Things you may or may not know about crows

Crows are fascinating to both birders and nonbirders alike. In that spirit, we thought we'd pull together some information about the birds:

Crows are members of the Corvid family of birds that also includes ravens, jays, magpies, and others.

A group of crows is called a murder.

Studies have shown that crows and other corvids are particularly intelligent, possibly more intelligent than some primates. This may have something to do with having unusually large brains relative to their body size.

Few birds elicit such strong opinions from people – our feelings toward them range from total hatred to rapt inspiration.

Crows are deeply embedded in our culture – references to them abound in literature, movies, and television.

Crows like open habitat with a few trees to roost in. Cities and suburbs are practically ideal.

Crows understand that there is strength in numbers, and are known to mob larger predators, such as owls and hawks, often calling in dozens of crows to join the attack. They also post sentinel crows that call to the rest of the flock when a predator nears.

It is assumed that large-scale persecution during the 19th Century and first half of the 20th Century made crows shy of people. They learned quickly, however, that there is safety from guns in villages and cities and that food is abundant there.

While crows can be wary of people, they can be rough on other birds, predating other species’ nests. While some birds have adapted to lay more eggs to compensate for this, nest predation from crows has prompted the populations of some sensitive species to reach perilously low levels.

There are actually more crows in the Lower 48 now than there were when European settlers arrived. This is largely due to clearing of dense forests, as well as the birds’ ability to thrive in human cities.

If you’ve got a lot of crows in your neighborhood, the reason probably has more to do with you than the crows. Crows know how to take advantage of food resources, such as open trashcans, and will breed to exactly the level of available food resources. (photo above by K. Schneider)

Crow families will contain up to 20 birds, including younger birds from earlier breeding years that will help raise chicks.

Crows will also make and use tools.

Crows are omnivorous – they’ll eat just about anything.

Crows and Ravens are not the same thing. Ravens are slightly larger, and much less common in urban areas than crows (photo of a Raven by Tom Talbott).

Crows are known to have at least 250 different calls.

Crows mate for life.

Crows know how to have fun. Play is common in this species – alone or in groups – sometimes items they find on the ground.

Crows can recognize human faces and remember whether that face presented a threat or a benefit. Crows will even seek revenge on specific humans that have harmed them in the past. Crows will communicate with other crows about dangerous humans or animals.

Crows have been known to gather around dead family members in a kind of funeral.

Crows, like parrots, can learn and mimic sounds made by other birds, animals, and even humans.

There are more than 40 species of crows known worldwide.

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