Differentiating Common Ravens from American Crows can be a challenge—especially if you can’t hear a vocalization. Ravens are typically about half again as long, beak to tail, as a crow—24″ vs. 18″. Ravens also weigh nearly twice as much as crows do—2.5 lbs.—giving them a much more massive look. You can see a nice comparison between these 2 species here. (If only we could always see a crow beside a raven, the ID would be a snap.) Ravens also have a wedge-shaped tail, most easily seen when soaring, while a crow’s tail terminates in a more straight line. (Click here to see the wedge-shaped raven tail.) Also, ravens are much more likely to be spotted doing all sorts of acrobatic dives and rolls—sometimes half-rolls onto their back and even full rolls or even doubles. Often, it looks as if they’re just playing in mid-air, using the wind to their whims as if they were freestyle snowboarders pulling 360s and 720s. They can be a real pleasure to watch, if you’re so lucky.
Another corvid that can sometimes appear in Colorado is the Chihuahuan Raven, which looks very much like a Common Raven. However, the Chihuahuan Raven is more crow-like in size and shape, at roughly 20″ beak to tail and weighing about half of what a Common Raven does. If you’re lucky and are looking at the bird during a stiff wind, you might be able to see the diagnostic white bases of feathers on the neck of a Chihuahuan Raven—but don’t count on it. (The Chihuahuan Raven was once called White-necked Raven; click here to see a glimpse of the white bases of the feathers.) Lucky for us, Chihuahuan Ravens rarely venture into the mountains, staying instead on the grassy plains of eastern Colorado, when they appear at all.
Voice, though, will clinch the deal nearly every time. Click here for a sampler of the most common calls of a raven. (Scroll down to the section called “typical voice.”) For comparison purposes, click here to hear calls of an American Crow.
Young ravens can be identified in several ways. Their tail feathers and flight feathers tend to be a duller brown, rather than the glossy black of the adults, until their 2nd year. Even more striking, nestling ravens have striking blue eyes, in contrast to the deep brown/black eyes of the adults. (Click here for a stunning photo of a young raven near fledging age.) After fledging, the eyes turn more gray and don’t become completely dark brown until their 2nd year.