Here we are at last. This week’s Bird of the Week is the one, the only, American crow, also known as the 2023 Fowl Hysteria™ champion.
Cue the regal music.
(To the tune of “God Save the Queen”:
Discourse Blog’s champion
The crow has fought and won
We love you crow.)
Truly, this is a monarch of the skies. Just look at it! This is a bird worthy of every kind of praise. It is also a bird worthy of a real, honest-to-god Bird of the Week post, something it has not had until now. Well, that injustice ends today. Let’s do this.
The first thing to be said about the crow is that it looks awesome.
Just…what?! The deep, rich black feathers, the curved beak, the grace, the glamour—it’s everything you could ever want in a bird. And, unlike some other spellbinding birds, you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to see an American crow. They are freaking everywhere in the US and much of Canada, except for some parts of the Southwest. Not even a crow wants to hang out in the hardcore desert, I guess. Every town is a crow town! Every city a crow city! Every park a crow park! Etc!
And every interaction with a crow is pretty special. Last week I found myself in Los Angeles for my cousin’s wedding, and I was at the place we were staying and all of a sudden a crow swooped along overhead, and landed in a tree, and it was quite magical. Kinda like this, except just one, and sunny.
It moves like a dancer, and, as this video suggests, it often moves in packs—like, really, really, really big packs. Here’s All About Birds:
American Crows congregate in large numbers in winter to sleep in communal roosts. These roosts can be of a few hundred up to two million crows. Some roosts have been forming in the same general area for well over 100 years.
Two. MILLION. Crows!!!! Here is a great video of a crow roost in Massachusetts.
The account for this video is literally called “Winter Crow Roost.” That’s right: this guy loves crows so much he has dedicated an entire YouTube channel specficially to their winter roosts! This is the kind of love the crow inspires.
When the American crow is not flying around or gathering in groups of millions, you might find it eating. This is especially true because the crow eats…pretty much everything. Mostly seeds and fruits and nuts, but it will go for, like, seriously anything in a pinch. This list from the American Bird Conservancy is a wild ride, ranging from poison ivy (!) to “turtles in all stages of life” (!!) to other birds (!!!) to “several species of clam” (!!!!) to dog food (!!!!!) It also eats carrion, something which has lent it a bad rap over the years, though personally I think eating “turtles in all stages of life” is slightly creepier???
OK, now we get to the best part about American crows: how smart they are. It’s what you’re all here for, it’s what I’m here for, let’s do it. (And yes, all corvids are brainy, but this is the crow’s time to shine.)
Here are just some things about American crow intelligence:
- , crows have “exceptionally large forebrains, the domain of analytical thought, higher-level sensory processing, and flexible behavior." In fact, their brains are similar to those of primates, aka the animal family humans belong to, and they are often compared in intelligence level to chimps, or even to gorillas.
Crows can recognize human faces, to the point that they remember which humans they consider to be enemies, and can pass this information on to other crows. They can hold these specific grudges for generations.
Crows give each other names. They are incredible mimics. Their language is evolved to the point that they speak more gently to family members than to others.
Crows understand analogies. They have demonstrated analytical aptitude on a par with young children, and with less training than monkeys. There is speculation that they know how to do simple math. They use physics to get food.
They make and use tools—something that 99 percent of animal species can’t do.
Scientists have determined that crows have a variety of forms of play, meaning that they engage in activities purely for fun—something very rarely seen in birds.
They hold funerals. They have tight-knit family bonds, and the entire family helps to raise young crows.
Amazing! I could go on and on but I have to stop. Let’s do a couple more videos.
Here’s lots of crow calls.
Here’s three crows playing!!! (Those marks on their wings are because they’re part of a study.)
And here is a crow fishing.
All in all, a wonderful, marvelous, captivating icon of the skies. All hail the crow!!!!!!!!!!!! And please drop your favorite crow facts in the comments.
A reminder: you can check out our complete Bird of the Week list here, and get in touch with your bird suggestions at email@example.com.
Just a note that, though I have to cite “Audubon” because that’s what it’s called, I fully agree with the Bird Union’s demand for the organization to change its name due to its founder being the worst.
I love that we have two species of crows here on the east coast that are basically indistinguishable visually but have totally different calls. The American crow has the well-known "CAW!", as in the video above, while the fish crow sounds something like an American crow with a cold.
That leads to scenes like this morning when, while birding in Battery Park, I saw a crow fly into a tree. In hopes of identifying it, I (quietly) yelled "TELL ME WHO YOU ARE!" at it. It obliged, revealing itself as a fish crow. And then a second fish crow started calling back to it. Good times!
Also got my first of year gray catbird and possibly last of season brants this morning.
Anyway, here's a video of a fish crow calling with an entertaining in-video title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98pLAMOwDUs