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American Crow American crow

Identification and Pictures

(Corvus brachyrhynchos)

The American crow or Common crow is a large, chunky, all black bird, about 17 to 21 inches.  The feathers have a glossy shine to them, and in strong sunlight they can have a purplish hue.  They have a large, thick, black bill, and strong, black legs, and feet.  The wings are broad, and rounded, and they have a short rounded tail.  Their flight is a slow deliberate wing beat.  Both sexes look similar. Young birds look like the adults, but have blue eyes.  Crows are fairly intelligent, and sometimes mischievous birds, which are very good at problem solving.  They are able to recognize, and remember individual people, and pick them out of a crowd.   American crow

 

Photo by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

     

 

Sound

They have a number of calls they use for communication.  Their most notable call is a loud caw caw, given as they thrust their heads up and down.  Sometimes family members will do coordinated duets.  They are also able to mimic the sounds of other animals.  Listen to crow

Preferred Habitat

They range across Canada in summer, and most of the U.S. all year long.  They can be found in woodlands, river groves, farms, fields, and shores.  They do well around people, and are often found in towns, around parks, cemeteries, lawns, garbage dumps, and parking lots.  They are often seen in tree tops, on telephone poles, and along roadsides.  Crows are very social birds, and are often found in large groups, sometimes numbering into the thousands.  In winter communal roosting groups may be in the millions of birds.  Some roosting groups have been forming in the same areas for hundreds of years.  Crows may establish year round territories for their family, but will also leave this territory to join with the large groups for foraging, and roosting.  Foraging flocks may post sentries to watch for and warn the others of predators.    

Breeding and Nesting

Most crows do not breed until they are at least 4 years old.  A pair will form a family with young birds from 5 years back.  Both birds in a pair will build a nest together, often with the help of young from previous years.  The nest is a well made bowl of sticks, lined with pine needles, bark, and animal hair, built in a tree.  They are very aggressive, and will loudly mob any animal that comes near their nest, often chasing away birds such as hawks.  All members of a family will help defend the territory.  The female will incubate 4 to 6 greenish spotted eggs for around 18 days, and the young will fledge in around 35 days after hatching.  Previous offspring will often help a pair raise their young.  During breeding season some birds will also join floater flocks, of up to 50 birds.  These flocks have not been thoroughly studied, but it is thought this gives individual birds a chance to find a mate while still staying with their family.   

Food 

They eat insects, earthworms, seeds, fruit, small animals, fish, aquatic life, carrion, and garbage.  Most foraging is on the ground, but they often raid garbage cans.  Crows also hunt for mice, frogs, and other small animals.  They sometimes steal food from other animals.  One or more crows may distract the animal so others can steal the food.  They have also been known to make, and use tools such as a sharpened stick used to probe for food.  They will follow song birds to find their nest, and eat the eggs and nestlings.  Some crows have developed an interesting technique for cracking nuts.  They will place the nut in traffic.  After a car runs over and cracks the nut they will retrieve it.

View nut cracking video.



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