Crows have long suffered under the reputation of being "bad." Crows raid crops, frequently steal eggs and chicks from other bird nests, and have been known to steal shiny objects such as articles of jewelry from people. Yet, these vocal black birds are among the most intelligent. Crow are said to be able to count (to a point) and they are also known to be very discriminating in their abilities to identify specific objects.
Crows belong to the family Corvidae, which also includes ravens, magpies, and jays. Two species of crows breed in Massachusetts, the American crow and the fish crow.
The American crow is one of the most familiar birds in the Commonwealth. It is found in both urban and forested areas, in fields and pastures, and along coastal beaches. It’s a large black bird with long legs and a thick bill. Learn more in our Breeding Bird Atlas
The fish crow is a less common but increasing bird in Massachusetts, where it is near the northernmost part of its range. Nearly identical to the American crow, a fish crow is a little smaller. The best way to distinguish the two is by their call (the fish crow’s is nasal-sounding uh-ugh is very different from the American’s caw). Learn more in our Breeding Bird Atlas
During late March and April, breeding and nest building begins. Crows begin a number of nests, usually in the crotch of a tall tree, before completing the one that will be used.
Non-breeding young from the previous year, and possibly the year before, stay with the parents to become nest helpers. The number of helpers can vary from three to six. It is unclear whether or not they help feed the nestlings, but they have been observed aiding in nest building and feeding the incubating female.
In Massachusetts, the eggs are usually laid between early May and mid-June. On average, 3 to 6 eggs are laid followed by an 18 day incubation period. The young are fed by both parents during the four to five week nestling period and are foraging for food on their own two weeks after that.
Crows are almost completely omnivorous, meaning they eat a wide variety of food types including fruits, nuts, grains, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, birds and their eggs and nestlings, garbage, and carrion (e.g., roadkills, dead fish, etc.). In residential areas, crows have learned to tear open trash bags placed on the curb prior to rubbish day and to "rototill" lawns in search of grubs.
Crows cache food, meaning they hide food away in niches, nooks, and crannies (such as knotholes in trees) to provide themselves with a ready food supply during food shortages. This behavior also points to the species intelligence, as they must have fairly well developed memories.
Roosts are areas where birds sleep at night. The American crow is well known for forming large communal roosts, which may be comprised of thousands of individuals, in the non-breeding season. Learn more about roosts and what can be done about them.
Crows and their relatives (especially ravens) possess one of the most highly varied vocal repertoires of any group of birds. They are capable of uttering far more than the "caw" call with which many people are most familiar.
This vocal range no doubt accounts or crows' impressive capacity for imitation. Captive birds, particularly, have been known to imitate many sounds including car horns, barking dogs, and human speech.