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Fool's crow

Crows were making a noisy racket outside of my house the other night. At least, I was pretty sure they were crows.

Crows and ravens are large black birds, but how do you tell them apart? Here are a couple of ways: ravens are much larger, sometimes they hop on two feet, and their voice is often more of a croak. Crows are smaller, often gather together in flocks and make a loud “caw” sound, although they also make other sounds.

When they are flying, a raven’s tail feathers look like a wedge, with the feathers in the middle longer than those at the sides. A crow’s tail feathers are more even. Ravens are also more likely to soar when flying, while crows are flap their wings more often.

A recent study found that groups of crows will sometimes attack a larger raven. Scientists think the birds gang up on ravens to keep them away from crow nests. Ravens will eat crow eggs.

Montana is home to the common raven and the American crow. Both are members of the family Corvidae, which also includes magpies and jays.

According to the Montana Field Guide, crows stay in much of Montana year-round. The exception is northeastern Montana, where crows visit only in the spring and summer. Crows are some of the most widespread birds and will eat just about anything, from fruit and roadkill to the french fries you dropped from your Happy Meal in the parking lot.

Ravens are found across the state and live in Montana year-round. In the winter they often fly to valleys where there is more food. In Yellowstone National Park ravens are known to break into snowmobiles to steal lunches. They are very good at breaking into things.

Like crows, ravens will eat just about anything, including lizards and berries.

Edgar Allen Poe made ravens famous when he wrote a poem titled “The Raven.” Poe called the raven of his poem a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore.” The bird even talks, saying only “nevermore.”

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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