Crow, the common name for a family of large birds found in the Northern Hemisphere and Africa. Most of the more than 100 species are black, some with gray or white markings. Jays, magpies, and nutcrackers belong to this family, but the term crow usually refers to members of a single genus, Corvus. Some members of this genus, such as the raven and rook, have special names, but most species are simply called by the general name of crow.

CrowsCrows have a harsh, self-assured call.
Which Songbirds Really Don’t Sing?

The crow is a large songbird. But it does not have a musical voice. Instead, it makes over 20 rough calls, including “Caw, caw!” Each call has a different meaning. For example, the “assembly call” is a signal for crows to gather. Gathering together is a good way to drive off a predator.

The raven is a relative of the crow. The raven is the largest songbird. A raven can grow up to 26 inches (66 centimeters) long. That’s three times longer than the cardinal! A raven’s wingspan can reach 3 feet (91 centimeters) wide. Like a crow, a raven has shiny black feathers all over its body. Also, like crows, ravens don’t sing. But they do make low, croaking calls.

Crows and ravens eat almost anything. They eat insects and seeds. They also enjoy frogs, mice, and snails. Crows and ravens are happy to eat garbage and dead animals, too.

The North American Crow

The North American crow, found throughout the United States and in parts of Canada, is nearly 20 inches (50 cm) long and has a wingspan of three feet (90 cm). It eats grain, snails, grubs, insects, small rodents, carrion, and eggs of small birds. Indigestible remains such as hard seeds, bone, and fur are regurgitated in the form of pellets.

Crows do considerable damage to fields of wheat, sorghum, and corn. They eat the ripened corn kernels off the cob after peeling the husk back with their beaks. A scarecrow of straw-stuffed clothes will often keep crows away from a corn field, but the birds soon become used to the scarecrow and it must be replaced by a new one. Crows are wary birds and are highly suspicious of humans. When a flock of crows is feeding, it posts a sentinel to warn of approaching danger.

The crow's nest—a bulky collection of twigs, strings, shreds of grapevine, leaves, grasses, and moss—is built 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 m) above the ground in a tree. Crows are such thieves that one bird must keep watch while its mate brings materials for the nest. Otherwise, the partly built nest is likely to be plundered by other crows. The female lays four to six eggs. They are bluish-green, spotted with dark brown. While the female hatches the eggs, the male supplies her with food.

The crow's call—a harsh, self-assured caw, caw, caw —can undergo wide variations of pitch and rhythm. Crows are intelligent birds, and some pet crows learn to mimic the human voice. In winter, crows gather in large roosts, some of which have been estimated to contain more than 500,000 birds. When on a journey, or flying between its roost and feeding ground, a crow takes a straight course. This is the origin of the expression for distance measured "as the crow flies."

Crow hunting is a favorite sport in some parts of the United States and Canada. A dummy owl is set out to attract crows, since crows attack owls on sight.

Other Crows

The fish crow, smaller and glossier than the common North American species, lives from Massachusetts southward along the eastern seaboard of the United States and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida crow, found in the pinewoods of Florida, is smaller than the common crow. Other crows of the United States are the northwestern, southern, and western crows.

The English carrion crow and the hooded crow migrate south in the winter. The carrion crow is black. The hooded crow is white or light-gray with black wings and tail. The house crow of India is quite tame and useful as a scavenger.

Crows are included in the family Corvidae of the order Passeres. The common North American crow is Corvus brachyrhynchos. The fish crow is C. ossifragus; Florida crow, C. brachyrhynchos pascuus; northwestern, C. b. caurinus; southern, C. b. paulus; and western, C. b. hesperis. The English carrion crow is C. corone, and the hooded crow is C. c. cornix. The Indian house crow is C. splendens.