Backyard Buddies
Crows and Ravens

Photo: Rosie Nicolai

Crows and Ravens

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Crows and ravens are part of the Corvidae family of Australian native birds. There are six members of the family found in Australia - three are called crows and three ravens, although there is very little difference between them and they look very similar. The bases of the feathers of the crows are white, while those of the ravens are grey and they have different calls which can be the only way to distinguish them.

They are frequent backyard visitors with a distinctive cry, very loud and increasing in volume when they chat to each other.

They are not shy and can be very resourceful, but this very resourcefulness can sometimes make them infuriating backyard buddies.

They show great ingenuity when it comes to nest building. They have been seen pulling the rubber strips out of car windscreen wipers to line their nests and stealing letters from letterboxes to shred.

Crows are good buddies to have around as they will eat every snail they can find. Crows and ravens have similar diets - they eat a variety of foods including grains, fruits, insects, small animals, eggs, refuse and carrion.

Golfers often scratch their heads as golf balls disappear right under their noses, stolen by ravens. They collect the balls thinking they are eggs and then drop them from a roof, hoping to smash them open to eat.

They can be a real problem on farms, where they zero in on the abundance of food. Crows and ravens have a particular liking for grapes, soft fruits, potatoes, nuts and grains. They remove fruit directly from trees, land on trellises which collapse under their weight, and despite their size, can perch directly on stalks of grain, snapping off plants such as wheat and sorghum.

The larger ravens have a reputation for attacking lambs, although many believe they only go for sick animals or those abandoned by their mother. They are frequent visitors to roadsides, where they feast on the carnage of dead wildlife left behind by cars.

They are not always welcome backyard visitors as they have a habit of scaring away the smaller native birds. Planting an understory of spiky shrubs is a good way to give the smaller birds somewhere to hide when the big bully birds show up.

But they are not always considered pests -these carrion birds help clean the environment of rotting carcasses which lines our roadways and bush.

Crows and ravens are very distinctive and easily recognised. There are five native species of Corvids (crows and ravens) in Australia. These are the Australian Raven, Little Raven, Little Crow, Forest Raven, and the Torresian Crow. Another, introduced species -the House Crow - makes an occasional appearance. It is the only Corvid in Australia which has white in the plumage. They are all quite similar - ravens being perhaps slightly larger - and some can be difficult to tell apart in the field without close scrutiny.

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Photo: OEH