Identifying Ravens in the Geelong region
Margaret Alcorn and Richard Alcorn
Three members of the Corvidae (crows and ravens family) occur in the Geelong region—the Australian Raven Corvus coronoides, the Forest Raven Corvus tasmanicus and the Little Raven Corvus mellori.
Identifying these three species can be difficult as they are visually similar.
Australian Raven, Brisbane Ranges, April 2017. Photo: Bernie McRitchie. ML54790711
Forest Raven, Otway Ranges, November 2019. Photo: John Daniels. ML185311771
Little Raven, Serendip Sanctuary, September 2015. Photo: David Hollie ML27436771
Within the Geelong region, Australian Ravens are found in the forests and woodlands north of the Hamilton Hwy. They rarely venture into open country. Forest Ravens are found throughout the forests, woodlands and farmland west of Anglesea and south of the Hamilton Highway. Little Ravens are found throughout the region and are the only ravens likely to be found on the Werribee Plain, the Geelong metropolitan area and the Bellarine Peninsula
Locations where ravens were recorded in the Geelong region over the period 2017-2021 (eBird)
Calls and wing-flicking
The easiest and most reliable way to separate the three ravens is by call. When listening to a raven call consider the quality of the call, tone, pitch, tempo and length of notes. All ravens give a variety of calls, so it is best to listen carefully to a series of calls before making an identification.
The typical call of the Australian Raven is a series of long, powerful, spaced, clear or quavering notes in the tenor range, often ending with a slow drawn-out crying wail. It can be described as “aaah---aaah---aaah---aaaaaaaah”. The presence of a long, drawn-out terminal note does not confirm that the bird is an Australian Raven as all Australian corvids can do this.
The typical call of the Forest Raven is a short series of slow, deep, gravelly notes almost in the bass range. The last note may be longer, but it is not a drawn-out wailing like the Australian Raven. It can be described as “korr-korr-korr-korr” or “korr-korr-korr-korrrrr”.
The typical call of the Little Raven is a series of short, quick, guttural, rough or raspy notes in the baritone range. The call may end with a drawn-out descending, somewhat wailing note which is shorter and lower in pitch than that of the Australian Raven. It can be described as ‘ark-ark-ark” or “aark-aark-aaaaaark”. The Little Raven often calls with a diagnostic and conspicuous flick of the wings above the back on each note of the call.
Differences in body size are insufficient to distinguish these species in the field as size measurements overlap. Despite its name, the Little Raven is not noticeably smaller than either the Australian Raven or Forest Raven.
The long throat hackles of the Australian Raven form a floppy beard reaching the upper breast. The hackles of the Forest Raven and Little Raven, whilst still prominent, are shorter and extend no further than the throat (see Photo set 2).
Australian Raven Ken Janson / ML431679671
Forest Raven John Daniels / ML185311771
Little Raven Craig Morley / ML213119501
Bill size and shape
The bill of the Australian Raven is long and deep, that of the Forest Raven slightly deeper. The bill of the Little Raven is slightly shorter and finer.
Bare skin patch on face
The Australian Raven has a diagnostic patch of bare skin (black in the adult and pink in the juvenile) on the base of the lower mandible extending to the sides of the chin . This bare skin can be difficult to see in the field or even in a good photograph.
Len and Chris Ezzy / ML443925361
Length of tail
The Forest Raven has a ‘proportionately short tail’ compared with Australian and Little Ravens but this characteristic is difficult to judge in the field
Forest Raven Scott Eaton / ML134120661
Australian Raven Julie Smith / ML313144631
Within the Geelong region, Australian Ravens are usually seen in ones or twos but have been recorded in small flocks of up to fourteen. Forest Ravens are also usually seen in ones and twos but have been recorded in flocks of up to fifty. Little Ravens are usually seen in small flocks, but large flocks of many hundreds of birds are frequently encountered (eBird).
Documenting your observation
With care you can confidently and reliably identify the three ravens of the Geelong region. Listen to the calls, pay attention to the size and shape of the throat hackles, look for any bare skin at the side of the chin and, if perched, watch for wing-flicking when calling. Add notes to your eBird observations of what you hear and see, take a photo and use your phone to make a sound recording.
Higgins, P.J., Peter, J.M., Cowling, S.J. (2006). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds Volume 7: Boatbill to Starlings. Oxford University Press.
Menkhorst, P. et al (2017) The Australian Bird Guide. CSIRO Publishing, Clayton, Victoria.