Is it a Crow or a Raven?

If you’re on the trail, on the street, or having a fun day exploring in the outdoors you will likely encounter crows and ravens.

Crows and ravens are thought of as the same kind of bird, but these are actually two different species. There are many ways to identify the two, but here are some basic features I look for:

(The above photo is of a raven. This beautiful bird soared overhead, low enough for a great photo while on a day hike in northern California.)

Body:
If you see a monster-sized crow it is most likely a raven. Ravens can be up to 24+ inches in length, while crows are smaller at 18 inches.

Hanging-out:
Ravens are shy and often solitary while spending a lot of time on the ground. Crows tend to be noisy, bold and sometimes congregate in large numbers.

Flight:
Ravens soar more than crows; conversely, crows tend to flap their wings more.

Voice:
Ravens give a very low “croonk” sound, but can give a variety of calls; crows give a loud “caw.”

Beak:
Ravens have black and very heavy/thick-looking beaks that can be 3 1/4 inches or more in length. The beak of a crow is less thick and shorter at about 2 2/3 inches.

Tail:
The tails of ravens in flight are wedge-shaped (think diamond shaped). The tails of crows are more fanned (the shape of a hand fan).

References:
“National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.” Peter Laden and Fred Heath. Pg. 319.
“Fieldbook of Natural History” (2nd edition). Palmer/Fowler. Pg 631.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, Oregon

You can see magnificent raptors at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon.

What is a raptor? A Raptor is “another word for birds of prey: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, osprey and kites … hunting birds with keen eyesight and hearing, strong feet with sharp talons for grasping and killing prey, and curved beaks for ripping up their food.”

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonThe Cascades Raptor Center cares for the “sick, injured and orphaned raptors” in central Oregon “with the goal of returning as many as possible to the wild.”

As a visitor, you can see many of these beautiful creatures up close. Be sure to read the signs that include information about the bird’s stories. Many of the birds came to the center with injured wings or other injuries that prevent them from flying well, some of the raptors are even missing an eye – all injuries that will mean certain death in the outdoors to the high-performance athletes.

Other birds at the center were injured, and are now healing, they will be returned to the wild once they regain their strength.

On the day I visited it was feeding time. Several docents approached the outdoor cages. The first docent carefully opened one of the doors while the second docent held a large tray. On the tray was lunch – an assortment of rodents from small mice to large rats. Stops were made at cages and the appropriately sized lunch was provided to the hungry raptors.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonI encountered these walking chefs several times, but the most memorable experience was just after they had provided the juiciest looking rat to a Bald Eagle. I quietly walked up, the eagle was about 8 feet away. The eagle stood at least 25 inches tall; it Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, Oregonhad a huge head crowned with white feathers and an intimidating yellow beak that reminded me of an upside-down hunting knife. The rat was pinned with sharp and massive talons equal to the size of my hand. The great beak was quickly reducing the rat’s body to gulp-sized morsels. In a final gulp the hind end of the rat – tail and all – was swallowed. Then the eagle’s gaze settled on me. It had eyes the size of large marbles; black orbs surrounded by a ring of golden yellow. We contemplated each other for a moment, but the eagle did not look at me – rather, the eagle looked through me. For an instant, a primal fear cautioned inside me that I did not want to be an enemy of this creature, and I was thankful for the cage. Still looking at me the eagle lowered its head and in a quick wave-like motion raised the head and shrieked at me three times with a high-pitched siren. The sound was loud, piercing and intense…it was wild. Wow!

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonFeeling I had intruded upon the powerful creature I lowered my gaze and did not look directly at him. I quietly walked off but the great raptor watched me closely as I departed.

The center has a number of birds to see. I especially enjoyed seeing the owls, hawks and the vultures. One vulture (shown left) liked to hang out by a fence and allowed for a close-up photo. As you can see, vultures are not as ugly a people take them for – consider it a stylish, bold look.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonAs I left a private group was being treated to an interpretive demonstration about the Raptors and several were being shown. Some friendly docents, with raptors on their arms, were very eager to share information.

Quoted Reference:
Cascades Raptor Center Website

Learn More:
http://www.eraptors.org

Enjoying Condors at Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor

I saw a young California condor. It was 40 days old – it was also the first condor to be hatched in Pinnacles National Monument in over 100 years!

During a recent hike at Pinnacles National Monument, my family and I were blessed to see, just forty feet above us, a California condor with roughly a nine-foot wingspan glide over our heads. Whoa! It was over in several seconds but we were able to snap a picture (shown).

A few minutes later down the trail, we approached a trail junction. At the junction were spotting scopes pointed at an impressive rock wall about half a mile in the distance. Manning the scopes were biologists and interpretive volunteers helping visitors to see a young condor.

Looking through the scope I could see a light grey, fuzzy looking young bird resting in the crevice of a ledge. According to the interpreters, this youngster was about the size of a duck.

What is impressive about seeing these condors is that it highlights the work that has taken decades to accomplish.

After years of overhunting, Lead and Strychnine poisoning and habitat loss the condor population plummeted. In the mid 1980s, only 22 condors remained. The last condors were captured and placed in a captive breeding program to increase their numbers. In the mid 1990s releases began in California and have now expanded into Arizona and in Mexico. As of today, the total condor population is about 500 individuals; roughly 350 are in the wild while another 150 remain in the breeding program. Slowly the condors are returning to their historic territories, including Pinnacles.

We inquired about the condor that flew over our heads a few minutes earlier. According to the scientist, this was the hatchling’s Dad.

To learn more about the Pinnacles Condor Program visit:
http://www.nps.gov/pinn/naturescience/condors.htm