Crows and Ravens

Crows and ravens are quite similar and quite different. Both are extremely intelligent birds — they have been known to use tools! Crows tend to like urban settings whereas ravens prefer more natural settings. Ravens weigh about four times more than crows and have a wingspan of almost 4 feet versus 2.5 for the crow. Crows caw whereas ravens tend to croak! Tail feathers in flight are more diamond-shaped for a raven, with a slight point, whereas for a crow the configuration of the tail feathers is more of a fan-shape: more rounded or even flat at the tip of the tail. The beaks of ravens are much more robust than that of crows. And, ravens have more vocal ability: a friend today told me that all was quiet as he was taking photos of ravens, and then the ravens began mimicking the click of his camera!!  Both are raptors, which means they do eat prey among other things. They eat rodents, carrion, berries, refuse. They are scavengers. These birds will sometimes work as a team: two are more effective than one.  So, for instance, I often see crows pursuing and attacking a red-tail hawk. A red-tail hawk is a larger bird, but the crows work in pairs or even more — their advantage in such a situation is that there are more of them. I don’t think a red-tail has ever really been “hurt” by these attacks. Rather, the crows are driving the hawks away from their main haunts — they are protecting their territorial hunting areas from competition. Maybe they are also protecting their young ones and eggs. The birds depicted on this posting are ravens.

This is a common scenario. Ravens and crows treat coyotes in the same manner and for the same reasons. Coyotes (the dominant alpha ones) treat dogs in the same manner and for the same reasons. Humans treat coyotes and other humans (think of the immigration issue) in the same manner — and that is how it goes.

However, I’ve also read about a symbiotic relationship between crows and coyotes. I’ve seen ravens and coyotes together in various of our parks now. Competition between ravens and coyotes can be understood because they eat the same stuff: rodents, carrion, berries, refuse. They are both scavengers. Yet, I’ve read where they can work together, too. Ravens know how and when to take advantage of other animals to help them bum a meal they couldn’t get on their own. They might wait for a coyote to catch a larger rodent, say a skunk, which they will finish off after the coyote has gone. In Yellowstone, bison that have not survived the severe winter attract the coyotes, whose teeth and  jaws can rip open the tough, frozen hides — making the meat accessible to watchful ravens. Ravens also have followed wild wolf packs to a kill; even flying ahead of the wolves to lead them to prey!

Over the past few weeks I’ve become aware of ravens croaking loudly for 20 minutes or so. This has always been from a particular grove of several trees. I wondered what kind of “party” they might be having!! Several times I walked over, but by then the croaking had ceased.

Then today, I finally saw why these ravens were carrying on so. They were attempting to drive out a little coyote who was hunting in their area — the same as I’ve seen them drive out the red-tail hawks. The ravens were following the coyote and croaking loudly. The coyote kept looking up at them and stayed close to low-lying overhead branches for protection. At one point this coyote approached an open area away from the raven area. This area bordered on a path, and when people passed by, the coyote re-entered the bosque again. Coyotes are very edgy around people and dogs and most will avoid them if at all possible. I’ve added photos above of the little coyote hiding behind a tree, hiding behind some brush, running off from various dog and human situations. And there is a photo of a young coyote hunting — this is, of course, why they are out in the first place. This is the first day I have ever seen a coyote actually rip open a garbage bag. The coyote was hungry and that is why it was out.