You’re out birdwatching with your buddy Bob.
Bob has a top-of-the-line Celestron spotting scope locked on a snag, a dead Dutch elm tree about 50 steps away.
You let your binoculars in the car, but you have really good vision. So, you whisper to Bob, “You mean that blackbird sitting on that dead tree over there?”
Bob answers, “Well, not exactly. It’s a crow.”
How can you tell the difference between a blackbird and a crow? They look pretty similar to a novice bird watcher.
In this article, we will tell you what to look for to tell the difference between the two kinds of birds and then how to identify the species of a blackbird or crow you see.
How to Tell the Difference Between Blackbirds and Crows
Once you have the characteristics of blackbirds and crows firmly in mind, it is not hard to tell them apart. Here are some simple rules.
Look at the Beaks
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between blackbirds and crows is to look at their beaks.
Crows have much larger beaks than blackbirds. The beak of a blackbird looks much smaller in proportion to its head. Crows have prominent, noticeable beaks.
A crow’s beak is arched. A blackbird’s beak is straight. A crow’s beak is broad. A blackbird’s beak is narrow.
You can think of the difference this way. If Pinocchio had been a bird, his blackbird beak would turn into a crow’s beak every time he told a lie.
You can also tell the difference between blackbirds and crows by the color of their beaks. Blackbirds usually have yellow beaks. Crows always have black beaks.
Look at the Shape of the Tail
You can also distinguish blackbirds from crows by the shapes of their tail feathers. This difference is most readily obvious when the birds are in flight.
The tail feathers of a blackbird are long and tapered. They stick out behind the body when the blackbird is in flight.
You might also see a blackbird using its tail feathers to dig grubs out of the ground to eat.
The crow’s tail feathers spread out into a flattened arch when it is in flight. Some birdwatchers compare their shape to the three-point line in basketball.
Take Size into Account
Crows are four times as big as blackbirds.
The average blackbird weighs about four ounces (110 grams). The average crow weighs about a pound (450 grams).
That’s about the same difference between a sheepdog and a grizzly bear.
Crows are a lot taller than blackbirds, too. The average crow stands about 20 inches (50 cm) tall. A blackbird will be about 11 inches (28 cm) tall.
Color and Markings
Crows are all black in color, from their eyes to their bills down to their feet.
On the other hand, Blackbirds can be a bit more diverse in their plumage, with some species sporting yellow, orange, or red feathers.
While crows may lack the vibrant hues of their blackbird brethren, the homogeneity of their black feathers creates a striking silhouette in the sky.
No matter the species, both crows and blackbirds are a beautiful sight to behold.
Whether it be the dazzling array of colorful feathers of the blackbird or the sleek, uniform black of the crow, both of these birds possess a unique beauty that is all their own.
Also read: Crow Symbolism and Meaning
Pay Attention to What the Bird Eats
Both blackbirds and crows are omnivores. They will both eat seeds, berries, and insects. Crows, however, catch much larger prey.
If you see a bird with black feathers catching and eating another bird, a mouse, a fish, or a snake, it is probably a crow.
Crows have a diverse diet, consuming insects, worms, fruits, grains, nuts, and even small animals such as rabbits, while blackbirds are primarily insectivores and frugivorous.
The difference in Sound of Blackbird and Crow
Do you enjoy the melodic song of backyard birds in the morning? You could be listening to a blackbird.
Do you know that scary bird sounds they put in murder movies? That sound is made by a crow.
Blackbirds are typically monogamous, with both males and females participating in building the nest and raising the young.
Crows are highly social birds, often found in massive flocks called murders, whereas blackbirds are usually seen alone or in small groups.
Blackbirds tend to prefer urban environments over rural ones, as they are able to find an abundance of food sources provided by people. They can commonly be found in parks, gardens, and city streets.
These birds are also known to inhabit woodland edges, hedgerows, and open fields where they can forage, nest, and breed.
Crows, on the other hand, favor large open grasslands with nearby trees. These environments allow them to easily forage for food and find suitable locations for breeding and roosting.
These highly adaptable birds can also be found in urban areas, but they generally prefer more rural settings where they can maintain their social structure and carry out cooperative breeding behaviors, such as raising nestlings that aren’t their own
Both blackbirds and crows have different conservation statuses.
Blackbirds, with various species, generally have a stable population, while some may face declining numbers due to habitat loss or other factors.
Crows, on the other hand, are widespread and adaptable, leading to an overall healthy population.
For instance, the American Crow is classified as a species of Least Concern, according to the IUCN Red List. This means that they are not currently at risk of extinction.
In contrast, some blackbird species are Threatened or Near Threatened, such as the Yellow-headed Blackbird or the Tricolored Blackbird.
It is not hard to tell the difference between blackbirds and crows. Learn the characteristics of both species and pay close attention to behavior and size, not just feather color.
Now, let’s take a closer look at how to identify the species of black birds you see.
Identifying the Species of Blackbirds
Blackbirds are incredibly common birds.
The problem in identifying blackbirds if you are birdwatching in the United States, Canada, Mexico, or the rest of Latin America, many blackbirds aren’t black.
But some are, like, the first bird on our list.
In silhouette, from a distance, at dawn or at dusk, it is easy to mistake a Baltimore oriole for some other kind of blackbird or even a crow.
Even though the males of these beloved North American birds are well known for their beautiful orange and black markings, and their white wing bars, and the females have a beauty of their own, they are members of the blackbird family.
You will most often encounter Baltimore orioles on the edges of forests.
Because they most often build their nests high in the trees, you will hear them more often than you will see them.
Brewer’s blackbird is a robin-sized, long-legged, long-tailed songbird. The males have glossy black feathers and bright yellow.
The feathers of female Brewer’s blackbirds are washed-out brown. When the male is perching, the tail appears larger and rounded at the tip.
Brewer’s blackbirds like to forage for seeds and bugs at ground level. They walk a lot like chickens.
Flocks of Brewer’s blackbirds undulate up and down in flight, and they may flutter over the ground before they land.
You will find Brewer’s blackbirds on lawns, pastures, and golf courses in the western United States.
You ordinarily would not misidentify a yellow-headed blackbird as a crow. That’s because of the bright yellow feathers on its head and neck.
Yellow-headed blackbirds are also identifiable by their unique call, which sounds something like a rusty farm gate opening.
These blackbirds make their nests in cattails and reeds over shallow water. Their chicks regularly fall in and have to swim to safety.
Huge flocks of these birds fly to wheat fields after harvest, each bird pushing to the front of the crowd to pick up fallen grain.
The sure way to identify this blackbird is by feather color. No other bird in North America has a white back and black underparts.
Its feather pattern is often described as wearing a tuxedo backward.
The male has a straw-colored tuft on the back of its head that turns brown like the female’s head feathers in late summer.
Bobolinks feed on seeds.
They may be seen foraging at night to store up enough energy to fly between their summer homes in North and South America, up to 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) each way,
The rusty blackbird breeds during the summer in the forests of northern Canada and spends its winters in the eastern United States.
It has a slender bill and a medium-length tail.
Males have black feathers with rusty edges. Females also have rusty edges on their feathers, but the base is more of a grayish-brown.
Like many other blackbirds, rusty blackbirds feed on the ground. You can pick them out in a crowd, however, by looking at their tails.
Rusty blackbirds will hold their tails up as they feed. These blackbirds have a distinctive kurlulr-teEE call, ending on a rising note.
Male grackles have yellow eyes and black feathers that reflect iridescent golds, greens, and purples in the sunlight.
Female grackles have yellow eyes and brownish feathers with a yellow sheen.
One way of describing a grackle is as a blackbird that has been stretched out. When they are flying, they fold their tails behind them in a V shape.
Grackles will eat anything. Like pigeons, they will feed at open garbage cans.
They will also decimate gardens, terrorize small pets, and eat small birds of other species.
These birds will build their nests in unusual places, on the ground, in tall trees, in birdhouses, on cliffsides, in woodpecker holes, and nests of blue herons and ospreys while the other birds are still using them.
They sometimes attack bald people who are not wearing hats.
The Great Backyard Bird Count estimates that there are 67 million grackles that breed in the summer in Canada east of the Rockies and spend the winter in the United States east of the Rockies.
Surprisingly, their numbers decline every year.
Many red-winged blackbirds fly north to Canada to raise their young in the summer, but you can see some red-winged blackbirds almost any time of year across the United States.
Male red-winged blackbirds are all black except for a patch of red and yellow on their shoulders.
Females are a red- and yellow-streaked brown, with a bit of yellow around their beaks.
Both males and females have conical bills. You will most often see them sitting in a tree or on a cattail, keeping watch over their territory.
If you get too close to a red-winged blackbird’s nest, the male will usually attack.
The shiny cowbird is an unusually good-looking blackbird. The male’s feathers aren’t really black.
They are a deep purple. The female looks more like a brown-feathered cowbird.
Should you see this bird in North America anywhere other than in South Florida, you should let your fellow birdwatchers know. It mostly ranges across South America.
Even experienced birdwatchers sometimes have trouble telling the difference between red-winged blackbirds and tri-colored blackbirds.
Red-winged blackbirds have a band of yellow feathers just below their red shoulder patch.
Tri-colored blackbirds have a band of white feathers just below their red shoulder patch. But the males of both species are primarily black.
Another way to know if the bird you are watching is a tri-colored blackbird is the location.
You will only encounter tri-colored blackbirds in small numbers in coastal California.
There are several other species of blackbirds found in North America, but you won’t mistake them for crows. Now, let’s take a closer look at the crows of North America.
Identifying the Species of Crow
There are only two common kinds of crows in North America, the American crow and the fish crow.
Of the two, the American crow is more abundant.
Actually, that is an understatement. Ornithologists estimate that some roosts of American crows contain as many as 2 million individual birds.
American crows spend part of the summer at their nests, raising their young, but they will join other crows to take advantage of worms emerging in freshly plowed fields, garbage dumps filled with decaying food, and road kill.
American crows are found all over the continental United States except in southwest Texas and extreme southern Arizona and New Mexico.
In the summer, they range across Canada south of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and even find their way to the southern coast of Alaska.
Crows are all-black birds. Even their legs and bill are black. They fly with a distinctive rowing motion.
Crows are very social. They form flocks of thousands or even millions of birds. They are also very intelligent, figuring out ways to open garbage cans to get at the food inside. If a crow sees you more than a few times, it will even learn to recognize you on sight.
You will most see crows around people. They forage on lawns, in backyards, in parks, and around city buildings. They are undeterred by predator birds such as owls and ravens.
Fish crows, as you might imagine, are most often seen along the banks of rivers and streams.
They range along rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. These birds are inveterate nest robbers, often stealing the eggs of other birds and of turtles. They cache their food in Spanish moss on oak trees.
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