Shaggy raven, or sociable crow?



Is it a crow or is it a raven?

Often I am asked this question. How do you tell which is which?

I got phone call this past week from someone asking me to please help her tell one from other. I’ll try to help.

Both birds are commonly seen in the skies over Mount Desert Island year-round.

Both are black but the raven is quite a bit larger. If seen together this is quite obvious. But if you see one singly flying overhead or sitting in a tree the size is not so obvious and you need some other differences to identify the bird.

Look at the tail and try to determine whether it is fan-shaped (crow) or wedge-shaped (raven). Look for shaggy feathers at the throat of the raven. The crow does not have shaggy feathers.

If two birds are sitting not too far apart it is the raven that is much larger.

The voice off the crow is definitely a “Caw Caw,” while the voice of a raven is more of a guttural croak.

Crows are often with other crows. Ravens may be seen more often singly or in pairs.

Ravens are more often seen in rural areas; crows commonly appear in towns cities and anywhere they can find trash and possible food.

Both may be seen along the shore where possible food has washed in.

Once in awhile I have seen crows, a raven or two, gulls and an eagle all eating on a dead seal washed up on the beach.

In this situation the eagle is ‘king’ and the other birds wait for their chance to grab some of the food when they can.

The proper protocol for different-sized birds while eating with big birds is large birds first and smaller ones after that. The smaller birds grab whatever they can safely manage.

I was watching a group of birds eating on a seal carcass on the mud in Southwest Harbor one spring that even had blue jays and smaller birds grabbing small bites whenever they safely could. The death of the seal fed many creatures that day.

Not a scrap is wasted!

If you are watching crows and ravens with your binoculars you’ll be able to see the more subtle differences in feather colors on both crows and ravens. Crows have slight shades of blue and purple in their wing feathers. Ravens have fluffy neck feathers. Crows do not have fluffy neck feathers.

Crows also fly about in small groups. Ravens, especially on this island, do not usually do this.

When I was in Labrador this past fall I noticed that the behavior of crows and ravens we quite different than here on our island. The ravens there were much more dominant.

A good time for comparing crows and ravens is very early in the morning when they all have found a dead deer on the highway at first light. Then you can really see the size difference.

Winter is officially declared on Dec. 21st but most of know very well it is here already. Snow, ice and very cold temperatures have declared it so. There is still much to see in the out-of-doors or even from inside your own house.

A friend just off-island had a beautiful bobcat feeding not far from his house. house and he could comfortably watch from inside.

Bobcats are handsome mammals and they are seen occasionally here on MDI. As these mammals search for food in the winter you may get to see one some day or night along the road or near your home. Normally bobcats are solitary and elusive, so consider it a lucky event to see one anywhere.

They are active year round. Their method of hunting is to stealthily creep along out of sight from the cover of bushes and undergrowth and then pounce on their victim.

One of my friends living in Ellsworth saw one at his feeder trying to catch a grey squirrel. My friend got some wonderful pictures of the event. Bobcats can also climb trees to get away from dogs. Another friend in Northeast Harbor saw one passing by her house along the shore.

My best sighting of this interesting cat was just outside of Ellsworth late one night. The bobcat crossed the road and then just sat down in the ditch and watched me go by. Such sightings come when you least expect. Be ready.

In spite of the cold and snow, local partridges (ruffed grouse) search for any wild berries and fruit they can find. This food is a welcome addition to their winter menu. Birch and alder thickets are good places to search for pine siskins and redpolls. Many hungry birds use the mullein stalks now tall above the snow. Leave the mullein stalks and think of them as beautiful candlesticks for the birds.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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