During the past weekend, a friend spotted a black bird then stated that we sure do have “crows that are almost dog-sized.” You’ve probably guessed correctly that it was actually a raven. You may already know that one can tell the difference by checking the shape made by the tail feathers. The Common Raven (Corvus corax) has a wedged or diamond-shaped tail. The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) has a shorter, fan-like tail.
Here are some other facts about these two members of the Corvus genus:
- A group of crows is called a “murder of crows” and a flock of ravens is called an “unkindness of ravens.” The origins of these terms are unknown. However, some believe that during the 19th century, people thought that ravens were not attentive bird parents. Some sources suggest that both crows and ravens were often equated with bad omens in mythology. For the crows, the name may also be associated with their habit of feeding on carrion. Practically, these terms are not used. Both groups are generally called a flock.
- Ravens, despite their reputation for unkindness, show empathy when their friends have suffered a loss. This is known as bystander affiliation. Studies suggest that the worse the aggression experienced, the greater the supportive response if there is already an established relationship between the ravens.
- American Crows also have a kinder side. They seem to have a sort of recognition of their dead. There are expressive vocalizations. Some folks conclude that this is a “funeral” response. A more scientific perspective suggests that they may be spreading an alert to avoid further dangers. It is difficult to accurately interpret the behavior without stepping into the realm of speculation.
Perhaps both the crows and the ravens have been harshly judged and need to be reconsidered with a more sympathetic perspective. Anyone for renaming the collection of crows as a “hug of ravens?” How about a “choir of crows?”
More info about collective names of bird/animal groups — An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes, published by Michael O’Mara in September, 2014
Study confirming raven bystander affiliation — https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0010605
Research into crows’ response to death of own kind — https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/bitstream/handle/1773/43065/Swift_washington_0250E_19314.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y