Crows and blackbirds share many similarities, especially their commonly black plumage. As a result, they are often mistaken for one another.
Crow and blackbirds are all passerine birds. Passerine bird species come from the order or family of Passeriformes. This is the largest order of birds, encompassing more than half of all living bird species. Passerine birds are songbirds that have three toes forward and one backward when they perch.
Despite all their similarities, crows are in a different family than blackbirds. To make things more confusing, not all blackbirds are black. For beginner bird watchers, telling crows apart from blackbirds can be tricky.
Luckily, there are 6 key differences between crows and blackbirds. They are:
1. Scientific family
2. Physical characteristics
3. Mating and Nesting habits
4. Flock size
First, let’s talk about these 6 key differences, then we’ll tackle some common questions about crows and similar-looking birds.
Do crows and blackbirds belong to the same scientific family?
Blackbirds and crows are not in the same scientific family. Crows belong to the family Corvidae. Commonly called Corvids, this family has 133 species of birds, including crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, and jays.
There are four species of crow in North America. The most common crow with the most extensive range is the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).
American crows can be found throughout Canada and the United States. The Northwestern crow (Corvus caurinus) lives west of the Rocky Mountains. The fish crow (Corvus ossifragus) lives in primarily southern states east of Texas. The Tamaulipas Crow (Corvus imparatus) is found in south Texas and parts of Mexico.
Blackbirds are members of the Icteridae family from the Passeriformes order. This family of birds has over 100 different species. Red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles are some of the most common birds in the family Icteridae.
Most blackbird species have predominantly black feathers with bright yellow, red, or orange features. Blackbird species vary in size, shape, coloration, and behavior.
The Icteridae family is sometimes referred to as Icterids or New World Blackbirds. Icterids are found exclusively in the Americas and should not be confused with European blackbirds, which are thrushes.
What are the physical differences between crows and blackbirds?
Crows have more robust and bigger beaks than blackbird species. Blackbirds often have yellow eyes or bright yellow markings around their eyes. Crows have black eyes.
Both blackbirds and crows are omnivorous, but crows eat bigger insects and tougher seeds. Because of this, they have larger, stronger bills with a slight curve.
Crows have black feathers, but their feathers are flat without the iridescent coloring common in many blackbird species.
While crows aren’t the biggest corvid, they are larger than many blackbird species. Crows have a wingspan of around 30 inches. Blackbirds have an average wingspan of 9-11 inches.
Do crows and blackbirds have similar mating and nesting habits?
Crows have different mating and nesting habits from blackbirds. Crows mate for life while blackbird pairs mate for a single clutch or breeding season. Crows also build their nests out of sturdier materials than blackbirds.
Like other bird species that mate for life, Crows will choose a new mate if their mate is lost.
But it’s their nesting and parenting habits that really set them apart from blackbirds.
Blackbird nestlings leave their nests within 14-21 days of hatching. Often, they are pushed out by their parents. Some species will care for fledglings on the ground for a few days or weeks, but for the most part, young blackbirds are on their own from a few weeks old.
Crows never chase their young away from the nest. The sturdy nest of thick twigs and other solid materials will serve as their home for much longer than other bird species.
Some young crows have been recorded staying in the nest for up to 5 years! While in the nest, parents work together to take care of their young. This is why seeing a young crow away from its nest is a rare sight.
Do blackbirds and crows have similar flock sizes?
Crows and blackbirds both prefer to stay in large flocks. Blackbird flocks tend to be significantly larger than crow flocks. Some Corvids, like ravens, prefer to travel in pairs.
The key difference between crow and blackbird flocks is size and flock makeup.
Blackbirds like grackles live in huge flocks, often with a mix of other types of birds and even European starlings.
A blackbird flock can have thousands of birds and is called a murmuration.
While crows are social like blackbirds, their large flocks tend to be numbered in the low hundreds. Some herds of crows are as small as 6-8 birds. Sometimes, these smaller flocks meet up with other crow flocks to form larger groups.
For the most part, crows gather for warmth, protection, and socializing. Crows will also share information with each other about food sources.
A flock of crows is called a murder.
Unlike blackbirds, crows prefer to flock with other crows. In places where crow species overlap, you may find interspecies mingling between crows.
In North America, American crows are present in most areas and may flock with other crow species during the cooler months and migration. In Europe, carrion crows and hooded crows may flock together for warmth and to socialize along the edges of their territories.
What is the difference between a crow and a blackbird song?
Songs vary between blackbird species, but crows all have a similar and distinct caw sound to their calls that sounds like grating “caw” or “kraa”. Blackbirds on the other hand have over 100 different calls that develop in complexity over the course of its lifetime.
Even though crows caw, rather than making sounds people associate with singing, crows are still considered songbirds. Each species of crow has a slightly different caw sound.
In some areas where American crow ranges overlap with other crows, the easiest way to tell them apart is by the sound of their caw.
Are crows smarter than blackbirds?
Crows are smarter than most birds. They can even create and use tools!
All Corvid bird species are known for exceptional intelligence. This is mainly due to their brain-to-body ratio. Birds from the family Corvidae have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any bird species. In fact, brain to body ratio in Corvids is larger than in humans!
Crows are also socially intelligent. Crows are known to befriend one another, bringing trinkets and treats as offerings. While gifting behaviors are a common behavior of male birds trying to woo a female bird, Crows do these behaviors to form platonic bonds outside their family unit.
Crows can also be trained to retrieve items and exchange them for rewards from humans. In Sweden, crows have even been taught to pick up discarded cigarette butts for treats.
Are Grackles in the crow family?
While grackles are often confused with crows, grackles are not related to crows. Grackles are part of the Icteridae family, making them a blackbird species.
Grackles are a large blackbird species often found in urban areas throughout North America. At first glance, grackles and crows have a similar body type, but a closer look will help bird watchers quickly tell the difference.
Grackles have long legs and slender bodies. They have a wingspan of 14-16 inches and an exceptionally long tail. A grackle’s tail is about the same length as its body.
Male grackles have glossy black feathers with an iridescent sheen. The dark blue or green cast of their plumage is prominent during the breeding season.
Female grackles are much smaller with shorter tail feathers. Their feathers are dull black to a deep brown.
Grackles are omnivores that travel in large flocks. Bold and comfortable with humans, they are often found along roadsides, in parks, near wetlands, and in open fields. At night, they roost together on power lines and in trees.
Are crows and ravens the same?
Crows and Raven both belong to the family Corvidae, but they are not the same species. One of the easiest ways to tell the two bird species apart is their size. Ravens have a wingspan of approximately 45 inches. Crows are much smaller.
Common ravens are found all over the world and are often mistaken for crows. There are a few ways to tell them apart aside from size.
Ravens have thicker feathers on their throats and heads, giving them an almost shaggy appearance. In contrast, the crow has short, smooth feathers that lay flat for a sleek look.
Another big difference between these two black-feathered birds is their beaks. Ravens have a large, curvy beak. Crows have a shorter bill with only a slight curve on the top.
The raven’s call is also different from crows. Instead of the cawing sound, ravens emit a croaking sound.
To the inexperienced birder, crows and blackbirds may look a lot alike. Keeping these 6 key differences in mind will make crows easy to pick out from the crowd of black-feathered birds.
From their distinctive caw to their above-average intelligence, crows genuinely are an interesting and unique North American bird.