Both crows and ravens are common in the Anza Valley, filling the skies and fields with their calls and antics.
“Crows, ravens and magpies are all part of the Corvidae family of birds,” wildlife enthusiast Dominique Leard Rauton said. “Worldwide there are over 120 different species of Corvids. They are omnivores, but prefer meat over fruits and vegetables. They are scavengers, but will hunt small prey and are among the smartest animals in the world.”
Ravens and crows are often confused for one another, but there are some differences that the observers can use to identify these birds.
Crows have shorter, thinner beaks, and are about 6 inches shorter than ravens. Ravens differ from crows in appearance by their larger bill, tail shape, flight pattern and by their much larger size. The crow is about half the weight of a raven.
Ravens do not thrive in populated urban areas, whereas crows do. Ravens also have wedge-shaped tails and crows have fan-shaped tails.
The vocalizations made by raven are deep, reverberating croaking or “gronk-gronk” sounds. Crows make the familiar “caw-caw-caw,” but both birds have a large range of rattles, clicks and bell-like noises.
Crows and ravens are commonly found in farm fields, forests, grasslands and scrub, with crows thriving in suburban and urban areas as well.
These birds tend to feed in open areas, catching food cooperatively. They eat small animals, grain, fruits, insects, invertebrates and carrion.
Members of the family Corvidae will store excess food, burying it or hiding it in trees or holes. Crows access the stored food when needed.
Ravens and crows make their nests in trees, shrubs and even electric utility poles high above the ground. The female lays three to seven eggs and incubates them for about 18 days, as the male bird feeds her. Both parents tend the young, which fledge and fly in about four to five weeks.
Corvids can communicate warnings, threats, tauntings and cheers. Their alarm calls are used as signals by other species. Crows can also mimic sounds made by other animals.
Crows and ravens will position sentries to oversee the feeding of the group and warn against predators.
“Corvids will sound alarms when a threat is present, such as a human or coyote,” Rauton said. “They are also fierce protectors of their nests and known for driving away birds of prey from what they consider their territory.”
Crows have been observed dropping nuts onto a street and waiting for a car to run them over and crack the shells. They also drop shellfish onto rocks to achieve the same purpose.
A crow in the wild may live six to 10 years, with the longest recorded being 15 years old. Captive birds live longer; one crow in New York, named Tata, is said to have lived for 59 years.
The American crow appears to be the biggest victim of West Nile virus in North America. Birds die within one week of infection, and few survive exposure.
“They are very playful. You’ll often see them doing barrel rolls in flight, simply for fun,” Rauton said.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.