Identifying ravens and crows (corvids) in Australia can be a difficult task as these species are visually similar. In some parts of Australia only one corvid species occurs (e.g. Forest Raven in Tasmania), but over most of the country two or more species can be found and thus particular care must be taken with identification. This article compares two corvids that commonly occur together in south-eastern Australia.
In Victoria, both Australian and Little Ravens occur widely across the state. Australian Ravens are generally absent from Melbourne, Geelong, and most of the Western District, but can be found on the eastern and south-eastern fringes of Melbourne. Little Ravens are widespread in Victoria and are the only corvid likely to be encountered in Melbourne and Geelong.
In South Australia, both Australian and Little Ravens occur across much of the southern part of the state. Australian Ravens are generally absent from the Fleurieu Peninsula, southern Lofty Ranges and the Adelaide Plain. Little Ravens are widespread in southern areas as far west as Ceduna. The Little Raven is the only corvid likely to be found in Adelaide.
In New South Wales, both Australian and Little Ravens are widespread across much of the state. Australian Ravens are the only corvid likely to be encountered in Sydney although Little Ravens can be found on the western outskirts.
The best and easiest way to separate Australian and Little Ravens is by call. The quality of the call and rate and length of notes must all be considered.
The typical call of the Australian Raven is a series of powerful, long, spaced, clear or quavering notes in the tenor range, often ending with a slow drawn-out crying wail. It can be described as “aaah—aaah—aaah—aaaaaaaah”. The presence of a long drawn out terminal note does not confirm that the bird is an Australian Raven as all Australian corvids can do this.
In contrast the Little Raven’s call is a series of short, quick, guttural, rough and raspy notes in the baritone range. The call may end with a drawn-out descending somewhat wailing note but it is shorter and lower in pitch than that of the Australian Raven. It can be described as “ark-ark-ark” or” aark-aark-aaaaaark”.
Recording corvid calls on your smartphone and uploading these to eBird is one of the best ways to document your corvid observations. The eBird help pages include useful smartphone recording tips.
The size and shape of the throat hackles can be used to distinguish the Australian Raven from the Little Raven. The hackles of the Australian Raven are long and lanceolate and form a floppy beard reaching the upper breast. The Little Raven’s bifurcate hackles are not as prominent but can form a short spikey beard when calling.
|Hackles on Australian Raven||Hackles on Little Raven|
Bare skin patch on face
The Australian Raven has a diagnostic patch of bare skin (black in the adult and pink in the juvenile) on the base of the lower mandible which extends to the sides of the chin, visible in the above photo. This bare skin can be difficult to see in the field or even in a good photograph. The sides of the chin of the Little Raven are feathered.
Size differences are not useful in the field
Differences in body and bill size are not sufficient to distinguish these two species as size measurements overlap.
Flocking and behaviour
Little Ravens can occur in large flocks. Australian Ravens are more often solitary or in pairs but can be seen in flocks of up to 50 immatures, juveniles and non-breeding adults.
Little Ravens often call with a diagnostic and conspicuous flick of the wings above the back on each note of the call.
Documenting your observation
When you attempt to identify these two ravens, listen to the call, pay attention to the size and shape of the throat hackles, look for any bare skin under the chin and, if perched, watch for wing-flicking when calling. Add notes to your observations of what you hear and see, take a photo or use your phone to make a sound recording.
The Australian Bird Guide by Menkhorst et al.
Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds