You’re out bird-watching with your buddy Brendan. Brendan is the kind of guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, and you don’t really like hanging out with him, but he always pays for lunch, so you keep him around.
Both of you have your Celestron spotting scope locked on a tree about 50 yards away when a black blur flies out of the tree. You excitedly exclaim, “check out that crow!”
“Actually, that’s a blackbird,” Brendan replies. Typical Brendan.
You wonder to yourself, “what are the differences between crows and blackbirds? What are the best ways to differentiate between the two?”
Crows and blackbirds, though similar at first glance, differ from each other in the shape of their beaks, the shape of their tails, their size, diet, nesting, and calls. Here is a comprehensive list of these differences so you can outsmart Brendan next time you guys hang out.
Shape of Beaks
There are a variety of physical features that distinguish crows from blackbirds. One of the most distinct differences in their features is the shapes of their beaks.
The crow has a much larger beak compared to the blackbird. Where the blackbird’s beak is relatively small compared to its head, the crow’s beak dominates its visage.
The crow’s beak is broad, arched, and powerful, whereas the beak of the blackbird is small and straight.
The difference between the beaks of crows and blackbirds can perhaps be illustrated in a more fantastical way. If Pinocchio was a bird and not a wooden puppet, his beak would shift from blackbird to crow whenever he told a lie.
Not only do the beaks of crows and blackbirds differ in size, but they also can differ in color.
A crow’s beak matches the color of its feathers: black. But the beak of the blackbird comes in a variety of colors depending on the subspecies of the blackbird.
The common blackbird, which is most commonly found flying around Europe, has a bright orange beak that matches an orange ring that circles its eyes. It turns out these birds are big fans of color coordination.
Shape of Tails
Another physical feature where the crow and blackbird differ is in the shape of their tail feathers. The difference between the shapes of these two species’ tail feathers is most clearly seen when they are in flight.
When a crow is in flight, its tail feathers spread out evenly into a flattened arch. The shape is similar to a flattened three-point line in basketball.
For this reason, I think we should begin to refer to the crow as the Stephen Curry of carrion birds. A nickname I think both parties would benefit from.
The tail feathers of a blackbird are long and tapered. In flight, the tail feathers of the blackbird protrude much farther away from the body than the tail feathers of the crow.
The long and tapered tail feathers of the blackbird are aerodynamic and allow them to move quickly in flight and on the ground. Blackbirds also use their long tail feathers as counterweights to help them pull bugs out of the ground to eat.
Perhaps the greatest difference, or at least the most noticeable difference, between the crow and the blackbird is their size.
On average, crows are around four times as heavy as blackbirds. The average adult male crow weighs around 1 pound, and the average adult male blackbird weighs around a quarter of a pound.
That might not seem like much of a difference but to put that size difference in perspective: the relative difference between an adult blackbird and an adult crow is the same relative difference as the difference in weight between an average adult man and a full-grown grizzly bear.
Crows also tower over blackbirds in height. An adult crow can reach up to around 20 inches tall, whereas adult blackbirds max out at around 11 inches tall.
Another perspective on this difference in height: the relative difference in height between an adult male blackbird and an adult male crow is the same relative difference in height as the difference between American gymnast, Simone Biles, who stands at 4’8″ tall (1.4 meters), and an average adult male Asian Elephant.
This is why size is the most notable difference between the physical features of these two species of birds. Whereas the other physical differences may be subtle, or only noticeable in flight or with the right lighting, there is a significant and obvious difference between the sizes of these two birds.
The size difference alone between these two species of birds makes for quick and easy differentiation while you’re out bird-watching with Brendan, but don’t worry, we’ll get back to Brendan in a bit.
The diets of the blackbird and the crow overlap, but there are some distinct features to the diets of both of these species.
Both crows and blackbirds are omnivorous, meaning their diets includes both plants and meat. Both eat a variety of seeds, fruit, and insects.
Due to the difference in their size, crows are able to expand their diet with the inclusion of much larger prey, such as mice, frogs, and even fish. Blackbirds are too small to be able to hunt many of these larger game, but they do occasionally hunt small lizards, small mammals, and even tadpoles.
The way in which the crow and the blackbird go about gathering their food also varies.
The blackbird predominantly hunts for food on the ground. They hop around scanning the ground for food, striking where they see or hear movement.
The crow also hunts along the ground at times. They have been known to scavenge landfills and suburban trashcans, but they also can spot prey while in flight.
Crows have been known to feed off of corn and other grains, which has labeled them a nuisance in rural areas, as they have a tendency to lessen crop yield with their scavenging.
Though crows have a general theme of nuts, small rodents, and grains in their diet, they eat pretty much anything, especially in urban areas. It is not abnormal to see a crow munching on a McDonalds french fry it found on the ground or stole from an unsuspecting child.
And can you really blame them? McDonalds’ french fries are delicious.
Not only are crows willing to eat almost anything, but they are also incredibly intelligent. They are one of the few animals who have been observed using primitive tools, such as sticks, to gain access to hard-to-reach food.
The nesting habits of the crow and the blackbird differ as well. Though both are susceptible to predation, the blackbird is more likely to suffer losses of its brood in the nest.
Blackbirds tend to build their nests between three and six feet off the ground in a shrub. However, in urban areas, they also can build their nest wherever there is a convenient ledge.
The blackbirds main building materials for their nests are moss, grass, and plant stems. They then line their nest with mud to make sure it is nice and sturdy for their brood.
Though the nest itself may be sturdy, the location often is not very safe. Blackbird nests are often out in the open or poorly concealed, which leads to a high rate of predation, and few baby blackbirds make it to adulthood.
Much like middle school, only the strong or lucky make it out unscathed.
The blackbird makes up for this high predation rate by having multiple broods a year. For the blackbird, parenting is just a numbers game.
The crow is a bit more proactive in their nesting habits.
Crows prefer to nest in trees, but they do occasionally nest in large bushes or rarely on the ground. They build their nest with bulky sticks.
Predation does occur with crows as well. Eggs are often stolen and eaten by snakes, raccoons, or house cats.
However, they are more likely to reach adulthood than a baby blackbird.
The last difference between the blackbird and the crow to look for when bird-watching with Brendan is the sound of their calls. If you can differentiate the sound of their calls then you will be able to tell which of these two birds is hiding in the bush before you even spot them.
The crow’s call is an ominous series of “caws.”
These caws have a bit of a spooky sound to them which has been exploited in films and TV shows to add suspense to a scene. Most people would recognize its sound at once.
The call of the blackbird sounds different from the crow’s. A blackbird’s call is melodic, almost like a song.
It is the kind of high-pitched call that might be included in a white noise machine to help you sleep. It is pleasant to listen to, and sure to brighten almost any occasion.
So, you’re with Brendan, you’ve just seen a black blur fly from a tree. You thought it was a crow, but he disagreed with you, he thought it was a blackbird.
But you heard two distinct “caws” right before it took flight, and you saw that the beak was large, and the bird was large. You saw it was leaving a nest built with bulky sticks at the top of a tree.
And you have read this article, so you know what to look for.
“No,” You say with confidence, “that’s definitely a crow. Here, read this article.”
You’ve seen a beautiful bird, and you’re smarter than Brendan. Win-win.