a bald eagle, and another being a very clever thief: youtube.com/watch?v=3VQLeE4kRy0 – Jolenealaska Oct 20 '18 at 0:17
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According to this article, (How to Tell a Raven From a Crow):

Ravens often travel in pairs, while crows are seen in larger groups. Also, watch the bird’s tail as it flies overhead. The crow’s tail feathers are basically the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, it opens like a fan. Ravens, however, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open.

According to this article (Similar Species: Crows and Ravens):

One of the best ways to tell crows and ravens apart is by their calls.

On this page you can find recordings of what each sounds like.

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    The tail is the most clear and consistent difference to look out for, by far. Size is good, but can be difficult to judge in some circumstances (light, distance, and surroundings all affect our perception of size); and the calls are also consistently different, but both species have quite a large repertoire of calls, so it takes a while to get to know them all. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Jan 17 '17 at 13:07
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    +1 for @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine's comment, but +1 for pairs vs flocks. Both are good ways to tell what's what. The tail is surefire, but the companionship behavior difference is telling at a distance. There are other behavioral differences as well. Size is almost always a poor way to tell bird species apart (unless you happen to see otherwise similar-looking species together). – Drew Sep 16 '17 at 5:29
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The biggest difference between ravens and crows is that ravens average 2 feet long with a 4 ft wingspan, while crows are about 1.5 ft long with a wingspan of 3 feet. These numbers can vary a bit regionally and by individual, but for a casual birder, the size difference along is enough to differentiate them.

The ravens also have a distinctly deeper call, more like a croak. They are rarely seen in large flocks. I've personally only seen them in more than ones and twos around carrion, where they all want to eat.

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Ravens spend a lot of time aloft, and fly steadily and sometimes quite high (also solo or in loose pairs most of the time). They call infrequently "cronk" or "cronk cronk" while airborne. They seem to need a good reason to take off but also to land. When they're perched (which they like to do from a good vantage point), a good look can show shaggy feathers on the throat. Crows are more likely to spend time on the ground, and change course more often, as well as being more willing to take flight.

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