American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
By Angela Clark
The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is dressed all in black from its beak down to its toes. If the Crow were human, he would be a natural Goth. Sometimes observers confuse the American Crow with its cousin, the Raven, but at an adult size of 17 inches in length and approximately one pound in weight, it is two-thirds the size of a Raven. So, fortunately for you I cannot annoy you with the overused Raven quote from Edgar Allan Poe. Although, I can tell you that Sterling North, the author of Rascal, gave his “pet” crow the name of Poe-the-crow.
The American Crow is a common bird seen year-round throughout most of the United States and part of Canada, with the population in Canada rising in the summer months. I often spot them in farm fields where the crop has been harvested, picking up whatever grain may have fallen to the ground. Even when you cannot see it, the American Crow is easily recognized by its loud repeated caaw call. However, there is nothing common about the Crow itself. It is an intelligent, inquisitive, and gregarious bird that elicits various emotions – depending on the culture and circumstance it has at various times been feared, hated, and revered.
My opinion about the American Crow has changed over the years. Like some, when I saw a flock of crows, I used to feel like it was a sign of impending doom. Maybe that was partly due to their gloomy dark color and raucous cries. Perhaps I was influenced by stories I had read. It probably did not help that carrion is part of the Crows varied diet and that a flock of crows is sometimes called a murder of crows. However, I have learned much more over the past several years about the American Crow, as well as other crows, that has changed my mind and caused me to view this species with a sense of awe and amazement instead.
In some ways, American Crows are like humans. They are very social. They form family groups that help raise the current brood of young birds. They are innovative – especially when it comes to obtaining food. Like dropping nuts on a roadway to crack open the shell. They have been known to throw objects at humans to protect their nests. And they drive off other predators like hawks and owls by grouping together to “mob” and chase off the offending bird. This loud and vicious mobbing behavior can sometimes be a clue for birdwatchers that an owl is in the area. American Crows are not exempt themselves from being mobbed as well by birds smaller than them – another item in a crow’s diet is the eggs and young nestlings of other bird species.
Evergreens are the preferred nesting sites for the American Crow, but they will use other trees if evergreens are scarce. They generally like to put their nests high up in a crotch in the tree. Pretty well hidden. I myself have never seen a crow’s nest. The female can lay from three to nine eggs and they usually have one brood per season. Outside of the breeding season, American Crows form much larger groups and roost together at night in the thousands. I can only imagine how loud the sound of thousands of crows would be before they settled in to rest.
American Crows actually co-exist well with humans and can be found often in urban areas. They have a varied diet and in addition to carrion, nestlings, and eggs, they also consume seeds, berries, nuts, insects, earthworms, small aquatic animals, and garbage. Humans can produce a lot of garbage. Being able to adjust to their environment is important for their survival in today’s world. Just one last note. Be very careful how you treat a crow. They can recognize human faces and they will remember you – for years.