Tuesday Tune

photograph and text by Brian Willson

What does a Raven sound like?

We live among common ravens. These large, smart, omnivorous birds are the stuff of myth and superstition—and they’re also our neighbors year-round. My guess is most people mistake them for crows, because they’re hard to tell apart at a distance. In fact, other than size (a raven being approximately twice as big as a crow), the two species look nearly identical.

But through binoculars or a spotting scope, you can usually ID a raven by its heavier bill, its wedge-shaped (not rounded) tail edge, and a bulge like a goiter at its throat. More obvious signs—to me, at least—are a few telltale raven behaviors: they tend to fly higher than crows, flapping less and soaring more; they’re far more aerobatic in general; they tend to travel solo or in pairs.

But you simply cannot mistake the two species’ voices. A crow caws. A raven croaks. A raven gurgles. A raven clucks and “knocks.” A raven screams a low, hoarse scream. Young ravens can even cry like a human baby. (It’s truly eerie.) They have peculiar calls for dozens of occasions, and their guttural notes can be heard for a mile.

Considering their range of vocalizations, no wonder ravens for millennia been linked with magic and the spirit world. But I have to say I’m delighted that a pair has been nesting near my daily Beech Hill hiking route each year.