Most people can identify the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). A 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.
Though its loud cawing call is easily identified, its repertoire of other vocal sounds would surprise many. Springtime crow vocalizations include a rattling call, often accompanied by a bobbing of the head, believed to be a courtship display. Dry clicking, squeaky-hinge noises and other fascinating sounds play a mysterious role in the communications between members of a crow flock. And in captivity crows have been known to imitate human voices.
Another crow species found in our area is the Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus). This slightly smaller cousin of the American Crow inhabits areas along the coast and large rivers. It is extremely difficult to distinguish the two species by sight, but if the crow’s cawing call sounds nasal to you, you have probably found a Fish Crow. (Juvenile American Crows have a nasally sound as well, so, depending on the time of year, it could be either species.)
When you hear several crows cawing in one area, pay attention. Their loud, insistent calls may be a sign that an owl is roosting nearby. The crows will call in their brethren from surrounding areas to join them in the harassment of the nocturnal bird of prey. They will perch on adjacent branches and collectively yell at the hidden predator, hoping to encourage it to move on. This behavior, known as “mobbing,” often forces the owl to expose itself as it flies off in search of a quieter roost site, providing a great opportunity for us to observe a beautiful, secretive bird. Thank you, crows.