Fall has arrived! Can you feel it in the air? The mornings are cooler, festivals are happening, Halloween displays are up in stores, and pumpkin spice is on the menu. As time draws us closer to Halloween night, magic and mystery grows restless. But haunting does not only lurk at night. The daylight hours hold black shadows that fly through the sky, dark figures that dance on the wind.
Ravens and crows! Two beautiful back, incredibly intelligent birds with nearly identical features make it challenging to tell them apart. So how do you tell them apart?
Let’s start with size: Ravens are big, about the size of a red tail hawk. They like to hang out in pairs. Crows are much smaller, about the size of a pigeon. They are very social and like to be in larger groups.
In the air: Like a witch on her broomstick, ravens love to ride the thermals and soar from place to place. Ravens have long middle tail feathers, which give their tail a wedge-like shape. Crows are flappers and pump those wings to get around. Their tail feathers are similar in size giving their tail a fan-like shape when opened.
On the ground: Ravens like to do an interesting walk/hop. It looks kind of like skipping, but without alternating legs. Crows walk around just like normal birds, but perhaps with a bit more attitude, dare I say, a strut.
Vocalizations: Ravens are larger, so it makes sense that their call is deeper, kind of like a “gonk-gonk”. Their large bill has a slight curve to it, so the top is slightly longer than the bottom. The feathers on their necks tend to be a bit disheveled. Crows however are chatterboxes. They have a higher pitched “caw-caw” call that comes from their smaller, less powerful bill, that is the same size top and bottom. The feathers on their necks are just like Morticia Addams’ hair, long black and sleek.
Location: Both birds can be found throughout Tucson, however each has their own area that they prefer. Ravens are more cautious around people. They enjoy less populated areas. If you trick-or-treat in Vail, it’s likely ravens that you’ll see. Crows on the other hand can thrive in populated areas and are highly adaptable in cities. If you spend your Halloween downtown on Congress, the crows will be watching.
Both birds are exceptionally intelligent. Both display tool use and advanced problem solving abilities, though ravens might have a slight edge. Scientists have observed ravens using deception and intentionally trying to mislead other ravens to protect their food caches. Ravens also score equivalently to great apes and young humans on cognitive tests. However, when it comes to tool use, crows take it to the next level. Crows will alter and redesign objects to fit their specific needs. So, instead of just using a stick to reach something, they will go as far as removing the bark and bending the stick. Oftentimes having a tool with a slight curve or a hook increases the odds of the crow achieving their goal.
I hope October brings you plenty of Halloween magic leading up to the big night. That distant howl, was it a coyote or a werewolf? The pungent zombie-like smell near the wash, it’s just a javelina, right? And the silent shadow that just flew overheard, well, I’ll let you be the judge. Happy Halloween everyone!