American Crow

The American Crow

Unless one has a passion for a specific bird species, many of us have numerous favorites. Another one of mine is the American Crow. It happens to be a much maligned bird by some. The greatest problem concerning the Crow is its abundance. Without any natural predators to maintain their population, they just keep increasing in numbers. Large flocks seem to be a bane in both large and small communities throughout the East to the Great Plains. Often the efforts to discourage their nightly roosts just transfer them to another location. They have been shot at, poisoned, and bombed. But they are so resilient, it tends to have little effect.

American Crows are common over much of the continent. Some are short-distance migrants such as those that breed in Canada. They will winter in the United States. In the lower 48 however they may become permanent residents. They are a large, intelligent, all-black bird with hoarse, cawing voices. Weighing as much as 1 ½ pounds they are 15 to 21 inches long with a wing span of more than 3 feet. Crows are twice the size of a Blue Jay, yet only about two-thirds the size of a Common Raven. All belong to the same family, the Corvidaes, which includes all jays, the Clark’s Nutcracker, and magpies. The flight pattern of Crows and Ravens is somewhat unique. Rarely gliding they use a slow persistent flapping of their wings to propel them through the skies. Often times if you see one Crow you will see others as they are rarely alone.

The Crow is one of our most intelligent birds. This may be why their numbers are so hard to control. Crows are often seen perching in the tree tops, in fields, and along roadsides. They are common from open woodlands and beaches to the center of urbanized areas. Being omnivorous makes them an opportunist wherever they live. Crows primarily feed on the ground and will eat almost anything from worms, insects and small animals to seeds, grains, and berries. There diet also includes hastily disposed of food scraps and garbage along with carrion (dead animals). Their “bad boy” reputation may stem from the willingness to predate on the eggs and nestlings of other birds. But Crows remain beneficial by cleaning up carcasses and reducing insect pests.

The large flocks of Crows get much smaller in the spring as adult birds prepare to nest. Many times three or four other Crows surround the mating pair. These are thought to be last years young that will not breed until their third year. In fact these young birds may even help the adult pair build the nest which is generally hidden in the crotch of a tree near the trunk. Mature conifers and yews are preferred, usually in the top half, but they will nest in deciduous trees when evergreens are not available. Territorial defense seems to be mostly limited to the nest tree.

The nest of the American Crow ranges from 6 to 19 inches across with the interior cup 6 to 14 inches wide and 4 to 15 inches deep. It is constructed of medium size twigs then lined with pine needles, bark, weeds, and sometimes animal hair.When the nest has been completed, the female will lay between 3 and 9 bluish green to olive green eggs with blotches of brown and gray. It is believed the female does all the incubation while the male brings food to her. The clutch will hatch in about eighteen days and the female broods the chicks for about ten days. The nestling phase lasts from four to five weeks as another interesting phenomenon develops. The young birds that have hung around during the process are allowed to come to the nest during this phase and have even been seen sitting on the edge of the nest. Some feel they actually contribute in the feeding of these possible siblings. If this is true, they would seem to be getting a head start on their own parenting skills which are still a year away.

American Crows are highly social birds. They will often stay together in family groups which include the adults and the young from the previous two years joining other family groups. They seem to have a pre-roosting site prior to the final roosting area where they will spend the night. Many of you have seen these huge, late afternoon flights that will culminate in a pre-roosting area where there is much squabbling, noise, and jousting. Finally the group quietly moves off to the final roost at dark.
Crows have the ability to work together. These intelligent Corvidaes can devise solutions to solve problems. They can recognize new and sometimes unusual sources of food. Crows can become a bother to some people as they’re resourcefulness can lead to large flocks around dumpsters, landfills, and at roosting sites, yet others are fascinated by them. They will also work together to drive off predators and large raptors, especially Great Horned Owls, a behavior known as mobbing. These owls appear to take some vicious attacks and for good reason. The Great Horned Owl is perhaps the only major threat to the Crow’s existence other than humans. Great Horned Owls will silently swoop in and take a Crow in the dark if it is noisy or perhaps stretching while roosting. The darkness of night is the owl’s revenge for the daylight attacks. And since a Crow weighs more than a pound, it is a substantial and easy meal for a Great Horned.

These intelligent birds have also been known to imitate human voices, just like a parrot. Some people have adopted Crows as pets and have trained them to “speak”. Many cultures consider Crows a sign of good luck. And although humans cannot tell Crows apart, it has been determined that Crows have the ability to tell humans apart, even recognizing individual human faces. They can even visually identify those humans that have posed a threat to them and they will squawk at these individuals in disapproval, transmitting that information to others in they’re group, which is often referred to as a “murder” of Crows.

Yes, although sometimes scorned, the American Crow is a magnificent bird. Highly intelligent. A bit boisterous. And a species of bird that has proven to be very adaptive to living among humans. This is why the Crow was selected as Wild Bird Habitat’s bird of the month.

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