Wildlife Corner

Great in color, great in black and white, and good to have around, these feathered friends are often mistaken for each other. Crows and ravens are members of the corvid family, a diverse group of birds with 133 species worldwide. Most corvids are medium-sized birds that molt once a year but show remarkable intelligence for their size.

Many people regard corvids as the most intelligent birds in the world. Multiple species have been shown to recognize themselves in mirrors and make and use tools to accomplish tasks. Members of the corvid family have similar brain-to-body mass ratios as non-human great apes and whales. However, compared to their body size, their brain size is only slightly smaller than people’s!

Alaska is home to several corvid species like ravens, crows, magpies, and several kinds of jay. Crows and ravens are commonly seen around campus, but how do you tell the difference? On average, ravens are larger than crows, with longer beaks and a “fluffier” neck area. If they’re flying overhead, crows have fan-shaped tails, and ravens’ tails are more like a wedge. Finally, take a listen! Both birds have a wide variety of vocalizations, and corvids are known to be able to mimic things like sirens or human speech. Ravens like to croak and often make a deep, cluck-like noise. Crows, on the other hand, caw, a common and familiar sound to most of us.

Corvids are essential members of many ecosystems. They are scavengers, sometimes leading predators to food and cleaning up after them. While sometimes they might be loud, watching these birds interact with their environment is a cool and rewarding experience.

A raven prowls the intertidal zone looking for food. PHOTO BY ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

By Mike Flunker, Editor-in-chief, Whalesong

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