AMERICAN CROW

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

The American crow is a widespread species and a very social bird. They are quite resourceful, for example they can learn to use a ‘tool’ to obtain food. They will hide food for future use. The crow diet is omnivorous, and may include insect pests but also smaller birds’ hatchlings and eggs, or grain crops, and garbage. They also feed along the shores and do not hesitate to hang out on the water with gulls and ducks, as can be seen below. The crow is very well adapted to cohabiting with humans, and is usually a year-long resident.

American crows are known to harass predator birds and also foxes. Below is an example of such harassment on a snowy owl. This owl had just been chased away from its hideout by a group of crows and landed on this old bridge pillar, only to be soon followed by one of the crows. The owl is now in a precarious situation because crows have been known to harass these owls above the water until they reach it, and then their feathers get wet and they can’t fly out and eventually drown. There’s another photo (see below) of an American crow flying close to two bald eagles, likely for the same reason.

An interesting (scientifically, but which can be quite annoying) behavior of the American crow is its propensity to gather in large numbers for the night. In Prince Edward Island, the American crow has chosen Victoria Park as their ‘bedroom’. This means that every evening, hundreds of crows converge en masse from all parts of the island to congregate at the top of the large trees in the park. Their loud calls can be heard from a good distance, and any walker in the park at that time would be well advised to carry an umbrella if they venture under those trees! Complaints have been lodged by the local residents, and attempts have been made to relocate some of the crows to other areas. Crows may also gather in large numbers at day time.

Whether one likes them or not, this bird is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, even if it’s not really migratory. It therefore requires a special permit for, say a farmer, to cull some individuals as a deterrent to protect his crops.

Crows are very smart, as for other members of their family, the corvidae. One small example of this can be seen in the first video embedded below, where a crow is gathering nesting material from sisal twine that was tied in several places on the arbor to allow vines to climb. The crow manages to somehow pull and cut the sisal pieces in specific lengths, places them in its bill with almost equal parts hanging on each side – presumably for balanced flight – and after a few attempts, holds a neat alignment – akin to a mustache – of several sisal pieces in its bill before taking off. The crow came back several times for more nesting material, and at one time was ‘accompanied’ by another crow, that seemed to just look and do nothing else. Was this additional crow there to learn a new behavior?

Another example is the photo below of an American crow with its bill full to capacity (it seems) with peanut halves, seemingly aligned longitudinally to take up less space, and packed against each other for the same reason.

Finally, American crows being highly susceptible to the West Nile virus, they are used as a bio-indicator of the presence of this disease-causing virus in a given area.

American crow stuffing up with peanuts; note the neat alignment of the peanuts to maximize the amount the bird can take- Charlottetown, PEI - Dec. 12, 2015 - by Matt Beardsley
American crow stuffing up with peanuts; note the neat alignment of the peanuts to maximize the amount the bird can take- Charlottetown, PEI – Dec. 12, 2015 – by Matt Beardsley
American crow getting ready for a bath - PEI May 8, 2015
American crow getting ready for a bath – Stratford, PEI
American crows with gulls in the Charlottetown Harbor in January. These ducks overwinter if the water is not completely frozen.
American crows with gulls in the Charlottetown Harbor in January. These ducks overwinter if the water is not completely frozen.
American crow 'buzzing the tower', likely harassing the bald eagles - May 30, 2016 - by Matt Beardsley
American crow ‘buzzing the tower’, likely harassing the bald eagles – May 30, 2016 – by Matt Beardsley
American crow taking off - Stratford PEI
American crow taking off – Stratford PEI
Close up of American crow - Charlottetown, PEI - Dec. 16, 2016 - by Matt Beardsley
Close up of American crow – Charlottetown, PEI – Dec. 16, 2016 – by Matt Beardsley
American crows will mob raptors whenever they see one. Here a crow landed near a snowy owl that just got chased away from its former spot by a group of crows, including this one.
American crows will mob raptors whenever they see one. Here a crow landed near a snowy owl that just got chased away from its former spot by a group of crows, including this one.

The video below shows a crow taking a bath on a frigid early May morning, under the watch (or guard?) of a fellow companion.

About the above video – there are two old apple trees growing by the boardwalk at Victoria Park in Charlottetown. Those apples are quite good and without worms, and I made juice and sauce from them a number of times. The trick is to go early in the morning following a windy night, in order to be able to pick the freshly fallen ones before the crows have had the time to peck at them. Does anyone know which apple variety these trees are?

BACK TO THE TOP