American Crow—The Bird Most People Hate
The American crow is the bird that most people love to hate. Why do I say this? You will find more people interested in finding ways to get rid of the crow, than throwing out entertaining stories of how they are amused by the bird. Why do people have such a low view of this bird? Is it because of their intellect? Or could it be due to their bird "family" behavior? It could be. I will let you be the judge.
American Crow Description
The American crow belongs to the family Corvidae, which includes the raven, jays and magpies. Its color is glossy black, with feathers occasionally having lighter markings, and a fan-shaped tail. It is a large, imposing bird, ranging in length from 17 to 21 inches, with a wingspan of 39 inches. Moreover, along with their size, they are intelligent, mischievous and very resourceful.
Let me give you an example of the crow's resourcefulness. A friend, one summer was eating a sandwich, when he noticed a crow a short distance from his picnic bench intently watching him. Seeing what the bird would do, he tossed the bird a small portion of his sandwich. The bird hopped to the piece of sandwich, picked it up and flew away. This bird to human relationship became a typical noon hour ritual. However, one day my friend, decided to see how the crow would handle an apple. He threw the apple to the bird. The bird tried to pick it up and fly away with it. It wasn't possible. So he took his beak and broke the apple apart. The bird took the largest piece he could carry.
American Crow Behavior
The crow can communicate a wide range of messages through the type of call. With their call, they can warn, cheer, threat, or taunt. In addition, crows have been known to mimic the sounds made by other animals. For example, one morning a woman kept hearing her dog making a ruckus outside. Thinking it was her dog making the noise she went outside to look, and realized after the fact, that the dog was not outside. Instead, she saw a lone crow making the mimicking sound.
The crow is a social bird, with a personality of tolerance. They are tolerant of noise and populated areas. As you can imagine, this tolerant behavior gets them into considerable trouble with humans. In fact, they think nothing of harassing a farmer's cornfield in search of seeds, fruits, and vegetables. To make matters worse, this bird does not go it alone. If you see one, you know more are about.
In addition, they will protect themselves against a predator by grouping together, which is referred to as "mobbing". When a predator, such as an owl or hawk nears their feeding and nesting area, the birds will dive to the top of the trees and give harsh, drawn-out caws. Even if the predator leaves, the mobbing crows will chase after the owl or hawk to make sure it does not return.
Crow Mating Habits
The courtship ritual takes place on the ground. The male bird, facing the female, will fluff his body feathers, spread his wings and tail, and bow repeatedly while uttering a rattling song. Once the female accepts the overtures of the male, the two will perch together and may touch bills and preen each others feathers.
Since the male and female mate for life (if they are non-migratory), the courtship is only done once, unless the pair does not successfully have young. If the pairs mating are unsuccessful, the pair will return to their families. If the mate should die, only then will the surviving mate attempt to find a new mate.
- The crow is 17 to 21 inches in length
- Color: black with a fan-shaped tail.
- Male and female are similar in appearance
- The call sound is: caw-w-w
- Eggs: 5 to 7, bluish green with brown marks.
- Young born blind–eyes open after 5 days.
- 1 Brood a year.
- Diet: consists of insects, small reptiles, eggs, fruit and corn.
- Largest victim of West Nile Virus
- Group of crows are called "A Murder".
Nesting of the American Crow
In early spring, the American crow will set up house in a place that they like to keep quiet and secretive. Usually the nest is 18 to 60 feet above the ground, in a tree near the trunk. The nest is made of twigs, sticks, and lined with grass, moss and bark, and is about 12 inches in diameter. The female will incubate the 3 to 7 eggs that the pair will have, with the male staying close and feeding her.
Once the eggs hatch, both parents will take care of feeding the young, with the previous year young also helping. After about five weeks, the young will leave the nest but not the family unit. In fact, the family group may include up to 15 birds that contain young from several different years. Since the crow’s young do not seek a mate for several years, they (the young) will help raise the newest brood of their parents. This is what is referred to as cooperative breeding.
Fall and Winter Roosting
Crows will roost in large flocks in the fall and winter. These flocks may congregate in the thousands or, in some cases, up to 100,000+ in trees in the evening. The flock will stay together until dawn, at which time they will fly back to their specific territories to feed.
Damage Crows Cause
Because of the changing landscape, crows have had to adapt. This, in turn, has caused some problems for humans. Crows are known to:
1. Damage seedling corn crops, by pulling the sprouts and consuming the corn.
2. Damage ripening grain sorghum, commercial sunflowers, pecans, various fruits and watermelons.
3. Attack young calves, pigs, goats and lambs (Although rare).
4. Cause damage and health issues to humans during the fall and winter months. For example, if they make a winter roost around a populated area, the droppings can cause odor and health issues.
5. Cause a noise problem. From experience, the noise level can be deafening, and the sheet of black in the trees can be very unnerving.
5. Spread disease among swine facilities when the flock feeds around these buildings. The disease they can spread is gastroenteritis (TGE).
6. Spread waterfowl diseases around wetlands. One such disease is avian cholera.
Migratory Bird Treaty Act Protects Crows
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects crows. However, the federal law does state that you do not need a federal permit to control the birds if you can prove the birds are “committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance”.
Get Rid of the Crow
Many people have employed different methods to get rid of the crow. Sometimes the methods have worked, other times it has not. With the intelligence of the bird, I have to assume it all depends upon what they have been exposed to in their recent past, as to whether the method will work or not. Thus, getting rid of crows is going to be a trial and error process. Here are some examples that have been used to some success.
1. Use decoy feed. Scatter corn softened with water to protect corn seedlings that have just been planted.
2. Within crops and around homes, people have used frightening devices that include recorded distress calls of the crows. Others have used the sound of the owl and hawk.
3. Lights and high-pressure water spray.
4. Large objects that are bright. (The scarecrow with bright colors is a good example.)
5. When appropriate, a gun.
To conclude, it is fair to assume that the social nature of the crow, its intelligence and family behavior can make the bird a nuisance for many, and for some, a nice form of entertainment.
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America