Close this search box.

How to Tell Crows from Ravens in Maine

Maine is home to several species of large, smart, loud, occasionally obnoxious, sometimes eerie, endlessly fascinating birds called corvids. Our two species of jay belong to this family, Canada Jay and Blue Jay, as well as three similar-looking black birds: American Crow, Fish Crow, and Common Raven.

Crows and ravens are notoriously difficult to tell apart from one another, but we’re here to help.

Though American Crows are more common than Common Ravens, both species can be found in every county of the state. Fish Crows, on the other hand, are much less common and are generally only found along the coast between Kittery and about Brunswick, and then only in the summer. However, Fish Crows are expanding their range in Maine and have been spotted as far north as Bangor.

Let’s start by learning how to tell American Crow and Fish Crow apart, which is a real challenge because they look nearly identical. Fish Crows average about two inches smaller than American Crows, with a smaller head, longer wings and tail, and shorter legs. However, these physical traits are subtle and difficult to discern in the field. They may be useful when the two species are standing right next to each other (which does not happen often), but otherwise even expert birders have trouble telling one species from another by sight alone.

The only way to reliably distinguish between the two species is to hear them. American Crows give a number of vocalizations, most famously the loud caw so familiar to many Mainers:

American Crows make other sounds, too, including this rattle:

Fish Crows, on the other hand, have a simpler, more nasal tone to their voice. Their call is often a paired “unh-unh,” sounding (to me, anyway) like a kid refusing to eat broccoli. Unh-unh!

The Fish Crow call is sometimes not paired, so listen for the more nasal quality of this sound relative to the rounder, deeper Caw of the American Crow:

So where does the Common Raven fit it?

Ravens are larger than both species of crow in Maine, about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk, but again can be tricky if seeing a bird by itself. Thankfully, there are some helpful features of a raven’s body that make it easier to distinguish. Ravens have larger bills than crows (in fact, American Crow’s name Corvus brachyrhynchos translates to “Short-billed Raven”), and a distinct wedge-shaped tail in flight. Crows have a simple fan-shaped tail.

Ravens also sound different than crows, and have a varied vocal range. They’re often heard giving a loud, low croak!

But also can give a rapid ack!, among other noises.

There are some behavioral differences, too. Ravens are frequently seen soaring with open wings, like eagles or vultures. Crows almost never soar, but instead have short, shallow flaps, that make them look like they are rowing a boat, as they maneuver directly from place to place.

Keep an eye (and ear) out for your local Corvids!