What's the Difference Between Ravens and Crows?

One is larger, smarter, and perhaps more vocally complex than the other.

Close-up of raven sitting on a rock looking to the side
Raven photographed in Bryce Canyon, Utah.

Norbert Kurzka Photography / Getty Images

If you see an all-black bird soaring overhead, it's likely a crow or a raven. Which of the two classes of corvid it belongs to, however, can feel like anyone's guess to a beginner birder. Even plugging the sighting into Merlin Bird ID, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's beloved and dependable app, can stump the system. It takes a trained human eye to decipher a crow from a raven.

Here's a rundown of the two conspicuous, lookalike birds and how to identify one when you hear its raucous calls in your neighborhood.

Key Differences

  • Size: Ravens' wingspans can be up to a foot longer than crows'.
  • Range: The American crow can be found all over U.S. The common raven, however, is more often found in the Western United States and Canada, and are sparsely found in the Appalachian Mountains and Northeastern United States.
  • Beak: Ravens have a larger, curvier beak with more pronounced feathers at their base.
  • Vocalizations: Crows are well-known for their versatile caws whereas ravens' vocalizations vary from low-pitched croaks to high-pitched screams.

Raven and Crow Classification

Ravens and crows are both corvids, of the family Corvidae and the genus Corvus. They share that genus with the lesser-known Palearctic rook. The name "Corvus" itself is Latin for "crow," and so "crow" is a term colloquially used to describe the entire genus.

The IUCN has assessed 44 described Corvus species, including 32 with the common name "crow" and nine with the common name "raven." The best-known species in North America are the common raven (Corvus corax) and American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

Corvids can be found all over the world except South America and Antarctica. The American crow can be found all throughout the U.S. and Canada whereas the common raven occurs more frequently in the Western U.S. and parts of the upper Midwest and Maine, throughout Canada, and into Mexico. Sparser raven populations are are found in the Appalachian Mountains and in Northeastern U.S. States. The common raven is more widespread globally than the American crow.

Characteristics of Ravens vs. Crows

Crow on the ground with mouth open
A crow cawing.

Stan Tekiela Author / Naturalist / Wildlife Photographer / Getty Images

If you're in an area where both ravens and crows are common, the easiest way to tell them apart—at least from afar—is by the size. Ravens are generally larger—about the size of a red-tailed hawk, the National Audubon Society says. An adult common raven's wingspan is about 3.8 feet whereas the American crow's wingspan is about 2.8 to 3.3 feet.

If you're able to get a closer look, you'll also notice differences in their beaks. A raven's beak is larger and curvier with longer bristles at the base than crows have. The curved shape reflects the power of the beak, needed for the raven's preferred diet of carrion; crows, by contrast, are mostly herbivorous and eat carrion only on occasion. The National Audubon Society notes that ravens have shaggier throat feathers, as well.

Those clued into the crow's characteristic caw might be taken aback by the common raven's low-pitched gurgling croaks and grunts, plus its tendency to "scream bloody murder." Research has shown that these screams are likely used to attract other ravens to a food site when the food is difficult to access.

Conservation Status

Two ravens perched on railing overlooking busy pedestrian street
Two ravens perched on a railing.

Keren Sequeira / EyeEm / Getty Images

Of the 44 Corvus species assessed by the IUCN, only one is endangered, two are vulnerable, three are near threatened, and 35—including the American crow and common raven—are of least concern. In fact, 29 of the 44 species are stable or increasing in population. This is not the case for most other animals attempting to weather the ever-evolving, ever-worsening climate crisis, so why are crows and ravens doing so seemingly well?

Rather than human development pushing the birds out—what happens with many other species—humans are actually drawing these opportunistic feeders in with trash and all sorts of easy food sources. This has created what Audubon has called an "ecological nightmare" in Southern California and the Great Basin region, where raven populations have risen by 700% over the past 40 years. Now, those ravens are wreaking havoc on other at-risk species.

Likewise, crow populations seem to be increasing in response to urbanization. They prefer to breed, feed, and live amongst humans, and they require very little space, which cities can accommodate.

The one glaring exception to this finding is the endangered Flores crow (Corvus florensis) of Indonesia. Described as a forest-dependent bird, this species is actively threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation; it contained as few as 600 mature individuals in 2016, the time of the last assessment.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Are ravens technically crows?

    Although ravens belong to the genus Corvus, which is commonly called the "crow genus," the two are biologically different. These differences manifest most observably in their size, beaks, feathers, and calls.

  • Which is smarter, a crow or raven?

    Ravens and crows are known to be some of the smartest animals on Earth, but ravens are slightly more intelligent. Their smarts show through their problem-solving, resourcefulness, communication (including seven calls and an ability to imitate other birds' vocalizations), and their tendency to pre-plan tasks. Crows, on the other hand, have an uncanny ability to memorize the faces of humans they deem dangerous.

  • Do crows and ravens get along?

    Crows and ravens have actually been known to attack each other because the two compete for food and space, and often they will nick eggs from one another's nests. Strangely, considering the size of ravens compared to their smaller counterparts, crows are most often the instigators.

Correction—September 6, 2022: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the range of the common Raven.

View Article Sources
  1. "Corvus". International Union for Conservation of Nature.

  2. "Common Raven Identification". The Cornell Lab.

  3. "How to Tell a Raven From a Crow". National Audubon Society.

  4. "American Crow Identification". The Cornell Lab.

  5. "How to Tell a Raven From a Crow". National Audubon Society.

  6. Boeckle, Markus et al. "Who Wants Food? Individual Characteristics In Raven Yells". Animal Behaviour, vol 84, no. 5, 2012, pp. 1123-1130. Elsevier BV, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.08.011

  7. "The Common Raven Boom in the Rugged West Isn't Necessarily a Good Thing". National Audubon Society. 2017.

  8. BirdLife International. "Corvus florensis (amended version of 2016 assessment)". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22705956A110289015. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22705956A110289015.en

  9. Cornell, Heather N. et al. "Social Learning Spreads Knowledge About Dangerous Humans Among American Crows". Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol 279, no. 1728, 2011, pp. 499-508. The Royal Society, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2011.0957

  10. Freeman, Benjamin G., and Eliot T. Miller. "Why Do Crows Attack Ravens? The Roles Of Predation Threat, Resource Competition, And Social Behavior". The Auk, vol 135, no. 4, 2018, pp. 857-867. Oxford University Press (OUP), https://doi.org/10.1642/auk-18-36.1