American Crows – Intelligent Opportunists

Most people, including preschoolers, can identify the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

american-crow-smA large black bird with a thick bill, the ubiquitous crow walks and flies through our lives on a regular basis. It ranges throughout Connecticut, common in urban, suburban and rural areas. It likes open areas with trees, at home in both farm country and city parks. A member of the corvid family, the crow is considered one of the most intelligent species in the bird world.

Crows are omnivores, eating anything from crops (such as corn and fruit), to insects, snakes, nestling birds, roadkill, and garbage. Families tend to travel and feed together, so where you see one crow you are likely to see more. A family unit can consist of a mated pair and their offspring from previous years, as well as this year’s young. Together they may defend a territory of about 100 acres. Watch them walk through the leaf litter at the edge of the woods or through a grassy area as they scare up insects and snakes. Carrion is also readily eaten, but since the crow is not equipped with a bill that can tear open a fresh carcass, it relies on other animals, such as vultures and mammals, to begin the process. It is not uncommon to see a flock of crows “waiting in the wings” for their turn to feed on larger carrion. The author once observed three crows follow a fisher through the woods as it searched for prey. The crows flew from tree to tree above the fisher, ready and willing to clean up any leftover scraps from the fisher’s next meal.

Crows are opportunists, scavenging scraps from landfills, trash dumpsters, and suburban compost piles. And they have benefited from our human development in other respects as well. As we create more and more “edge habitat” by fragmenting tracts of forest, we provide these “edge predators” with the opportunity to find and plunder the nests of smaller songbirds.

crows-feeding-smAs winter closes in you may notice small flocks of crows pass overhead in late afternoon. They are returning to their communal winter roost for the night. Typically, the large congregation of roosting crows will disperse from their roost trees in the morning as they spend the day in search of food. By mid-afternoon they begin to head back to the roost. Small flocks will join up at pre-roosting sites before continuing on. If you are along one of the crows’ flight paths this winter, you are likely to see them pass by on a daily basis.

Submitted by Cindi Kobak

Images: top – wikimedia.org; bottom – Dennis Riordan