Crows are scavengers and predators that eat meat, roadkill, nuts, fruit, insects and the carcasses of dead animals. They store food in short-term caches on the ground or in tree crevices. The difference between raven and crow is that the crow lived in tall, cone-shaped buffalo-hide houses called tipis. These were designed to be put up and taken apart quickly when the tribe moved.
Crows are found year-round throughout the lower 48 states and parts of Canada. They are highly adaptable and thrive in a variety of habitats. Their coal-black color and distinctive call make them familiar to most Americans. They are sometimes seen in flocks, but are typically solitary birds. They are often seen perched in trees or on the ground, where they forage for insects, worms, seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, and garbage. Crows are omnivorous and will eat any animal they can catch or find, including nestling birds, chicks, snakes, fish, mice, rats, carrion, and other birds.
Crows are also known to be cooperative breeders, with older offspring (typically males) “helping” their parents raise the current season’s young. They are also known to form mobbing groups, which are a group of crows that vocally harass and chase predators, such as owls and hawks, away from their territory. The crow can be seen in many different habitats, including forests, grasslands, cities, and suburban areas.
Crows are highly adaptable omnivores and are found across the globe in fields, woodlands, river groves, shores, and towns. They will eat almost anything – nuts, seeds, fruits, insects and invertebrates, as well as carrion and abandoned garbage. Nestlings are fed a diet of grubs and other small invertebrates, which their parents regurgitate into their mouths. Crows will often work together to gather food, as they are social and family-oriented birds. They form close family units of up to five generations, and yearlings will assist their mothers in rearing their offspring.
Crows are known to raid houses for bread, and they have been spotted dropping hard-shelled nuts onto roads and sidewalks so that passing cars will crack them open. They are also known to use leaves as tools to extract insects from their hiding places.
Crows build large nests 15-60 feet above the ground, in the crotch of a tree or on a ledge. The cup-shaped nests are lined with bark, twigs, plant fibers, paper, fur, twine, or moss. We’ve even seen a crow pull out the hair of an outdoor mannequin to use as lining material! The season for crow construction begins in early March. Look closely and you might spot a crow flying past with bill loads of twigs, carrying them back to their roost or nest site.
In the winter, crows form large communal roosts, often in trees and eaves of buildings. They are adaptable and can be found in suburban neighborhoods as well as in downtown areas. They also cohabitate in the tipis of the Plains Indian tribes. These tepees can be set up and dismantled quickly, like modern tents. As a result, crows will sometimes use them for shelter as they migrate or while staying in the same area.
Crows are one of the most intelligent species on earth, able to use tools, hold conversations, dance and act like clowns for their young ones. They can even recognize individual human faces and find buried food with remarkable accuracy. Their brain power has allowed them to adapt to changing environments and thrive in North America.
You may see them flying, foraging in groups or hanging out in communal roosts (known as murders). Ravens are similar to crows, but you can tell them apart by the narrower, symmetrical ends of their tail feathers. They also tend to fly more straight and level, whereas crows often flap their wings more as they glide.
You can also tell a crow from a raven by its eyes, which are brown and pink instead of black, and the fact that its beak is a bit shorter. Ravens are more likely to be found in the west, and are less common in eastern states than American crows.