AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
DESCRIPTION: The American Crow is an all black bird, including the bill, eyes and feet. The bill is thick and the upper mandible slightly down curved. The two sexes look the same. The length of this bird is around 50 cm (20 inches).
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Corvus-brachyrhynchos – the American crow has a very recognizable ”cawing’ call.
NAME: The English name ‘Crow’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s call. The Latin genus name ‘Corvus’ means ‘crow’, and the Latin species name ‘brachyrhynchos’ is from Greek and means ‘short beak’ (which it is relative to that of the Raven.
HABITAT: Crows are found in a vast array of habitats (except deserts) – forests, parks, cities, farms, meadows, shorelines.
DIET: The crow diet is omnivorous, and may include insect pests but also smaller birds’ hatchlings and eggs, or grain crops, garbage and sometimes carrion.
NESTING: Being social birds, crows form large cooperative families where juveniles help in the rearing of chicks. The nest is built by both parents in large trees (preferably conifers) and is a bulky structure of twigs and other materials. An average of six light blue-green eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female for the most part. The young are fed by both parents, and also by juveniles from previous broods.
DISTRIBUTION: The American crow is a widespread species and a year-round resident in most of its range. The latter covers the treed areas of Canada, the USA and the northern part of Mexico. There is partial migration in the northernmost part of the range.
ON PEI: The American crow is a year-round resident on Prince Edward Island, and is very common. On this island, the American crow has chosen Victoria Park in Charlottetown as their ‘bedroom’. Every evening, hundreds of crows converge en masse from all parts of the island to congregate in the large trees in the park. There have been complaints by local residents because of the noise, and attempts have been made to relocate some of the crows to other areas.
CONSERVATION: The American crow is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, even if it’s not really migratory. Before that, they were killed both for recreation and as nuisance birds. Their numbers are now estimated at around 30,000,000, and the species is not considered at risk.
NOTES: The crow a very social bird. They are also quite resourceful, for example they can learn to use a ‘tool’ to obtain food. They will hide food for future use.
Roosting: 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.
Crows may also gather in large numbers at day time.
Smart birds: Crows are very smart, as with other members of their family, the Corvidae. One small example of this can be seen in the first video below, where a crow is gathering nesting material. The crow manages to 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, and at one time was ‘accompanied’ by another crow that seemed to just look on. Was this 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, all neatly aligned and close to each other to take up less space, so that the bird can carry more.
Mobbing predators: American crows are known to harass and mob birds of prey and other predators such as foxes. This is because they are preying on crows’ eggs and chicks. Below is an example of such harassment of 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.
American crows are 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.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Common Raven – these two species might be confused, but there are different ways to tell them apart. The raven is larger, and its call has a lower pitch. Ravens do not gather in large flocks like crows, and do not mob birds of prey. Actually it’s the other way around – it is the crows that will mob ravens.
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/american-crow (Missouri Department of Conservation)
The video below shows a crow taking a bath on a frigid early May morning, under the watch (or guard?) of a fellow companion:
Pecking at an apple:
This American crow just landed close to the Snowy Owl, which was previously harassed by a mob of crows: