Common Raven – Knox County, OH

Common Ravens are quite rare in Ohio with only a handful of birds that have occurred in the state.  Breeding happened recently in the far Eastern part of the state in Jefferson County, but I have not heard any positive reports from there for 2010-2011.  In North America, these big, all black corvids are usually found in some of the most remote regions of the Rockies in the West, the Appalachians in the East, Alaska, and much of far Northern Canada.  Common Ravens can also be quite common in pockets West of the Rockies and these days, even in more populated areas.  It’s range is also expanding in the East.  Common Ravens have long been common in the hilliest areas just 50 miles East of the Ohio border in Western Pennsylvania.

A Common Raven has been delighting Ohio birders in Northeast Ohio in Knox County, just West of the little town of Jelloway, OH.   This roughly half way between Cleveland and Columbus and East of I-71.

Knox Co raven locations 3/3/11 (red), 3/6/11 (yellow), 3/7/11 (white)

This raven often takes some time to locate.  Although I’ve seen it 3 times in 3 trips, it’s taken up to 2 hours to find.  How can a bird this big in a known location be so difficult?  haha.  It is almost always in the company of one or more crows.  And often, the crows are attempting to give the raven a hard time, calling incessantly and dive-bombing the raven.  If you see the crows in the tree tops, look below the crows.  I have found this raven at a lower level in the trees than the crows that are bothering it.  This raven is often silent while perched.  I have only heard it in flight.

The common raven is pretty easy to identify when you hear it’s low, gutteral croak.  I have often chuckled at an older field guide that begins it’s description of common raven with “Our largest songbird”.  The croak is very distinctive.  You can listen to an example of the raven’s call at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s  Macauley Library.

Ravens are also pretty easy to I.D. when they are sailing like a red-tailed hawk in the sky.  They circle on warm thermals much as a raptor does.  They’re wedge-shaped tails are a dead give away.  When flapping, the heavier-bodied ravens have a more power flight profile.  If you’re lucky you may notice more of a bend at the raven’s “elbow” giving a swept-back appearance to the primaries.  The wingtips of a raven are also slightly more narrow than that of it’s cousin, the crow.

Knox County Common Raven sailing Photo: Kent Miller

Even though ravens are usually substantially larger than crows, size can still be a little deceptive.  The fact that they are both all black lends to the confusion.  If you’re lucky to see this raven right next to crows, then the size differentiation is quite obvious.  But if there is some separation or the raven is by itself then the identification can become a bit more problematic.

American Crow vs Common Raven photos: wiki/David Hoffman

Click on the photo above to get a full view.  I’ve resized the photos so that the head sizes are roughly the same size (which is not true in real life–it’s only done here for comparison sake).

First, look at the yellow circles around the tips of both bills.  You should be able to see that the raven’s bill tip is more down curved at the very tip than the crow.

Second, look at the red circles around the front of the neck.  Even though the crow’s feathers are a little ruffled, it is quite different than shaggy, unkempt appearance of the common raven.  The raven’s neck appears much thicker than the crows neck.  The raven’s feathers also are shinier (visible in good lighting).

Third, note the cyan-colored circles around the birds’ eyes.  The eye of the raven appears to be proportionately smaller than the eye of the crow.  This is due to large neck and head size of the raven and the huge, heavy beak.  Sometimes the forehead of the raven seems sort of flat and slopes directly into the big, thick beak.  Crows heads often look more rounded with their moderately chunky beaks protruding out about half way down the head.

All of this will seem easier with practice.  So when you travel to places where both American crows and common ravens are easily seen, practice your identification skills on these large black corvids.  Besides, watching both these species can often be immensely entertaining.

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