While Common Ravens and American Crows overlap widely in North America, it’s a fun activity when you see a black bird flying overhead, to try to distinguish which one of these it actually is. While these black birds belong to the same family, the Corvidae Family, there are several distinctive traits that set them apart from one another. These distinctive traits range from the physical to the metaphysical.
Ravens are larger and can be about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. In fact, the Sioux Nation refers to them as “hawk that comes to you walking.”
Look for ravens foraging in pairs. A group of ravens are referred to as a rave, a treachery or a conspiracy! Crows are highly sociable and will hang out in “murders”. A group of crows is also referred to as a congress.
When flying overhead, try to examine the tail. The crow’s tail feathers are basically the same length, so when its tail is spread, it opens like a fan. Ravens have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open.
Crows do more flapping in flight and row through the air. The ravens ride thermals and soar.
Their voices, too, are different with the crow “cawing” and “purring”, and the raven “croaking” and screaming. Ravens strut with a few two-footed hops that are unique to them.
If you are lucky enough to view them up close, there are a couple of other distinctions. Ravens have bigger, curvier beaks with shaggier throat feathers. The bristles at the base of the raven’s beak are noticeably longer.
The Corvidae Family includes about 120 species worldwide. About one-third of the family is our familiar crows, ravens, nutcrackers, magpies and jays. They are highly intelligent birds. Scientists have discovered that corvids do not forget threats or harm done to one of their own. They recognize our faces and any harm done to them. They will form mobs and dive bomb the perpetrator of the crime.
They recognize themselves in the mirror. This is a trait they share with dolphins, some apes, and Asian elephants.
Corvids love to play pranks on humans and other animals. Corvids use their intelligence and ability to mimic sounds for their own personal amusement. One zookeeper noted that magpies would mimic the voice of the employee responsible for feeding the chickens. The chickens would come running, but there would be no food.
In Native American mythology, Crow is the keeper of sacred law. Crow can bend the laws of the physical universe and shape shift which can take the form of being in two places at one time consciously or taking on another physical form. All sacred texts are under the protection of Crow. Some Native American texts are bound in crow feathers.
Raven carries the medicine of magic. Raven magic is a powerful medicine that can give you the courage to enter the darkness of the Void, the home of all that is not yet in form. Raven has to do with a change in your consciousness.
Often on windy days ravens are one of the few species that is out flying in strong winds-winds that keep us indoors. Most of us say we hate windy days. We fight it. Wind puts us in a state of struggle, tension, upset and anxiety. Watch raven the next time you see one in the wind. They do not fly against the wind; they fly in the wind. They fly in place when needed, and in the break between gusts, they ride the currents. They fly differently on windy days than on calm days. What if we learned from that? In these challenging times, perhaps we, too, need to learn to fly differently. Our old ways of being, doing and thinking aren’t so useful now. Adapting and shifting without struggle can allow us to travel in a new way.
While crows and ravens can be pesky to some, know that behind our reaction to them, lies deeper truths and meanings that can assist us in reading the signs occurring in our everyday lives. The next time one flies overhead, know that it’s not “just a raven” or “just a crow”, but a magical, intelligent being we share the planet with and can learn from.
Contributed by: Rita Faruki, NAAS Member