The common raven (Corvus corax) is a large bird which can be mistaken for the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). Because both birds are black and because some American crows can grow to be quite large, they are often confused. Ravens, however, are one of the largest of all Corvidae — significantly larger than an American crow.
There are several ways to tell the two species apart, here are three:
#1 Beak shape
Underneath the bill of an American crow, the throat feathers are neatly tucked-in close to the neck, but in a common raven there is a noticeable shag of what look like ruffled feathers, loose and off the throat. An American crow has a narrower beak, while a common raven has a noticeably dramatic downward curve on the upper mandible (upper beak) which comes to a point. The nasal bristles (tiny feathers that protrude onto the upper mandible) are also much longer on a common raven.
#2 Tail feathers
The silhouette of an American crow in flight reveals a rounded arrangement of tail feathers. The silhouette of a common raven shows a more wedged looking arrangement, more in the shape of a diamond — wide in the middle and then tapered off at the end.
The call of a common raven is unmistakably different from an American crow. The deep croaking of a common raven is much deeper in sound than an American crow, and lesser known. The two links below will take you to the Macauly Library where you can choose from a number of audio recordings:
Common Raven: Audio
American Crow: Audio
Everything about the common raven is larger, longer, and more amplified than the American crow.
The YouTube video below shows the release of a rehabilitated common raven. It is a good representation of the size of a common raven because the people in the crowd provide a realistic scale:
In this image the raven is on the left and the crow on the right. Note the tail feathers, wings, and size.
The Common raven is a corvid, part of the family Corvidae under the genus Corvus. Corvidae include crows, magpies, jay, and others (Taylor 2014). Under the genus Corvus there are approximately 40 species.
“Family” and “genus” refer to taxonomic ranks. Taxonomic ranks are how scientists categorize organisms/species.
Stay tuned for more information about Corvids!