Crow vs Hawk: Tips to Tell Them Apart (Even from Afar)

Crows and hawks are two fascinating bird species that are often seen in conflict with each other. While many are aware of the impressive traits of hawks, such as their speed, strength, and sharp talons, some might be surprised to learn that crows are far from the timid black birds they’re often perceived to be. In fact, crows are known to be intelligent and fiercely protective of their young.

These avian rivals have distinct physical and behavioral differences that contribute to their ongoing conflict. Hawks, belonging to the Accipitridae family, are birds of prey with powerful beaks and talons, while crows are members of the Corvidae family and possess incredible intelligence and adaptability. As you explore the world of crows and hawks, you’ll discover the various factors behind their rivalry and the unique characteristics that set them apart.

Key Takeaways:

  • Crows and hawks have distinct physical and behavioral features, leading to their ancient rivalry.
  • Intelligence and adaptability distinguish crows, while hawks are known for their predatory abilities.
  • Understanding the differences in their habitats, diets, and nesting habits provides insight into their conflicting relationship.

Crow vs Hawk: Physical Differences

crow vs hawk physical differences comparison
American Crow, left; Red-Tailed Hawk, right.

Looking at crows and hawks side by side, there are several physical differences to help you distinguish between these two bird species. Let’s dive into some of the most notable differences to help you easily identify them.

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To begin with, hawks are birds of prey, while crows are not. As a result, hawks have evolved with a more powerful and muscular build to effectively capture and hold onto their prey. Their talons are sharp and curved, capable of grasping prey and holding on tightly.

On the other hand, crows possess modest talons suited for their omnivorous diet, which includes insects, small mammals, and various plant materials.

Body Coloration

Most likely, you’ll notice that the coloration of these two birds is different. Generally, hawks exhibit a darker brown color on their backs, with the underside of their wings, bellies, and tails displaying lighter shades of brown and/or white.

Crows, in contrast, have an all-black appearance, making them easily distinguishable from their hawk counterparts.


Another distinguishing factor is the shape of their beaks. Hawks, whether the red-tailed hawk or the sharp-shinned hawk, have hooked beaks designed for tearing into prey.

It’s quite apparent how different their beaks are to crow beaks, which are long, thick, and much straighter in comparison to the hooked beak of the hawk. The crow’s sleeker beak, while a formidable weapon if need be, is well-adapted to their varied diet.

Size and Shape

hawk vs crow in flight comparison
Crow flying, left; Hawk soaring, right.

In addition to coloration, you might be able to differentiate between hawks and crows based on their size and shape. Some hawks, including species like the red-tailed hawk and ferruginous hawk, are a bit larger than crows. For example, the red-tailed hawk averages about 18-25 inches long. Crows are similar in size to their close relatives, ravens, and are roughly 17-20 inches in length.

Keep in mind, though, that some smaller types of hawks are about the same size as the average crow.

The four-foot wingspans of hawks are broader than those of crows, which have narrower and more angular wings and about a 2.5-foot wingspan. Moreover, the differences in their tails can help you distinguish between the two – crows tend to have wedge-shaped tails, while hawks’ tails are typically longer and more rounded.


Hawks, depending on which species, have different colored eyes. For example, juvenile red-tailed hawks have pale yellow eyes that change to darker brown over the bird’s lifetime. The eyes of a cooper’s hawk change from a yellowish-green, to orange, to deep red, and the sharp-shinned hawk’s eyes are orange-hued or reddish.

When they’re young, crows have blue eyes, which change to dark brown in adulthood. Their eyes are generally smaller and darker than hawks’ eyes, with the pupil being less visible.

Flight Patterns

Lastly, if you happen to see the flight patterns of hawks and crows, you will notice that hawks typically soar in the sky. Crows have a more irregular flight pattern, often flapping their wings and performing acrobatics in the air.

By taking note of these physical differences, you can confidently identify whether you’re looking at a hawk or a crow in their natural habitats.

Unique Behavioral Differences

carrion crow cawing, perched on a stump
Carrion Crow cawing.

In terms of the behavior of crows and hawks, you’ll notice some key differences that set these two birds apart.

Crows are highly social creatures that often travel in large groups called “murders.” Their impressive intelligence allows them to effectively communicate and collaborate in these groups. In contrast, hawks are more solitary and prefer to hunt independently or in pairs.

One of the most striking crow behaviors is mobbing – a tactic used by crows to drive away hawks. Crows, being more intelligent compared to other birds, are known to work in groups to chase hawks away from their nesting areas.

During a mobbing event, crows often showcase a variety of behaviors like flapping their wings, making loud noises, and even dive-bombing the hawk. This can be quite a spectacle, as the crows sometimes fan out their wings and tails to make themselves appear larger and more intimidating. Meanwhile, hawks usually take the defensive role in this scenario, trying to evade the crows’ persistent efforts.

It’s fascinating to observe how crows practice and perfect their mobbing techniques. By repeatedly engaging in this behavior, they learn how to become more effective at repelling hawks. Crows show their intelligence by adapting their tactics and learning from past experiences.

Habitat Differences

Resourceful and abundant, crows are found in many regions across North America, including urban, suburban, and rural areas. In contrast, hawks, such as the Cooper’s hawk, can be seen in woodland habitats or the edges of forests.

Crows are opportunistic birds, adapting to various environments, from open fields to dense forests. They are also known to inhabit cities and towns, making use of human structures for nesting and scavenging food. As you can possibly attest, it’s not uncommon to see them in parks and green spaces within urban centers.

On the other hand, hawks are birds of prey that prefer wider, open spaces like meadows, grasslands, and marshes for hunting. They rely on their sharp talons, hooked beaks, and exceptional vision to spot and capture prey. Due to their hunting habits, hawks are more commonly found in areas where they can take advantage of the open spaces to observe and chase after their prey.

When it comes down to it, crows are highly adaptable birds that can be found in a wide range of habitats, from urban centers to rural environments. Hawks, however, primarily reside in open spaces near forest edges or other areas where they can effectively hunt their prey.

Vocalizations and Calls

Perhaps the most famous call of the crow is its harsh cawing. Its “Caw” is loud and distinct, and while crow calls might not be considered beautiful, they can be quite communicative.

Crows have more than 20 calls that they use for various purposes. Their “subsong,” a combination of caws, coos, rattling, and click sounds, is may be quieter but last for several minutes.

On the other hand, hawks have a different set of vocalizations. For example, Cooper’s Hawks produce a series of high-pitched sounds that can help you identify them among other bird species.

The sounds they make vary depending on the situation, whether they are defending their territory or communicating with other hawks. However, their vocalizations can be less frequent than those of crows, so identifying them might require more patience.

In general, when differentiating between bird calls and songs, complexity, length, and context are the main factors. Songs tend to be more complex and longer, as they are often associated with courtship, mating, and territory marking. Calls, on the other hand, are usually shorter and serve various functions, such as alarms or communication within a flock.

If you want to improve your bird identification skills, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the various songs and calls of both crows and hawks. You can find recordings of their vocalizations on websites such as All About Birds or Audubon.

By becoming more acquainted with these unique bird sounds, not only will you become better at distinguishing between crows and hawks, but you’ll also deepen your appreciation for these fascinating creatures.

Diet and Feeding Differences

coopers hawk feeding on prey
Cooper’s Hawk feeding on prey.

Crows and hawks have quite different diets and feeding habits. Crows are omnivores, meaning they eat a wide range of food sources, including both predators and prey. As carnivores, hawks primarily focus on hunting other animals for sustenance.

Crows are versatile in their food choices and are known to be both predators and scavengers. In addition, they eat rodents, reptiles, small mammals, worms, insects, and eggs, as well as grains, fruits, nuts, and human food. This adaptability allows crows to survive in various environments, from rural to urban areas.

As predators, hawks mainly target animals like mice, squirrels, and songbirds for their meals. They rely on their powerful flying speeds, sharp talons, and beaks to catch and tear apart their prey. Some hawks, such as Cooper’s hawks, may occasionally consume smaller prey like frogs, snakes, and insects.

Bird species like the blue jay and fish crow may find themselves competing for some of the same food sources with hawks. This is particularly true when it comes to the consumption of smaller mammals and songbirds. However, crows have a wider and more varied diet, which allows them to find nutrition in a broader range of sources.

When observing feeders in a backyard, you may frequently spot crows scavenging for seeds and nuts left out for other birds. In contrast, hawks are likely to be perched nearby, ready to attack the smaller birds that visit the feeders. This is another clear demonstration of the differences in diet and feeding habits between these two bird species.

Nesting Differences

crow nests in a tree
Crow nests in a tree.

As opportunists, crows will build their nests wherever convenient for them. For instance, skyscrapers, utility poles, and trees all make nesting spots for crows. They also have a tendency to nest communally, in family groups.

In wooded areas, crows usually prefer to build their nests in evergreen trees. In instances where evergreen trees are scarce, they may opt for deciduous trees as their nesting sites.

Hawks build their nests in various locations, depending on species. Red-tailed hawks may build nests in towering trees, cliff ledges, and even billboard ledges. Broad-winged hawks, however, tend to nest around the edges of forests.

Crows often build their nests in a well-hidden crevice, or they select a branch near the top third or quarter of a tree, near where the limb meets the trunk. Both male and female crows in a breeding pair help to construct the nest.

Hawks will also build nests in the crotches of trees or in disused tree cavities, providing a secure and stable platform for their young. Also opportunistic in their nesting habits, some hawks are happy to nest in old, abandoned nests of other hawks, crows, and even squirrels.

Breeding Differences

In terms of mating and breeding behaviors, crows engage in their unique rituals on the ground, whereas hawks perform aerial courtship displays. During the breeding season, male crows are known to attract females through vocalizations, displaying their glossy black feathers and utilizing other social cues.

As newly hatched nestlings grow, crows and hawks tend to their young differently. Crow parents share the responsibility of nurturing their offspring, ensuring they are fed and protected from predators. Hawk parents, however, often divide the tasks, with the male providing food while the female guards the nest and cares for their nestlings.

Crow and Hawk Taxonomy

If you want to know the differences birds like crows and hawks, it helps to understand their taxonomic differences. Crows belong to the Corvidae family, which consists of various intelligent and adaptable black birds, such as ravens, magpies, and jays. On the other hand, hawks are classified under the Accipitridae family, where you’ll find birds of prey like eagles, buzzards, and vultures.

In terms of physical distinctions, crows exhibit shiny black plumage and dark legs, with a size that ranges between 17.5 to 19 inches in length and a weight of 12 to 57 ounces for different crow species. As for hawks, they generally display a larger and more robust body with broad wings, making them skillful predators at the top of the food chain.

Another noteworthy aspect of bird taxonomy lies in the bird’s behavior and abilities. Crows, as a part of the intelligent Corvidae family, exhibit remarkable problem-solving skills and strong social bonds within their groups. This often helps them in their daily lives as they are commonly found gathering food and defending their territories in numbers.

The Accipitridae family, with hawks and other raptors, are known for their keen eyesight and impressive hunting skills. These birds possess powerful talons and sharp beaks, which make them formidable hunters capable of catching their prey in swift, agile pursuits. They are usually territorial and highly adaptable to various environments.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between crows and hawks?

Crows and hawks are both birds, but they have distinct differences. Crows are primarily scavengers and belong to the corvid family, known for their intelligence and adaptability. Hawks are birds of prey, featuring powerful strength, sharp talons, and superior vision. They are predators and capture small mammals and birds as their primary food source.

Why do crows often harass hawks?

Crows harass hawks mainly due to their protective nature. When they notice a hawk as a potential threat to their young or territory, they engage in a behavior called mobbing. This involves groups of crows banding together to chase and annoy the hawk, ultimately driving it away from their nesting areas.

Are hawks and crows natural enemies?

While not natural enemies, hawks and crows often find themselves competing for food and territory. They can be aggressive toward each other, and conflicts can arise. Hawks, being predators, may sometimes see crows as possible prey, while crows work together to protect their nests and drive off hawks.

How do crows defend themselves against hawks?

Crows utilize their intelligence and collective strength to defend themselves against hawks. They engage in mobbing, where multiple crows will harass, chase, and annoy a hawk until it leaves their territory. This group effort makes it difficult for a hawk to target an individual crow, offering them protection and safety in numbers.

Do hawks prey on crows?

While hawks are known primarily for hunting small mammals and birds, they can indeed target crows as prey. However, crows tend to be agile and resourceful when threatened, making it more challenging for hawks to capture them, especially when they work together as a group.

What is the symbolism of a crow attacking a hawk?

The symbolism of a crow attacking a hawk can be perceived as the smaller, weaker creature standing up to a much larger and stronger predator. This scenario often symbolizes the power of intelligence, resourcefulness, and teamwork to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The crow, a symbol of wisdom and adaptability, showcases its ability to challenge the prowess of the hawk through united efforts.

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