Wednesday, December 17, 2008
New River Wish List, Post #2: Common Raven
In which I continue my series of posts potential lifers (for me, anyway) I might see in Virginia at the New River Bird and Nature Festival in April 2009. Much of the Flock will be staying the entire week of the festival; I will do only the second half of the week, arriving on Wednesday night in time for dinner, then birding Thursday through Sunday morning.
It’s likely that I’ve already seen many ravens up here in PA, but I never learned to tell them from plain old American Crows before now. I’ll frame my ID tips in terms of telling a raven from a crow.
The first ID clue is that ravens are much larger than crows, a fact that right away frightens the bejeesus out of me. I didn’t grow up with crows in South Texas; we had grackles, which are much smaller and aren’t nearly as bloodthirsty as the crows I’ve seen here. (Remember when that crow ate the starling's head?) The Common or Northern Raven is 22–27 inches from beak to tail—like a small cropdusting plane—while an American Crow is “only” 17–21 inches. Cornell describes the raven as “the largest of the songbirds.” *shudder*
Raven on top, crow on bottom (all photos shameless stolen from other sites which I am too lazy to go back and get the links for)--
The raven’s call is also distinct from that of the crow. Ravens make what Peterson calls a “croaking cr-r-ruck or prruk” or “a metallic tok” as opposed to the loud and clear "caw" of the American Crow. While I’m at it, I’ll add that a Fish Crow’s call is a “short nasal car or ca.” (Like it’s an American Crow hailing from Bah-ston?) You can hear the raven, the crow, and the fish crow at Cornell’s site.
Ravens, according to Peterson, tend not to congregate in the huge (and poopie-stinky) groups that crows do. (I suppose that’s why Edgar Allen Poe quoted but one raven telling him “Nevermore” as opposed to a whole bunch of crows screaming "caw" at him.) So I guess I won’t have much luck if I look for murders of crows and try to spot the bigger ones as ravens. Still, there are other differences.
When they are perched, ravens have what Peterson refers to as a “goiter” look on their necks, with “shaggy throat feathers” that pooch out a bit. Crows are sleeker in the neck area. Ravens also have slightly chunkier beaks than crows.
Perhaps the easiest way to tell a crow from a raven is during flight. The crow’s tail is squared across, while the raven’s is wedge-shaped. (A Fish Crow’s is also squared across.)
Again, raven on top (with distinctly curved-across tail), crow on bottom (with squared-off tail)--
Further, ravens fly in more of a hawklike manner, flapping and gliding on flat wings; crows hold their wings in a slight dihedral, almost like a turkey vulture (though not as pronounced of a “V”). Most all the crows I’ve seen pretty much flap all the time and rarely glide, but maybe they’re just all in a big hurry to go eat another starling.
I happened upon another page that discusses the differences between crows and ravens here.
Next time, we’ll look at a smaller songbird: the Blue-winged Warbler, a pair of which our host Dave Pollard guaranteed we'd see outside the Farmhouse in which much of the Flock will be staying at New River. Until then, I'm hoping to go birding this Sunday morning with Gretchen, my new birding pal Cari and her boyfriend, and perhaps Laurie--all of which (with the exception of the boyfriend) you can see and read about here on my curse-filled political bloggy.