Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences [Dept. of Entomology]

Identifying Crows and Hawks


Everyone knows what a crow looks like. But sometimes, what should seem easy, is not.  You'll need to know what cues to look for to identify a dead bird as a crow or hawk.  There are two types of crows here in the northeast: the American Crow and the Fish Crow.  They look very similar, except the Fish crow is generally smaller.

Crows: An adult American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is pictured here. Crows:

  • Are solid black or brownish-black (juvenile),
  • Are around 15 to 17 inches from tip of beak to tip of tail,
  • Have black beak and legs,
  • And have a tail where each feather is roughly the same length.
  • Ravens are much rarer than crows and much larger (about 24 inches) with center tail feathers that are longer than the outer tail feathers.
  • Grackles are most likely to be misidentified as crows, but they are generally smaller (around 12 to 17 inches long) and have proportionately much longer tails. Also, their nostrils are NOT covered by bristles, like crows (for comparison, see the close-up photo of a Common Grackle).  Starlings are much smaller, have stubby tails, and can be spotted.
A dead crow.  
A Common Grackle

(Quiscalus quiscula)

Grackles have more iridescence than crows and their eyes are light.  (Eyes change color after death and might even be missing).

A European Starling

(Sturnus vulgaris)

A starling in winter plumage.  The spots wear off as the breeding season approaches.

 


Hawks vary tremendously in size, from our smallest American Kestrel (at a mere 9 inches) to the the 19 inches of the common Red-tailed Hawk.  In comparison, Turkey Vultures are around 26 inches in length.

Hawks:

  • Have deeply curved bills which often have yellow coloration.
  • Have deeply curved toenails (talons).
  • Have feet and legs that are usually yellow.
  • Are not solid black.  They often have streaks or banding of browns, tans, and reddish colorations.

A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), pictured here.

Soft tissue parts such as eyes can change after death (or even be absent).  Overall body color is subject to variation, such as albinism in crows or melanism in hawks, but this is relatively rare.

This page show many different types of Birds of Prey as does this Identification Page.

In 2002, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, OFWHF (Office of Fish and Wildlife Health and Forensics) scientists are requesting the public notify us (908-735-6398) of any dead American kestrels.  Kestrels are small falcons less than 1 foot long about the size of a robin.  They are the only small hawk-like bird with a reddish (rufous) tail and back.  The male has a blue wing and the female’s is rufous (see photos). 
Both males and females have:

Black mustache stripe below the eye (male on the left, female on the right).

Rufous-colored tail

Rufous colored back

©2008 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Last modified: 18 March 2013, lreed@rci.rutgers.edu.

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