Posted by Beth Anne Quinlan, PhD Avian Sciences on 5/16/2020 to Wild Birds
What is that black bird? Is it a blackbird, a crow, or a raven? Wait, you mean crows and ravens aren’t blackbirds? Correct. Crows, ravens, and blackbirds are all members of the same order, but crows and ravens are in a different family than are blackbirds. To make things more confusing, not all blackbirds are black.
The blackbird family includes the Red-Winged Blackbird, Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Brown-Headed Cowbird, Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Orioles, Grackles, and other birds with “blackbird” in their name. Most North American blackbirds are 7-11 inches in length with males of the larger grackles measuring as much as 18-1/2 inches long. The majority of blackbirds are sexually dimorphic with the males exhibiting deeper, more brilliant colors. The rusty blackbird is one of the most rapidly-declining species in North America. Blackbirds prefer to dine on insects, small fruits, seeds, and small aquatic life. The Yellow-Headed Blackbird will eat a variety of seeds, including sunflower seeds, from backyard feeders. Red-Wing Blackbirds prefer to dine on seed scattered on the ground.
Crows and ravens are in the same family. Most North American crows are 16-21 inches in length while most ravens are larger, 19-27 inches. The best way to tell a crow from a raven is by listing to his vocalization. Crows say “caw, caw” while ravens produce a croaking and/or rattling sound. Ravens tend to travel alone or in pairs while crows live in larger groups known as morgues. Crows have a rounded or squared-off tail; ravens have a wedge-shaped tail which is more obvious during flight. Crows are smaller than ravens and have a smaller bill. Both ravens and crows are entirely black, including their feet and beaks. Crows tend to be more aggressive and will even chase away larger birds including hawks, owls, and herons. Both crows and ravens are omnivores and will eat just about anything from suet to peanuts to seeds. Both will eat from either platform feeders or from the ground.
The next time you see a black bird flying overhead or feasting at your feeders, you’ll be able to tell if it is a blackbird, crow, or raven!