What’s that black bird over there? There are several species of birds that have all black feathers. Crows are a familiar bird that can be found nearly everywhere in America. They are a very adaptable bird, which allows them to live in various environments. It may be one reason why humans have given crows some type of ill connotation.
This reputation has likely come from how the crow is symbolized. It’s black feathers and larger size makes it a Halloween icon. Farmers put up ‘scarecrows’ to ward them away. Poe wrote about ‘The Raven’ in one of his most famous stories.
The ill thought of crows may have been passed down to us subconsciously. It was thought that crows can eat and damage farm crops. Crows may not actually damage crops as much as thought, since the birds may just be eating the insects that are eating the crops.
There are many types of crows, but the most familiar around here is the American Crow.
Crows are commonly confused and thought of the same as ravens. Ravens are their own species however. Ravens are larger, about the size of a hawk and have a very large protruding gray beak. Crows are smaller and have a more reasonably sized beak. Crows have the ‘caw’ type call while ravens have lower ‘croak’ type call. Ravens also may only hang out in groups of 2, while crows will live in slightly larger groups.
Ravens aren’t as commonly found in the Eastern US as crows. Early settlers saw the ravens as menacing birds, so they were practically killed to near extinction in this part of the US. They also found crows to be menacing, but their populations sustained. Ravens are gaining populations in the Eastern US though.
Other blackbirds you may see are grackles, red-wing blackbirds, or starlings. Grackles are slender, have gold eyes, and have a blue iridescence around their neck and head.
Red wind blackbirds will have a red spot on each of their wings and are about the size of a blue jay.
Starlings are also dark colored, but they have iridescent feathers with spots. Starlings are an invasive bird, and can be a nuisance when they wipe out your bird feeders very quickly. They have been known to kill other birds too. You will often see large flocks of starlings flying in the sky in fall. Most of them migrate south, but some starlings stick around through winter.
There is also the Brewer’s Blackbird, but in Kentucky we may only see if for a period between winter and summer while migrating.
Crows are omnivores and opportunists, so they not only eat seeds and insects, but they will also eat dead animals and garbage. While we may not like how they feed, they are great recyclers of things we don’t want sitting around.
When another crow dies, they will all gather around it. A group of crows is called a ‘murder’. They try to figure out how the bird died, so they can use this information to better survive themselves.
Crows pass on information to others and their babies about potential threats, and can even remember individual human faces.
They are very fast learners. They can solve intelligence tests very quickly to retrieve food.
There is a story about a little girl who would feed crows in her garden. The crows would then bring her ‘gifts’ of small trinkets of metal and glass.
Crows have been known to drop nuts in crosswalks for cars to run over. When the crosswalk and road lights turn and the road was safe, they’d swoop down into the crosswalk to get the nuts.
Crows will also fend off hawks when they come too close to the nest, which can be good if you have small livestock like chickens.
If you’d like to learn more about crows, check out this documentary. “A Murder of Crows”.
Or while available, watch this Nature documentary ‘Secret Life of Crows’. on Youtube