Monday, September 30, 2013

What's the Difference Between a Raven and a Crow?

American Crow (Image by: DickDaniels, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many people see a rather large black bird and assume the bird is a raven. Or a crow. Some people assume ravens and crows are the same type of bird. That's understandable, since they look similar at first glance. To make things more confusing, both birds belong to the crow (corvus) family, and any member of that family can be called a crow. That means a raven could be called a crow, but not all crows could be called ravens. What's the difference between a raven and a crow?

Technically speaking, a crow is any bird from the genus, corvus. However, the word "crow" is most often used to refer to just a few specific species. In North America, it usually refers to either the American Crow or the Northwestern Crow. In Europe, it usually refers to the Carrion Crow or the Hooded Crow. Most crows are black in color (however, the Hooded Crow is mostly grey), have a wingspan of around three feet, and are around 18-21 inches in length, depending on the particular species. They eat almost anything - fruit, nuts, carrion, eggs, small rodents, amphibians, scraps from garbage, etc. They tend to hang out near humans so they can scavenge. Crows are very intelligent, and are often regarded as some of the world's smartest animals. They make many vocalizations, and are great mimics.

Common Raven (Image by: David Hofmann, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Most sources will tell you that one of the main differences is that ravens are larger than crows. While this is usually true, it isn't a fool-proof way of telling the birds apart. The Common Raven is generally between 22 and 30 inches in length, and as mentioned above, crows can be as large as 21 inches. Therefore,a large crow can easily be mistaken for a small raven (and vice versa) if you only go by size.

Even so, there are other physical differences you can look for. A raven's feathers are shinier and usually "fluffier" (or appear fuller) than a crow's. A raven's bill is larger and curved closer to the end than that of a crow. Ravens have a slight point in their tail which gives it a wedge shape, while a crow's tail is more rounded. Ravens also look a bit different in flight. They have longer, thinner wings and are likely to be seen soaring. If you see a black bird doing a somersault in the air, you're looking at a raven! If you hear its call, you can usually figure out which bird it is - a crow has a distinctive "caw caw" sound, and a raven's call is deeper and more of a croak. Ravens are also less social than crows and are more likely to live in less populated areas or in parks, though they can adapt to most environments.

Ravens and crows aren't completely different, however. The similarities in appearance are obvious, and both birds have demonstrated problem-solving skills in laboratory experiments and in the wild, which puts them both toward the top of the avian intelligence ladder. They eat similar diets - they are both opportunistic omnivores, even though ravens seem to prefer carrion a little more than crows. Of course, one of the main things crows and ravens have in common is that they are both awesome and fascinating birds.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Elephant Poachers are Poisoning Vultures

Rueppell's vulture (Photo by: Hans Hillewaert, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Here's another entry for the "reasons why people suck" list.

Elephant poaching has been a problem for a quite some time. Poachers kill these majestic beasts primarily to harvest their ivory tusks to sell illegally. The tusks are made into trinkets, which are seen as status symbols in some parts of the world. Elephant hides are also sometimes taken and sold. Rhinos are being poached as well for their horns, which can be carved into objects or used in traditional medicine. Even though trade of ivory is restricted, demand through illegal ivory networks is rising, and poaching is getting worse.

Poaching these animals is bad enough. However, to make things even worse, elephant and rhino poachers are also killing off vultures. Why are they harming these birds? As most people know, vultures eat dead animals. When something as large as an elephant dies, you'll find many vultures gathering near the carcass to partake of the feast. Police and wildlife officials use this behavior to their advantage. They can follow the vultures to track the poachers.

Unfortunately, these poachers have no respect for lives other than their own (if they did, they wouldn't be poaching), and the vultures threaten their "businesses." To try to kill off the informers, the criminals poison the elephant and rhino carcasses. When the vultures, who are just looking for something to eat, consume the meat, they die. The poachers hope to eliminate the vultures in the areas they operate. Sadly, these lawbreakers don’t seem to realize that vultures travel huge distances to find food, so it’s impossible to get rid of vultures in a particular zone. Or maybe they do realize it and are fine with playing a huge part in the extinction of these birds.

This past July, there was a poisoning incident in Namibia that killed 600 vultures. This just adds to the list of problems vultures in Africa have been facing for decades. Thanks to habitat loss, predator poisoning from farmers, and the use of veterinary drugs that are deadly to birds, vulture populations in West Africa have declined by 42% in the last 30 years. One species, the Rueppell’s vulture, has been hit particularly hard, with an 85% decline.

New Direction for the Blog...

I live! I also want to do something with this blog again. I originally started it about a year and a half ago as "Animal Fact of the Day." For about a month or so, I was pretty good about posting some sort of animal fact almost every day. However, I soon learned that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Trying to come up with a new and exciting animal fact to write about every day became quite a challenge. I was stressing out over keeping things interesting and fun, and about keeping the content coming. It became a "something I still have to get done today" chore as opposed to something I enjoyed doing. I was starting to burn out, and fast. It didn't help that I went back to work and also started taking classes, both of which took up a lot of my time.

In any case, I've recently started to miss writing about animals. However, the idea of trying to come up with daily animals facts again is still as daunting as ever. Therefore, I've decided to give the blog a bit of a makeover. Animals will still be the main topic, of course. However, posts will cover animal facts, news, and just random basic information. They also won't come every day. I'm thinking maybe one or two posts per week, on average. I could have a particular productive week in which I become inspired to write more, but I doubt that will be a regular occurrence.

Anyway, say goodbye to "Animal Fact of the Day," and hello to "Animal Facts, News, and Info."