Rook, raven, jackdaw or crow?

Rook © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

How to identify these all-black birds and avoid corvid confusion.

Is it a rook, raven or crow? The three all-black corvids cause a common ID challenge but they can be identified by their size, shape and calls.

Corvids tend to have strong social groups and communities. Crows for example, often mate for life and are co-operative breeders, meaning other adults in the family help with rearing offspring.

They are considered among the most intelligent of birds, with magpies having demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests, and crows and rooks showing their ability making and using simple tools.

Here’s a brief guide from your local Wildlife Trust to our all-black corvids and some useful tips on how to identify them.

Carrion Crow © Amy Lewis

Carrion Crow © Amy Lewis

Carrion Crow

Carrion crows (Corvus corone) are widespread throughout the UK. They are scavengers by nature and seek out carrion, as their name suggests. They also eat insects, earthworms, small mammals, amphibians, food scraps and are known to steal eggs.

Carrion crows can be distinguished from other corvids by their tidy black plumage, black bill, square tail and hoarse ‘caw’ sound, usually repeated three times. Unlike rooks, they do not have ‘feathery trousers’ on their legs and are much smaller than ravens.

Raven © Amy Lewis

Raven © Amy Lewis

Raven

Ravens (Corvus corax) are much larger than other corvids – a similar size to buzzards. Ravens mainly breed in rural areas in the west and the north of the UK but are expanding their range eastward. Most birds are resident and have a distinctive deep, gravelly call or ‘cronk’. Ravens pair for life; males perform breeding displays of posturing, preening and bill caressing, and females lay four to six blue-green eggs in a nest of twigs and moss.

Their plumage is black and they have a strong, heavy bill and throat feathers. Ravens have long broad wings in flight, well-fingered wing tips and a diamond-shaped tail.  Their wing beat is very slow and purposeful.

Rook © Amy Lewis

Rook © Amy Lewis

Rook

Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) are often seen together in groups known as rookeries. The male courts the female with a display of strutting, bowing and cawing; once they mate, between three to five eggs are laid.

Rooks differ from crows by a pale, straighter bill with a bare grey bill base. They display ‘feathery trousers’ on their legs and have an oily, loose plumage compared to crows. However, young rooks have fully feathered faces so can be mistaken for crows. In flight, rooks have longer wings than crows which narrow towards the body and a long graduated tail.

Jackdaw © Neil Aldridge

Jackdaw © Neil Aldridge

Jackdaw

Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) are typically found in pairs or groups. They nest in holes in trees, cliffs, buildings and even chimneys. They are also great pest-controllers.

Jackdaws are the smallest member of the corvid family with a short chunky bill, grey shawl around the back of their head and neck, a black cap and distinctive white eye.  They have a short, loud 'kya' call and in flight jackdaws are speedy and show great aerobatic skill.