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Little Aussie battle

April 3, 2016

Australian Raven

Australian Raven

L. Raven

Little Raven

Corvids, i.e. ravens and crows, present quite an identification challenge for bird-watchers and twitchers. In our district there are only two species, the Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) and Little Raven (Corvus mellori), but correctly choosing between the two can be quite a battle. Incidentally, there are no crows in Victoria.
Let’s look at the validity of what should be some key identification features:

  • Size. Obviously the Little is smaller! Well, yes, but only by a centimetre or two, so not a reliable indicator.
  • Call. The Australian’s call has a drawn-out descending finish. Yes, but not always, and the Little’s call can often end on a descending note. And the calls of young birds are generally indistinguishable.
  • The Australian Raven has throat hackles that appear as a shaggy beard, especially when it calls. True, but the Little does have throat hackles, though much less prominent.
  • The Little always flick its wings when calling. This does often occur, but ain’t necessarily so.
  • Ravens in flocks are likely to be Littles. Probably true – we had about 40 or 50 in our front paddock a few weeks ago. But immature and unattached adult Aussies can form small flocks at times.

So, you can see that many potential identifying characteristics are not definitive. As an aid to corvid identification Sean Dooley wrote an article in Australian Birdlife magazine in 2012 titled The Trouble with Ravens. The article includes an informative table of features for all five Australian corvids, compiled by Andrew Silcocks, manager of BirdLife Australia’s Atlas of Australian Birds. Owing to the difficulty of identification, the Atlas has undergone a review process of corvid records, particularly in contentious areas, and in some cases downgraded records to unconfirmed status.

The most reliable distinguishing features between the Australian and the Little are probably the more prominent throat hackles on the Australian, together with its wailing call with a long descending finish. The Little’s call is mostly a series of harsh level lower-pitched caws. Click on the audio bars below to hear locally recorded calls.

When submitting local observations to the Atlas’s online database Birdata there is a convenient additional check-box for unidentified corvids labelled “Crow and Raven species”, which we tend to use unless we are absolutely sure of what we have seen or heard. And considering how wary these birds are, definitive records are not that common!
Australian Raven:
Little Raven:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2016 7:40 am

    Really interesting! It seems very difficult to tell them apart. Thank you for sharing. Best, Nataly

  2. April 4, 2016 5:18 am

    Good shot

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