Wild Profile: Meet the American crow

Published: November 3, 2020

An American crow against a background of grass and leaf litter By Melinda Fawver/Shutterstock

Among the smartest of all birds, the crafty American crow is long-lived, has a big brain, and is highly adaptable. Research shows these birds can learn to count to five and can mimic human laughter and speech. Some people even swear that crows can actually talk…but that’s yet to be proven.

One thing is certain: crows—they’re very social—have a huge range of communication calls. They can “yell” warnings and caw out directions to each other. And—noise alert—a flock of crows (a.k.a., a “murder”) can include thousands of birds. Their general chattiness and mob-mentality nature have made them a nuisance for farmers for hundreds of years. Unfortunately for the crops, scarecrows usually don’t scare many crows. Not for long, at least.

We thought crows were smart, but we had no idea…

An American crow’s smarts make it highly adaptable to human-heavy environments. They might prefer to live in forests and marshes, but they do just fine in suburbia. Crows will eat almost anything, from insects to snakes to the French fries in your discarded take-out container. They’re also known thieves, prone to stealing shiny things—bits of tin or broken china, or items like earrings, coins, and keys. Strange but true: some human-fed crows will even collect these bobbles and, then, apparently, leave them for the people who’ve been providing them with food. Animal behaviourists call this “gifting.”

Crows will stick around cottage country until late fall. But if you see a black bird at your feeder in the winter, it’s probably a raven. Ravens and crows look almost identical, but ravens are about a third larger, and tend to croak or squawk instead of caw. Despite the two species being related, they don’t seem to get along with each other. Crows will band together to chase away a single, larger raven. Strength in numbers, at all that.

 

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