Species Profile: Corvus brachyrhynchos – American Crow & Corvus ossifagus – Fish Crow
Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos, Corvus ossifagus
Common Name(s): American Crow, Fish Crow
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Crows are large black birds with black feathers, black eyes, and a large black beak. They are common birds within their ranges and are generally easily identified. The common raven which can be confused with crows, is not found in Arkansas. The two species of crow found in Arkansas are the American crow and the fish crow. The American crow measures 16-20 inches in length, and weights 11-22 ounces, while the fish crow is smaller in both size and weight. There are other physical differences between the two species, however, it is very difficult and inconsistent to identify each species visually. Instead, the best way to differentiate these two species is by their calls. American crows call with the classic “caawww-caawww-caawww” that most people associate with crows, while fish crows call with a similar but much shorter and more nasally “ahh-ahh-ahh” sound. During calls, fish crows also tend to tilt the head back more noticeably and puff out the throat feathers
The species range of the American crow and the fish crow overlap in the southeastern and eastern United States. However, the American crow’s range extends over nearly the entirety of the lower 48 states, while the fish crow’s range is limited to the aforementioned southeastern and eastern United States.
Crows are omnivorous and will eat anything that is easily available. For example, they will consume carrion, all types of invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, small rodents, fish, nuts and seeds, grains, and human scraps. American crows are one of the few observed species of birds making and using tools to obtain food. Crows are intelligent and adaptable and will make their home in temperate forests near water, in agricultural field, or in urban areas.
While similar in appearance and diet, American crows and fish crows differ in their reproductive strategies. American crows are monogamous and form large family groups with juveniles from previous years staying with the group to assist in raising new hatchlings. Breeding starts early and egg laying has been observed as early as April. A clutch consists of 3-9 eggs, and there is 1, maybe 2, broods per year. Both males and females build nests. Sexual maturity is reached at two years of age, but many do not leave their family group until four or five years of age.
Fish crows are seasonally monogamous, with the female building the nests. Males may accompany females to gather nest material, but they do not participate in nest building. Breeding occurs in a similar time frame as American crows, with 2-6 eggs per clutch with one clutch per year. Although they are not as family group oriented as American crows, they will nest loosely together, with nests within 100 feet of each other.
Crows are very intelligent and very social. This leads to a number of interesting behaviors, such as young crows playing with objects to learn how to manipulate, birds teaching one another and sharing information such as food location and grouping together to ward off threats. Often American crows and fish crows will cooperate and socialize together, but in disputes, fish crows almost always yield to American crows. Crows also have an excellent memory and recognize faces and individuals. There are many documented cases of particular humans earning the ire of crows and subsequently being harassed by not only the offended crow, but other crows who were informed of the human’s wrongdoing. On the other hand, there are many cases of humans befriending crows which subsequently bring gifts to their human friends or harass other humans they perceive as threats to their human friends
Here in Bella Vista, both American and fish crows can be observed, but American crows are more dominant. They can often be seen by roadsides scavenging for carrion. They may even visit bird feeders, if tempting enough!