BTO Bird ID – Corvids – Crow, Rook, Raven

BTO Bird ID – Corvids – Crow, Rook, Raven

Articles, Blog , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 72 Comments

One of the most frustrating ID challenges
is being able to separate the 5 all black crows that occur in the UK: Crow, Rook,
Jackdaw, Raven and Chough. On the ground and with good views, it is
relatively straight forward but particularly in flight,things could get
somewhat more difficult. We will study Carrion Crow in detail first
and compare the others to this species. Carrion Crow is found throughout the British Isles
– with the exception of NW Scotland and most of Ireland where it is replaced by Hooded Crow whose two-tone
black and grey plumage should prevent any ID challenges. Found singularly, more usually in pairs
but frequently in larger groups, Crow is a large and handsome bird with
pleasing proportions. It has a large beak and a reasonably
upright angle on the ground, standing usually neatly at around 45° and with its deliberate
walking action, a Crow often looks as if it has had deportment lessons. The head is neatly rounded, the plumage
neat against the body and the colour, jet black and glossy. In flight, the wings are steady and heavy
giving the impression that a Crow is actually bigger than it really is. Many people have mistaken Crow for Buzzard
on first glance. Again, in the air, Crow gives a pleasingly
proportioned effect and there are no especially noteworthy features. Highly vocal, Crows give a distinctive,
ringing, far carrying ‘kraa’ [Bird song] – usually repeated 3 times, amongst many
other sounds. The similarly sized Rook is found throughout
Britain and Ireland with the exception of the extreme NW. The folklore ‘rule’, that you only see crows
in ones and twos, and Rooks in groups is far from true although it is fair to say
that Rooks are usually found in groups. Indeed, they nest in visible and noisy
rookeries, and often forage in gangs. The most striking feature of a Rook is its
pale white face and pale bill base. This is a defining feature but there are
other clues to look for when the face cannot be seen. On the ground, birds tend to be more upright
and they always look somewhat scruffy and baggy with loose, oily looking plumage, a pot-belly,
a highly peaked crown and splendid baggy pantaloons. In flight, Rooks look longer winged than Crow
with the wings narrowing slightly near the body. The tail is long and graduated, immediately separating
Rook from Crow but to me, this can look confusingly like a Raven tail if the size is not
apparent. Beware in late Spring and Summer, young
recently fledged Rooks, which until they become independent, have fully feathered faces. These can look surprisingly Crow-like,
especially as those baggy trousers and the oily plumage have yet to fully develop. The shape of the bill here, can help. Crow’s is deeply curved and stout compared
to the more straight, dagger shaped bill of Rook but the presence nearby of the adult
should give the game away. You will not see Rooks feeding Crows. Extremely vocal, with a wide repertoire,
Rook has a distinctive drawn out ‘geaah’ which they often utter whilst pitching forward
in a distinctive manner. Raven is simply huge, by far the largest
passerine with a simillar wing span to a Buzzard and even larger body. Traditionally considered as a species of the
celtic fringe of Britain and Ireland, but now found almost everywhere except far Eastern
Scotland and England, although even to here they can wander,
especially in Winter. At first glance, especially of a distant bird
Raven can be mistaken for Crow, but usually its sheer size will impress. Both on the ground and in flight, the bill
is strikingly long and very heavy and combined with a heavy ruffle of throat
feathers, or ‘hackles’, barrel chest and long neck, this gives a unique
heavy headed impression. In flight, the wings are long and broad
with well fingered wing tips more like a raptor than a crow but
the most noticeable feature is the long graduated or wedge-shaped tail. Ravens frequently give themselves away with
an utterly distinctive, very deep and gravelly ‘klong’ or ‘korrp’, sometimes uttered
singulary or sometimes repeated. [Bird calls] The final two species are much smaller: By far the most common is Jackdaw,
found throughout the UK with the exception of the far NW of Scotland and Shetland. When seen well, the grey nape, black
forehead and white eyes are distinctive. Highly social, these birds are usually found in
pairs or larger groups and are garrulous and noisy – the eponymous ‘Jack’ or ‘chat’ call being
the most obvious and frequent. In flight, Jackdaws appear neat and often
speedier than the larger corvids and the broad neck and short bill leads to a
blunt appearance at the front end. With flocks in flight, individual pairs
can easily be picked out as they fly closer to each other than to other Jackdaws. Common in human habitats and frequent nesters in
chimneys, Jackdaws can be confused with this next species when found playing
aerobatically around cliffs. Chough is slightly larger, more rangey
than Jackdaw. Our rarest black crow, Chough are found in
well known areas, on some Scottish islands, the Irish coast, Isle of Man, Wales and
recently they have recolonised Cornwall. Unmistakeable if seen well, especially when
feeding on the short cliff top turf, Chough have a unique, coral-red, downcurved bill
and pinky-red legs. But if these are not visible, the wingtips extend well beyond the tail. These long wings hint at the fact Chough are
accomplished in the air and more than any other UK bird, they seem to fly, tumble
and generally show off their aerobatic skills apparently for the sheer joy of flight. Broad-based, paddle-like wings with heavily fingered
even frayed tips give the birds mastery of the of the breezy cliffs where they live and breed. Choughs, like all crows, are noisy and their
‘chiaa’ or ‘chrai’ calls echo around the cliffs often giving away their presence long before
you see them. In late summer, beware of mistaking young Chough
for their European cousins, Alpine Chough. Despite having a shortish more yellowish bill than
their parents, young Chough are still recogniseable. Alpine Choughs have short wings and long tails
and their very short slight bills are lemon yellow.

72 thoughts on “BTO Bird ID – Corvids – Crow, Rook, Raven

  • caelulum Post author

    What very generous videos these are! Thank you. x

  • loadedmore Post author


  • loadedmore Post author

    there is not a word out of place in this discription

  • loadedmore Post author

    a special thanks to the work of Simon Elliott!

  • Jean French Post author

    Now i know the difference, super vidio, wonderfull birds, many thanks.

  • Brian Cronk Post author

    Excellent l D Video

  • Alex Zorach Post author

    Excellent!  I found this very helpful!

  • Bryan Moorey Post author

    You always get a excellent description from bto.

  • Andy Gillies Post author

    superb, now i can show my mum what an idiot she was for contesting the rook that was in my garden which she called a crow.  actually maybe it was a raven. oh dear maybe i am the idiot. please don't let my mum watch this.

  • Glabrex Post author

    What about magpies?

  • jim crow Post author

    Thank you.

  • David Colantuono Post author

    The Carrion Crow closely resembles the American Crow, judging by its appearance.  Now, I've never seen a Carrion Crow, but I'm very familiar of an American Crow.

  • Medieval Richard Post author

    Fascinating birds. I find interesting how Jackdaws can sometimes nest in rabbit burrows and I would love to witness a sighting of that one day.

  • Tennislovingcoffeeaddict Post author

    It's a great video, I now know that our sociable bird is a Jackdaw.

  • James Post author

    I often used to think "huh, why does a crow make two different noises"

    Now I know that it was a crow and a jackdaw

  • mark dunn Post author

    Excellent short film

  • Steve Ryan Post author

    My favourite bird!

  • pavelp80 Post author

    Good one. What confuses me is that when rooks migrate during dusk or dawn in huge flocks, they sometimes make same sound as Jackdaws –
    Quite weird cause I never noticed that jackdaws live together with rooks and share they habit to fly out of the city overnight. We have lot of rooks in central Europe during winter and small amount of crows and ravens during whole year. I'm not sure about jackdaw.


    Only just discovered these clips on YouTube, absolutely love them! Thank you to all at BTOVideo 🙂

  • Theresa Thompson Post author

    What are the ones that are big(usually 2 together in my yard each morning. They're so black i see a beautiful blue sheen of color! What kind of bird is this? Im in NC

  • Peter Thornhill Post author

    we have a rook called Jackie she is now 15 years old, she also follows us around the house and watches TV, we also have a crow called Corvus now 3 years old.
    these are the brightest of the UK birds

  • Birds, Flight, Random Projects Post author

    Happy corvids in my garden! –

  • GreenerHill Post author

    Very interesting video. Thank you.

  • susan gundaya Post author

    +BTOvideo i have a baby barn swallow..i rescue it in the river…wht should i feed to it…

  • Chris Luxton Post author

    Thank you – very interesting!

  • Heidi Anne Morris Post author

    Brilliant video – very helpful – better than looking at pictures 🙂 thank you ! ♥

  • Lonewolf Clan Post author

    ehh you missed Raven.

  • ohevshalomel Post author

    They're pretty easy to identify in this part of the world–generally, the only large black birds we have are just crows.

  • Tim Crow Post author

    Very interesting. I often wondered about the differences, and not just because of my name. 🙂

  • rob16248 Post author

    Corvids, magnificent corvids.

  • starfiremale Post author


  • alex caudwell Post author

    I commonly encounter rookies

  • Dryocampa Post author

    Wow, who would mistake a crow for a buzzerd? They have completely different wing shapes and beats.

  • liva ladelund Post author

    Exellent video. O have two hooded Crows (An old pair) that i have knoen and studied in soon 6 years. And i live them! They come When i call..and i When they call! Haha, we own each other! They are so indcredibly intelligent. But i have too move in 1 Mont so i have to say my goodbye ;(

  • Phil Curran Post author

    There is an old country saying; "See a rook on its own, it's a crow. See lots of crows together, they are rooks."

  • Steven Reid Post author

    Rooks are basically bin bags with beaks

  • TheNails3 Post author

    Brill video, thanks very much

  • Bannwave Post author

    Splendid baggy pantaloons? Sign me up Rook.

  • Big_Adam_2050 Post author

    I got the crow and raven one down. You see a group of crows, you think "oow, crows" you see a group of ravens you think "oh shit, what happened?"

  • Roses of Time Post author

    Thank you for this…I think the guys here in Ireland are rooks, but everyone calls them crows… good to know the difference…

  • JonMacFhearghuis Post author

    Who the hell downvoted this? Gamekeepers and farmers no doubt.

  • Ro Ku Post author

    Jackdaws remind me of our Camp Robbers here in the US, also called camp robber jays.  Interesting!  Thanks for the education in corvids.

  • TheSqueezycat Post author

    Thank you so much for the detailed explanation of all of them. I have just been feeding Jackdaws, now I know what they are lol

  • TheSqueezycat Post author


  • Dee F Post author

    I think I was right when I saw a couple of ravens near my new house. How lovely. It was their size and call that gave them away

  • Tjeerd Oosinga Post author

    Love corvids the are smart end fun to watch

  • Digi Barnes Post author

    Wonderful. Thank you

  • moon night bricks Post author

    Thanks. 10/10 for enjoyment.

  • SerpentStare Post author

    Thank you. I come from North America and was not accustomed to seeing rooks, which are heavy about the area of Ireland I am now living in. I noticed their grey, knife-like beaks and suspected that they were rooks and not crows (which are neater and as stated here have black, narrower bills), but it is good to be able to check and know what else to look and listen for.

  • Jez Oliver Post author

    excellent vid, very useful thanks…

  • Enrique Nicolás Busto de la Villa Post author

    The girl talks very sweet

  • Robin Hart-Jones Post author

    Thanks for this. I sometimes struggle to separate the crows from the rooks though the jackdaws & choughs are easier. I now live in Cornwall where corvids of all types are very common compared to Kent where I grew up. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that I see more corvids than gulls here.

  • Mihail Kloshtevski Post author

    The flying jackdaw kind of looks a lot like a flying sparrowhawk in the wind to me.

  • Chuckling fella Post author

    My Nickname Iz Jakcdaw <3

  • Marline Harrold Post author

    I enjoyed it. 💕

  • Randi Behrends Post author

    I really enjoyed watching this. 🙂

  • Tom Millard Post author

    This is a brilliant video, sorts out all the confusion of Rooks,Crows ,Ravens and Jackdaws.

  • Henz Carl Tupas [email protected] Post author

    Ravens are more larger than crows, since their wings are longer and their beaks are bigger and heavier

  • Paul Malachowski Post author

    Very informative, many thanks

  • Technomad Post author

    Are Magpies apart of the crow family ?

  • Jeffrey Milton Post author

    I've read that crows and rooks are so closely related they can interbreed. However, their offspring will always be sterile.

  • Liam Hill Post author

    I was just intrested to see what said on here and watched the video… You stated that rooks won't feed with crows… I'm a bus driver, and I have a point where I stop very regularly for 10 – 20 mins lay over, so I always bring nuts to feed the birds… The second I get off the bus I always have my same two crows instantly come to me, after a few more mins there will be a gang of rooks but my two Crow friends have no problem with staying and eating the nuts?

  • dupond christine Post author


  • xrach2006x Post author

    I like crows

  • jessepasley Post author

    "splendid baggy pantaloons"

  • Nat Rea Post author

    You forgot magpies. They’re corvids too

  • IIRAW Post author

    Very Very useful. Thank you!

  • Aiferapple Post author

    Does the Magpie fit into this group?

  • Daniel Spain Post author

    What’s the matter with the commentator,
    What’s wrong with THE crow, THE raven, THE jackdaw ? They’re all individual creatures not just some product wrapped and packaged “thing” that just has a label on called “crow”,
    Even if it is grammatically correct it is not appropriate use of language, it comes from the internet age I suppose, but is entirely detrimental to living breathing individual and intelligent creature such as THE Raven , not a little box with raven written on it in almost running out biro, and pronounced in a corporate and completely dispassionate manor..
    It’s a living individual bird, so you should be treating it as such, especially considering the potentially huge audience you could reach –
    I don’t know , something in the commentary was totally empty and devoid of interest, passion and enthusiasm, doesn’t the nature of these creatures stir any kind of feeling🧙‍♂️

  • Matthew Lacey Post author

    I love rooks – around all seasons where I live – the Ronnie Wood of the bird world.

  • O O Post author

    Wow very good video

  • Olly Harkness Post author

    Thanks! I can hear Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws and Ravens in my garden and tell the difference between each one. When the ravens fly over the sound from their wing beat is very audible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *