American Crow

Photograph of American Crow
Scientific Name
Corvus brachyrhynchos
Corvidae (crows and jays) in the order Passeriformes

American crow adults are entirely black with a long, heavy bill. In bright sunlight there may be a purplish sheen on the highlights of the plumage. The tail is rounded at the tip, not wedge-shaped as in the common raven, a former breeding species that no longer even occurs in Missouri. Voice is the well-known “caw, caw.” Young birds are more nasal, resembling the voice of the fish crow.

Similar species: A more southern species, the fish crow (Corvus ossifragus) is expanding its range in southwestern Missouri, especially along trout streams. It is slightly smaller than the American crow. The best way to distinguish it is by its voice, a distinctive two-note, nasal, “AAH—aah” with the first syllable higher than the second; also a more nasal “ca aaaw” and “calk calk calk.” It is an uncommon resident of the Mississippi Lowlands and riparian areas north along the Mississippi River nearly to Iowa, and the Missouri River to mid-Missouri. Look for it on river and pond banks and in wet fields.

Length: 17½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Where To Find
image of American Crow Distributuion Map
Found in a variety of habitats with trees. In winter, look for them in agricultural areas in river floodplains. When not nesting, crows often travel and roost in groups. Where large roosts occur in cities, they conflict with people. The American crow has been hit especially hard by West Nile virus, which typically kills crows within a week of contracting the disease. Some researchers estimate crow numbers have been nearly halved since 1999.
Crows forage widely for seeds, acorns, corn, fruit, insects, carrion, nestling birds, and small mammals and reptiles. Remarkably intelligent, crows follow other birds to locate food, use tools such as sticks to probe in holes for food, steal from other birds, and snatch food from dog dishes. Though they eat roadkill, crows cannot themselves tear open the skin of dead animals. Like turkey vultures, they wait for something else to open the carcass, or for decomposition to soften it sufficiently.
Common permanent resident.
Life Cycle
In the wild, crows have been known to live for 16 years; a captive crow lived to be 59. The earliest they breed is at age 2, but more often age 4. A pair builds their nest of twigs, lined with softer materials, high in crotches and horizontal branches of trees, usually evergreens. There are usually 3-9 eggs, which hatch in 16-18 days. The young fledge in 20-40 days. Sometimes the young remain with the parents, helping them raise subsequent broods, for the next year.
Crows eat many harmful agricultural pests yet also feast on corn and other crops (which is why there are “scarecrows”). Crows and relatives are symbolic in human cultures worldwide. Recently, an inventor has proposed a machine that trains crows to pick up trash by rewarding them with a treat.
Crows are omnivorous and play a variety of roles in the food web. Their noisy mobbing of hawks helps other species escape predation. Members of the crow family are among the most intelligent animals on Earth. They use tools and bait, establish social rankings, and score high on IQ tests.
Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Nursery tours are available by prior arrangement. Facilities/features: Quercus Flatwoods Natural Area (48 acres of post oak flatwoods), picnic area, and fishable 4.5 acre lake.
Lipton Conservation Area adjoins Santa Fe Park, which is owned and managed by the City of Independence. The area features a1/2-mile graveled hiking trail.
About Birds in Missouri

About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.