Freak Week: Reclusive Ravens and Cantankerous Crows
Posted On: 10/31/2017 - 10:05am, Posted By: Other
This post guest-authored by Dee Broomhead, current Zoology Intern and student at Northern Kentucky University.
Happy Halloween! Welcome to the final installment of Freak Week.
Ravens and crows have long been recognized as prophetic omens in myths and legends throughout the world. In the beloved Aesop’s Fables of Ancient Greece, the crow and raven often appear as characters used to communicate valuable lessons. In India, “crow augury,” or the practice of predicting the future based on crow calls, became an accepted art in the mid-sixth century. While ravens and crows both have carried important omens to a variety of cultures, these have been neither exclusively negative nor positive. Early English colonists, upon arriving in America adapted one of their rhymes originally dealing with magpies to crows, which were abundant in their new home. The rhyme declares:
“One is for bad news,
Two is for mirth,
Three is a wedding,
Four is a birth,
Five is for riches,
Six is a thief,
Seven is a journey,
Eight is for grief,
Nine is a secret,
Ten is for sorrow,
Eleven is for love,
Twelve is for joy tomorrow.”
In this spooky Halloween season, seeing a crow or raven flying above might invoke an ominous feeling. However, if you too are looking for omens in our frightful feathered friends, it is important to know the difference between the two species.
While crows and ravens have many similarities, both belonging to the family Corvidae, they do have subtle differences. American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) are social creatures, often traveling together in large flocks, especially in winter. Common Ravens (Corvus corax), on the other hand, prefer to travel in solitude or in a pair. Physically, ravens have a “beard,” made up of protruding feathers on their neck area that crows lack, as well as being substantially larger in size.
The difference between ravens and crows has a lot to do with habitat. In this area, you’re most likely to see a crow hanging around in open fields or urban areas. Ravens, which are much more mysterious, do not live here at all, as it is too densely populated. They prefer lurking in dense forests in sparsely populated, wilder places such as the Appalachian Mountains and much of the Western United States. You may also tell them apart by their calls. Ravens make a low croaking sound, while crows let out a short “caw.” If a raven is rapping, rapping at your chamber door, it’s likely to stay longer than a crow. Ravens live around 30 years, while crows only 8.
Here at the Geier Research Center, we have a lot of eyes on us. I’m afraid that the number of crows here has surpassed the knowledge of the old English rhyme, so we’re not sure what to expect!