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Blackbird vs Crow vs Raven – Three Black Birds & Their Similarities

Blackbird vs Crow vs Raven – Three Black Birds & Their Similarities

Black birds might not be so pretty, but it’s still worth learning about them. Go outside, and it doesn’t take long to hear the “caw” of a crow or see one fly overhead.

Blackbirds forage on the lawn, and in some places, we also see hawk-sized Ravens soaring in the sky!

These birds are common, but some look pretty similar. In general, crows are hefty birds with broad wings and a squared tail, while ravens are bigger and have a wedge-shaped tail. Blackbirds are smaller, have longer tails and are in a different avian family.

How else can we recognize these common birds? How are they similar, and how do they differ from each other?

See answers about the differences between blackbirds, crows, and ravens in this article!

 

Body & Shape

Blackbirds, crows, and ravens have similar, glossy black plumage, but they don’t have the same shape. There are several common blackbird species with entirely black plumage, but compared to crows and ravens, they have longer tails, smaller beaks, colored eyes, and aren’t as bulky.

Brewer’s Blackbirds

Brewer’s Blackbird

For example, grackles have long, wedge-shaped tails and pale eyes, and Brewer’s and Rusty Blackbirds also have pale eyes as well as slender beaks. Cowbirds are blackbird species too, but have finch-like beaks, and, depending on the species, can have brown heads or reddish eyes.

Related: Blackbird vs Crow

Blackbirds also have narrower wings, but their legs are pretty similar.

American Crow

American Crow

Crows and ravens are bulkier, heavier and with much broader wings and tails than blackbirds. Compared to the sharp, pointed bills of blackbirds, they also have much stouter beaks. Both crows and ravens also have feathers that extend onto part of the top of their bills.

Common Raven

Common Raven

As far as separating crows and ravens from each other, these members of the Corvid family are pretty similar. However, with a close look, we can tell them apart. In addition to the difference in tail shape (squared for crows, wedge-shaped for ravens), ravens have longer, more pointed wings, a longer beak, and shaggy feathers on their throat.

 

Blackbird vs Crow vs Raven – Size

Size is one of the main differences between blackbirds, crows, and ravens. Most blackbirds are rather similar in size to American Robins and range from 9 to 12.5 inches long. However, the biggest blackbird in North America, the Great-tailed Grackle, can be 18 inches, as long as a crow.

Even so, crows are still larger, heavier birds than big grackles. While a Great-tailed Grackle can weigh 7 ounces, American Crows are one pound, and Fish Crows weigh 10 ounces.

Other blackbird species are much lighter, with Brewer’s Blackbirds weighing 2.1 ounces, and Common Grackles being 4 ounces.

Related: Are blackbirds good or bad omens?

In terms of length, American Crows average 17.5 inches long, while smaller Fish Crows are 15 inches. Their three-foot wingspans are also much bigger than the 15 to 23-inch wingspans of blackbirds.

However, all of these birds are dwarfed by the Common Raven. This huge bird is two feet long, has a wingspan longer than four feet, and weighs 2.6 pounds!

 

Speed

None of these birds are particularly fast flyers. Compared to other types of birds, blackbirds, crows, and ravens have pretty average flight speeds. Blackbird species like Common Grackles and Brewer’s Blackbirds usually fly around 20 to 30 miles per hour. However, when migrating with a tailwind or fleeing from a predator, they can reach speeds of 40 or even 50 miles per hour.

Crows have similar flight speeds. As they move around in search of food, they do a lot of flying, but usually at a steady pace of 20 to 30 miles per hour. However, like most birds, they can move much faster in an emergency. When crows flee from or chase a predator, they can move as fast as 50 miles per hour and even quicker when diving.

American Crow

American Crow in flight – smaller than a raven

Ravens have more acrobatic flight than blackbirds and crows, but they don’t usually fly as fast.  They can use their long wings to soar and swoop through the air, but when flying in a straight line, they usually have a steady speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour. On occasion, they can dive at higher speeds, but the fastest known speed for a Raven is 40 miles per hour.

 

Age

As with all birds, blackbirds, crows, and ravens live longer in captivity. A fair percentage also die in their first year of life. If they can survive past that first year, they can live much longer.

Brewer’s Blackbirds can live to be at least 12 years in the wild, although most might live to be anywhere from 7 to 10 years old. Common Grackles could have longer lifespans. Although limited data make it difficult to know they live on average, the oldest known bird was 22 years old.

With that in mind, a lot of Common Grackles probably live to be at least 12 or even 15. American Crows are capable of living much longer lives but many die from disease or predators and only live to be 7 or 8. However, some wild crows have lived to be 15 or even 30 years. We know they can potentially live much longer because the oldest crow in captivity was more than 50 years old!

The oldest wild bird was 17, and they may only live for 10 to 15 years on average. However, in captivity, there are reports of birds that lived for 70 years!

 

Blackbird vs Crow vs Raven – Behavior

Blackbirds, crows, and ravens are all very social birds rarely seen on their own. For the most part, they are also fairly bold and conspicuous birds. Most North American species are pretty easy to see and not too afraid of people.

Blackbirds can form huge flocks, especially in migration and winter when species like the Brewer’s Blackbird and Common Grackle feed in farm fields. In such places, it’s not uncommon to see several thousand birds flocking together!

Two ravens

Ravens do not typically group together but might be seen in pairs or looser groups

Crows can also form big flocks, but smaller groups of ten to a few dozen birds are typical. Common Ravens are occasionally seen in small flocks, especially when feeding on carrion in the winter. However, they usually occur in pairs that forage together over a large area.

All of these birds are also quite vocal and often heard before they are seen. This is especially true for crows and ravens. Indeed, I almost always hear cawing crows and croaking ravens well before laying eyes on them.

These bold birds can also be aggressive, but more to other birds than to people. They often harass and fly at predators, especially crows and ravens. This can include cats and dogs that venture too close to their nests.

 

Diet

This group of birds are omnivores that eat some similar foods, but ravens are more predatory. Blackbirds feed on a variety of insects and other small creatures as well as grain. They pick most of their food from the ground as they walk in fields and other open habitats.

Related: What do birds eat?

As they move along, the birds watch for food and use their beak to move vegetation and dirt clods to reveal prey. Unlike most other birds, blackbirds also find food by sticking their beak into plants and the ground and then opening it.

Red-winged Blackbird with a snack

Red-winged Blackbird with a snack. Blackbirds rely heavily on insects, while crows and ravens have a more varied diet, eating pretty much everything.

However, on occasion, grackles and some other blackbird species can also attack and eat the eggs and nestlings of other birds.

Crows also forage for insects and grain, and are regular nest predators, but feed on a wider variety of food items. These adaptable birds also eat nuts, mice and other small animals, and can feed on carrion and garbage.

Related: What do crows like to eat?

Ravens eat some of the same food items as blackbirds and crows but tend to eat larger things. They also eat more carrion and are more carnivorous. For example, pairs of ravens often work together to attack bird nests and can catch a variety of small animals!

 

Blackbird vs Crow Vs Raven: Locations

At least one species of blackbird, crow, or raven lives in some parts of North America. Most blackbird species occur in open and semi-open habitats like grasslands, marshes, and urban parks. The main exception is the Rusty Blackbird, a forest species that prefers wooded swamps and breeds in the boreal zone.

Each region usually has a different common blackbird species. We see Brewer’s Blackbirds in western North America, Common Grackles from the Rocky Mountains to the eastern coast, and Great-tailed Grackles from California and Texas north to Iowa. In coastal eastern salt marshes and Florida, we also find Boat-tailed Grackles.

American Crows occur in woodlands, semi-open habitats, and towns in much of Canada, and in the lower 48 states except for hot, arid regions. We can see them in all sorts of places, including parks and urban areas.

In the eastern USA, we also see Fish Crows along rivers and other wetland habitats.

Common Ravens can also live near people, but they usually prefer wilder places. We find this hardy bird in forests, mountains, deserts, and tundra in Alaska, the western USA, and parts of the Appalachians and northeastern states. They also live in much of Canada, even in Arctic regions!

 

Nest & Eggs

Blackbirds, crows, and ravens build bulky nests out of sticks, twigs, and other plant matter. Blackbird nests are smaller, often built rather close to the ground, and can be lined with horse hair.

Brewer's Blackbird eggs

Brewer’s Blackbird’s eggs. Meanwhile grackles have more greenish eggs, which look similar to crow and raven eggs.

The female blackbird makes the nest and lays one to seven pale blue, pale gray, or brown eggs with dark purple markings. They are 1.2 inches long and 0.9 inches wide, and she incubates them for two weeks. After hatching, the nestlings stay in the nest for two weeks more.

American Crows make a big, bulky nest, usually high in a conifer. Both sexes make the nest, but the female incubates the eggs. Her 3 to 9 olive green eggs with dark blotches are 1.6 inches long and 1.1 inches wide.

American Crow Nest and Eggs

American crow nest and eggs

After 17 days, the eggs hatch, and the babies stay in the nest for 20 to 40 more days.

Common Ravens build big, bulky nests that can measure five feet across and two feet high. The female raven builds the nest on a cliff, structure, or tall tree and lays 3 to 7 greenish eggs with dark mottling. She incubates the two-inch long, 1.4-inch wide eggs for three weeks, and the baby ravens stay in the nest for 28 to 50 days more.

 

Blackbird vs Crow vs Raven: FAQ’s

What’s bigger crow or raven or blackbird?

Ravens are bigger than crows and blackbirds.

How do you tell a raven from a blackbird?

You tell a raven from a blackbird by its much larger, hawk-like size, and bigger, stouter beak.

Which is more aggressive crow or raven?

Crows are more aggressive than ravens. Flocks of crows often gang up on and harass owls and other predators.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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