The distinctly all-black American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), usually referred to simply as a crow, is one of the most abundant and well-recognized birds in North America. Supremely adaptable and intelligent, the familiar “caw-caw” call of the crow can be heard everywhere from rural fields to urban jungles. Occasionally confused in some areas of the country with the larger common raven, crows are much more social, and can often be found within roosts of hundreds of thousands of birds.
With a length of 16-20 inches and a wingspan of over three feet, American crows are fairly large birds. They tend to fly quite lazily, with a steady beat of their wings and feathers splayed not unlike fingers. Its feathers are an iridescent black color, becoming slightly duller when molting new feathers. Their legs, feet and bills are also all black. There are four subspecies of the American crow. All species look similar with minor differences; the largest tend to live in the northeast part of the continent, steadily declining to the smallest varieties that reside nearly as far southwest as western Mexico. Crows do not migrate, and are usually permanent residents.
So long as there are a few trees to perch in American crows can live just about anywhere, with parks and lawns in suburban areas being a popular choice. Highly omnivorous and opportunistic, the crow will eat whatever is available to it. Insects, lizards and small mammals are frequent prey, but crows also dine on fruits, berries, grains, and even human garbage. Though often considered to be scavengers, carrion makes up a relatively small part of the crow’s diet, however they will take advantage when it’s available. Stealing eggs from the nests of other birds is also common crow practice.
Like all members of the Corvid family, American crows are very intelligent. They have the ability to make and use tools, and can mimic the sounds of other animals. Crows have been known to work together to distract animals such as otters while another group is stealing their prey. They are also able to recognize when migrating songbirds are tired after their long flights, and will use this as an advantage to prey on the small birds.
Usually roosting together in large numbers, crows disperse in the spring for mating season. The nest is built not only by the breeding pair, which has mated for life, but also with the help of that pair’s offspring who are under four years old. The nest is made of sticks and twigs and is usually high up in a tree. The breeding female will lay 3-6 eggs which will require 18 days of incubation, and an additional 35 days in the nest before the young crows are able to fly. Unlike many species of birds, American crows do not immediately leave their parents. Rather, most crows remain closely tied to their family unit and do not leave the nest permanently to breed until 4 or 5 years of age. Wild crows live 8 years on average, with some in captivity living up to 30 years.
AMERICAN CROW FACTS
- The current American crow population is estimated to be around 31 million.
- Single American crow families can be as large as 15 individuals.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology