FAQs about crows

These are short answers to some of the more common questions I get asked.  Although many answer will apply broadly, these were written with a North American/US bias.  Please feel free to suggest additional questions in the comments section.

Crow Biology

  1. What is the difference between a crow and a raven?
  2. How long do crows live?
  3. Can crows really talk?  Do you have to fork their tongue?
  4. What hunts crows?
  5. Are crows monogamous?
  6. How do crows mate?
  7. How can you sex crows?
  8. Why are crows sometimes white?

Crow Behavior

  1. Why do I see large groups of crows flying over my house every evening?
  2. Do crows ever kill each other? why?
  3. Do crows collect shiny objects?
  4. Why do crows gather around their dead?

Crows and Humans

  1. I found a dead crow in my yard, how do I get rid of it without upsetting the crows?
  2. Can I get West Nile virus from touching a crow?
  3. Is it legal to keep pet crows?
  4. Are crows protected/Is it legal to kill or hunt crows?
  5. Why was I just attacked by a crow?
  6. How can I get rid of crows from my yard?
  7. I enjoy feeding crows, what kind of food should I offer them?
  8. I’ve found an orphaned crow, what should I do?
  9. Do crows ever bring people gifts? Can they be trained to bring money?

Crow Biology

1) What is the difference between a crow and a raven?   While crows and ravens are in the same family, corvidae, and look quite similar, they are as different from one another as lions and tigers. If you’re not used to seeing ravens, the best way to tell them apart is if you’re at higher elevation or in a more rural or coastal area and find yourself thinking “that’s the biggest #$%^&*# crow I’ve ever seen!”, you’re probably looking at a raven.  More scientifically, ravens have diamond shaped tails in flight, deeper almost croak-like voices and, by weight, are about twice as big as a crow.

2) How long do crows live?  Once they reach sexual maturity (around 3-4 years) they are tough to take out and can live to be 14-17 years old, though cresting 20 years is not unheard of. In captivity they can live twice as long.

4) Can crows really talk?  Do you have to fork their tongue?  Yes, captive birds can be trained to talk, and no you don’t have to mutilate them to do it!

5) What hunts crows?  Red-tailed hawks, owls, raccoons and cats will all gladly take down an adult crow if given the opportunity.

7) Are crows monogamous?  To answer this question I’ll take a page from The Savage Lovecaste’s Dan Savage and describe them as “monogamish.”  More scientifically, we describe them as being socially monogamous but genetically promiscuous.  This means they generally stay with one partner for life, but genetic analyses indicate that males only father about 80% of their offspring, at least in the populations studied so far.  You can learn more by checking out this post on crow families.

9) How do crows mate?  Like most birds, crows do not have an external penis (ducks are a notable exception).  Not only do they not have a penis, but they only have one opening for all things related to reproduction and waste elimination called the cloaca.  Crow sex consists simply of a pair rubbing their cloacas together for about 3-10 seconds during which time the sperm are transferred from the male to the female.

10) How can you sex crows?  Assuming you’re not a trained veterinarian or have access to blood sampling/analysis tools, you can’t by just visuals alone.  Males tend to be bigger but that’s not reliable enough to go off.  If you’re patient, it will become very evident once the breeding season rolls around and one starts spending most of its time on the nest. Supposedly, the “knock” call is female-specific.

11) Why are crows sometimes white?  There are many reasons.  Check out this post for more information.

Crow Behavior

1)Why do I see large groups of crows flying over my house every evening?  Like many other species of birds, crows and ravens engage in what’s called communal roosting.  This is where groups of both kin and unrelated individuals flock to a particular location for, in part, the security of safety in numbers while they sleep.  Crows can gather in the tens, even hundreds of thousands when they do this.  Although roosting locations may change periodically, for the most part the crows you’re seeing are heading to the same roosting spot every night.

2) Do crows ever kill each other? Why? Yes, crows do kill other crows.  Crows fight with each other a lot, both within their family groups and outside of them, though when it’s with family it’s usually not as serious. With crows outside their family they may be fighting to defend mates, food, or territory boundaries. If a particular fight ends up deadly it might be because one of the participants was much weaker and just couldn’t take the assault, or misjudged something and got killed “accidentally”. Or, as Kevin McGowen suggested, maybe the bird was already injured or sick and the healthy crows saw what was basically a walking lure for a predator and tried to off it so it didn’t attract dangers to them.  John Marzluff also discusses this behavior in his book In the Company of Crows and Ravens if you want to read other accounts.

3) Do crows collect shiny objects?  There is no evidence that crows keep collections of inedible objects (shiny or otherwise).  This myth probably originated from pet crows, who are often attracted to objects of obvious value to their owners like coins and keys.   This is a different behavior, however, than “gift giving” which does sometimes include shiny objects.
UPDATE: New research shows that New Caledonian crows keep their favorite stick tools cached in “toolboxes” so it appears that at least some species of crows do cache certain kinds of inedible objects!

4) Why do crows gather around their dead?  The death of a crow is a “teachable moment” that other crows use to learn that the place and responsible party is dangerous.  You can read more about this behavior here.

Crows and Humans

1) I found a dead crow in my yard, how do I get rid of it without upsetting the crows?  Wait till dark and remove the body while the crows are away roosting.

2) Can I get West Nile virus from touching a crow?  There is no evidence of WNV transmission directly between crows and people according to the CDC.  That being said, it’s always a good idea to handle any animal (alive or dead) with gloves.

3) Is it legal to keep pet crows?  Not without a permit-see below.

4) Are crows protected/Is it legal to kill or hunt crows?  As of 1972, crows are protected under the migratory bird act.  This means that it is illegal to “take (gov speak for kill), possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale…the parts, nests, or eggs…except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”  For a more detailed explanation on the legality of hunting or killing crows, check out a previous blog post on the Portland crow poisoning.

5) Why was I just attacked by a crow while walking down the street? If it’s summer, you were unknowingly too close to a nest or fledged kid.  If it happened once, it will probably continue to happen in that area for a couple of weeks so, if you can, steer clear.  Otherwise, maintain eye contact with the parents, crows are less likely to dive bomb the front of your body than the back.

6) How can I get rid of crows from my yard?  First off, I urge you to reconsider.  Yes they can be noisy, and get into things, and cause mischief.  But I assure you, you will not find another urban animal so charismatic, so intelligent and so accessible to explore avian behavior, cognition and biology.  However, if you’re dead-set on the idea…you’re still mostly out of luck.  You can hang a dead crow from a tree but that’s about it.  Remember: poisons and ammo will hurt not only the crows you’re targeting but also the other wildlife you may be trying to attract.  Also, killing them without a license in most places is very ILLEGAL.  My advice is to open yourself to the idea of actually liking crows and get to the know the family, because it is a distinct family, that will stay with you for years if you allow.

7) I enjoy feeding crows, what kind of food should I offer them? Dried pet food is among their favorite but a cheaper option is whole unshelled peanuts.  They also love eggs, tater tots, meat scraps and other nuts.

8) I’ve found an orphaned crow, what should I do?  The first step is to identify if the bird you’ve found is actually orphaned and/or has prematurely fallen out of the nest.  The young of lots of birds, including jays and crows, may look helpless and orphaned but are actually in the care of their parents and are much less likely to survive if you interfere and take them away.  This flow chart will help you navigate the situation and explains, if necessary, how to temporarily house a bird until it can be taken to a care center.  Remember, unless you are a licensed rehabber it’s illegal to try and keep orphaned animals.

9) Do crows ever bring people gifts?  Yes, corvids have been known to bring people various objects in a manner that appears to be intentional.  The most notorious example of this might be Gabi Mann, the little girl in Seattle who made headlines after receiving dozens of gifts from her neighborhood crows.  Feeding crows is not guaranteed to lead to gifts, however, as many a dedicated (and disappointed) crow feeder will tell you.   What causes the initial act of gift giving remains mysterious, but my best guess is that it’s a happy accident immediately reinforced with reward, thus leading to a mutually enjoyable habit.  If you’re looking to make a profit off this behavior, however, I recommend checking out this post.

486 responses to “FAQs about crows

  1. I just had hundreds of crows flying over my apartment building this morning! They were very very very loud! Does this mean that someone is dead? It was really weird to see them all flying above the apartment building!

    Can you tell me the meaning of this?

    Thank You

    • Hi Gloria, no it doesn’t mean someone is dead. It mean that today your apartment building fell under the commute route and you became privy to the daily occurrence of crow movement and communication.

  2. Madilyn

    I was once almost attacked by a large group of Crows but a larger Crow among that group attacked it own Flock chasing them away from me. I really want to understand this behavior.

    • My guess is the larger “crow” you saw was really a raven and you were witnessing commonplace aggression between the two.

      • Biohazard Eclipse

        Hey this is Madilyn. That isn’t the oddity of the behavior I was talking about. The Raven with sitting in a Crabapple tree beforehand. It was watching me for a while then the crows swarmed toward me attacking. Then the Raven attacked them. He didn’t even bother them until they attacked me. They both were in my yard coexisting that is until the crows attacked me.

      • Sometimes that kind of thing (crows going after a perceived predator) can excite other animals and that’s what got the raven involved. As for why they “attacked” you I don’t know. Maybe you look like someone that wronged them, or maybe they weren’t attacking you at all and for whatever reason you misinterpreted their behavior. Hard to make a firm assessment without bearing witness myself, you know?

  3. Sarah

    Do crows take over the territory of other birds? I’ve noticed where there were once blue jays there are now crows. Also is their population increasing perhaps as a cause or effect of this observation? Thanks

    • Hi Sarah, so they don’t take over the territories of other birds, but crows are nest predators and can be tough on jays. It’s a rarely a direct cause and effect though. Most often (even though they are nest predators) there is something else at play that discourages other birds and encourages crows.

  4. We have a pair of crows tearing our windshield wiper blades off our vehicles. We have no explanation for this activity or how to stop it. Can you offer some advice or comments on the behavior?

  5. Sue garner

    We’ve been feeding the crows for 4 months outside our temporary home while our house is being done, but there’s one adult crow that can’t fly. He flaps his wings but can’t take off. He has one tail feather missing. He obviously survives on the ground but what would be the reason why he cant take off? We leave in a couple of weeks and with winter setting in I’m worried how he’ll get his food.

  6. Shay

    Hi,

    A murder or two of crows moved to my area 1.5 years ago. I know to be nice to them, but I am a human to 2 cats—cats are allowed in the backyard only when I am around—so the crows are definitely cautious of me and announce my presence whenever I go outside, front or back. I don’t know if that is good or bad. Yesterday, I climbed up on my roof to clean the gutters. The crows called every crow in at least a 5-mile radius. There were 40-50 crows sitting on the rooftops around my home cawing like crazy. Were they impressed or worried with me being so high? Or plotting my death?

    • Hi Shay! Gosh, I don’t know. What a weird thing to get worked up about???

      • Crows weren’t impressed when I cleaned the gutters at my place either, but I suspect it’s because they get bugs from there and also were caching peanuts in the mulch. Buddy marched around the roof supervising about 3 feet away the entire time, and I ended up not bagging the mulch till next morning after he & the missus retrieved their treasure. They have returned to the same tree at my house 5 years now.

  7. Janell

    Have a family of three crows the mom and dad have left. All of a sudden I have a large crow attacking one of the youngsters the other two siblings help run off the rouge crow. What is going on

    • I don’t know Janell. I’d need more information. Maybe this “rouge crow” is trying to take over the territory. Maybe it’s really a raven. A lot more details need to be sorted out before I could offer an educated guess.

  8. Pingback: Christmas Trivia – Colly Birds . . . – The Penny Mason Post

  9. Deby

    How long will a group hang around a dead crow?
    Thank you

  10. Mahmud Hasan

    why do crows fly round and round over brick kilns

  11. Tessa

    There’s a group of crows that tend to sit in a nearby tree, i’d like to try and gain their trust somewhat but feeding them is difficult considering when i leave food out for them seagulls tend to swipe it up.

    Is there any way i could try to gain their trust without food? Or make my garden a bit more comfortable for them?

  12. Sam

    There is an injured crow in a park near me. Some of its long wing feathers are sticking out in an unusual way, so I assume its wing is injured. It’s been perched on the same low evergreen tree for a couple of days. I’m reluctant to approach it and cause it to injure itself even more but I also don’t want it to suffer because of my inaction. I’ve left it some seeds and apple pieces today—Google says they can eat fresh fruit—but other than that I’m completely clueless as to what to do or whom to call. Do you have any tips or information you can give me so that I can help this poor bird?

  13. merty1260

    Hi, we have a lovely crow couple in our yard. How long does the baby stay with the parents? We have had a few babies and they seem to leave their parents very quickly (or have they met with some other fate?). Thanks. We are in Burpengary Queensland Australia.

  14. Kris

    I’m currently living in Myanmar, and my house has a large family of crows hanging out in my large mango tree daily. Has your research shown differences between the American crow and the SE Asian crow (Corvus splendens insolens)?

  15. Diana helm

    Why are they making sooo much noice in my trees.

  16. Cyndye

    I caught sight of 4 crows in my backyard earlier today. I watched for awhile then 1 crow hopped toward & stood over something on the ground. I grabbed binocs and saw it was a crow. Head tilted to side with beak open looking very much dead. I watched for a length of time and it never moved. I called hubby to look and he watched awhile and agreed it looked dead. Then moments later it FLEW off. What did we just see?

  17. I have found a dead juvenile starling in my garden, it hadn’t been eaten but had been gutted not a nice thing to see just before breakfast I have a lot of crows around could it possibly be one of them who did the deed.

  18. I live on 20 acres of rolling land with wetlands north east of Toronto Canada. The area is called Goodwood likely because there are lots of large maple trees. The other day I was looking out my studio window and watched as a Crow chased a Flicker woodpecker through the air. The Flicker tried to escape in a dense cedar tree but the Crow followed. Moments later the Flicker body came flying out and the Crow proceeded to kill the Flicker. I had no idea that Crows were such hunters, it had been my understanding that they were scavengers going after road kill and other dead animals.

  19. Brooke

    Since it’s fledgling season in Seattle. I’ve always wondered, if when they all fly out to roost after dinner time, do they leave the babies on their own or does a mom or dad stay behind with them for the night?

  20. Chris Ochsenbein

    I have a crow who is 24 years old. I have worked with vets for 30 years. Someone shot him and he cannot fly. I have had him for 23 years, so guessing he’s 24. His name is Lazerus . He talks a lot and talks to the crows outside too. The other day we had him on the patio, 2 wild crows came and landed on his cage and started to try and let him out of it. I always wonder if he tells them that he can’t fly and is going blind now. He has been a joy to have in our family. They are special.

  21. Michelle Sullivan

    Can a young crow (juvenile) thrive as a solo unit?

    • How young are we talking?

      • msully9hotmailcom

        I believe both of his parents are deceased. They started bringing him to my backyard approx. 4 mos. ago for peanuts. One of the adults had a severe case of growths around it’s eyes. Then one day it didn’t show up. About 1 month later the other adult didn’t appear. The young crow continues to come daily for peanuts and cat food. But he is always alone.
        He seems to be thriving, but is it true crows need to be part of a social unit?

      • Eventually yes. But there is a period of time, especially for females when they may be a little less social as they disperse out from their natal territory. Sooner than later though, it will likely start hanging around with other independent, unmated birds, what we call floaters, before eventually taking a mate.

      • msully9hotmailcom

        Thank you, that’s good to hear.

  22. Kayra

    Can we get offspring from raven and magpie in a biological environment?

  23. Kayra

    Which crows species can we fertilize in the biological environment?

  24. Kayra

    Can we get offspring from raven and magpie in a biological environment?
    or Which crows species can we fertilize in the biological environment?

  25. Janice Pilkington

    I have been feeding a small family of crows living in my backyard tree for the past few years. Everyday I leave a few peanuts by my bird feeder for them. Today when I went out to leave some peanuts, I noticed a small coiled up piece of desiccated snake beside the bird feeder. I noticed the crows watching me and I couldn’t help wonder if I was left a gift?? I thanked the crows and graciously took the snake .

  26. Tony Clayton

    Hello,

    I feed several crows in my back yard (peanuts and dog food) and I have noticed that we have one regular with a bad foot.

    They are able to hop around and fly fine, but cannot walk. It eats and drinks from the bird bath and tends to hang around the yard longer than the other crows. It is also always alone and seems a bit paranoid.

    Is this because the other crows are likely to attack it?

    We just worry about our little friend and it is honestly a bit sad that he doesn’t seem to have any family around. I know that is just nature, but still lol.

    • Hi Tony, foot injuries are the most common kind of injury I see, likely because they’re both highly visible and less commonly lethal. It’s shyness may be because of how it got injured. Perhaps something happened that makes it a bit more wary. I don’t usually see foot injuries resulting in persecution by other crows. In fact, I’ve known many a crow with a bum foot to have a dedicated partner. But it’s hard to know for certain.

      • Tony Clayton

        Thank you for your response!

        I am glad that the bad foot is not a reason for persecution in general. I hope to see them with another crow someday. While it is very quiet and seemingly paranoid, it otherwise seems well, and I am happy for that.

        In the meantime, I will keep putting out healthy snacks for it and the other crows and hope they consider my yard a nice little crow oasis. They may never recognize me since opening the door spooks them, but I still enjoy watching them!

  27. Howard

    I found a dead crow in my yard yesterday and disposed of the body. Now, one or two crows keep attacking us every time we leave our house. Anything we can do to stop this? How long will this last?

    • Hi Howard. Well. This could last a very long time indeed. Alternatively, is it possible they attacks are unrelated? Like did you see the birds see you remove the dead crow and did they make a fuss while you did so? If not, it’s possible the attacks are related to a nearby baby crow and not to your undertaking, in which case it won’t last long at all. Any updates?

  28. Carol

    Very informative blog. I feed the crows unshelled peanuts and a small cup of water. They take the peanuts (in the shell) and dunk them in the water. After a spell they pull them apart and get the nut or they take the wet peanut and fly off. What do you think of this behavior?

    • Hi Carol, dunking food in water is common crow behavior. Helps soften the food and get more water in their diet! Can’t say I’ve seen it too often with peanuts though.

  29. Dermot

    The other day there was a substantial racket from crows around my house that went on for about 20 minutes and then went away. A little while later I found a decapitated pigeon in the yard, and suspect the crows ganged up on the pigeon and did him in, This happened in Ireland. So my question: are crows known to murder other bird species i.e. kill and not eat them? Could this behaviour be the reason a flock of crows is/was known as a “murder of crows”?

    • Hi Dermot, although crows will kill other birds, surplus killing (when animals kill food they don’t eat) is exceptionally rare among corvids. Beheading is also not their typical strategy. I think given that you heard a substantial racket it’s more likely the pigeon was attacked by another predator (my money is on a cat) and that’s what the crows were responding to. That would best explain both why their were so noisy (alarming at a predator) and why they didn’t come down to the body to feed (dangerous).

  30. Tricia

    A fledgling crow ended up in my backyard after a rainstorm. My dog was tormenting it and I feared that our neighbor cat would kill it. After washing my hands, I moved it to a nearby tree branch. Now, 3 days later, 3 adult crows are dive-bombing me whenever I go outside. They even follow me on walks and attack me along the way. Is there anything I can do? How long will it take them to forgive me?

  31. Shannon

    I’m being bullied by crows in my neighborhood… any advice? It started when I began clicker training my dog, which involves clicking and dropping treats on the ground. I noticed about a month ago that we had attracted the attention of a crow that started following us. Usually flying in front of us and landing on something above, watching us pass, and then flying in front again – and sometimes walking behind us. I stopped clicker training the dog because it was making me uncomfortable. Now I’m getting dive bombed by them. A friend suggested I just feed them, so I’ve been tossing out some scraps, and they leave me alone for a bit.. but I actually think I’ve made it worse. On this morning’s walk I was stalked and dive bombed twice. Also – a couple of times now one has perched overhead and dropped a giant turd – it really seemed like it was meant for us! I don’t know what to do. Is this ever going to stop now that it’s started? I don’t have a car to drive my dog to another neighborhood to walk her and during all daylight hours they seem to find us within about a 6 block radius. Do I have to move?

    • Hi Shannon. Feeding an already aggressive crow might well have made it worse. But my hope is that what’s going on it unrelated to your dog and clicker training and instead coincident with the presence of a nearby nest. Have you noticed any blue-eyed pink mouthed babies or “waaa waaa” calls recently?

  32. Isaiah

    Hi I was walking outside and a crow came down from behind me and hit me with its wing and flew away. Should I be worried about getting any Lice or disease or is it nothing to worry about

  33. Tim

    I don’t actually have a question, I just wanted to tell you about my experience with crows. There are a number of crows in my neighborhood that I have been feeding raw peanuts to over the last few months since I’ve been home due to the quarantine. I live in an older neighborhood on a piece of property with a lot of trees, and we have been feeding the stellar jays for a few years now. I’ve always liked crows and because I kept seeing them more often, I went out of my way to make sure that they got peanuts too. Crows don’t like to come close to the back door, so I started looking for the crows and throwing the peanuts out farther to make them feel more comfortable. I also ‘flick’ the peanut shell a few times before I toss them, and by now they’re very familiar with the sound.

    (Almost) every day I also walk “a lap” around my neighborhood, which is about a 20-minute walk. I’m sometimes alone, sometimes not, but it doesn’t matter. I started bringing a pocketful of peanuts with me a few weeks ago and as the days have gone by, the crows have gotten much more numerous and have started flying close to my while I’m walking. I think they’ve come to realize that if I see them, I’ll feed them, so they will commonly just swoop by and land on a branch or street sign in my line of sight. When I see them I grab a peanut and flick it a couple of times, then I toss one or two. I usually toss them behind me and keep walking so the birds don’t feel threatened. Yesterday I’m sure there were 6 or 7 different crows following me around the neighborhood, and I’ve had to increase the number of peanuts I take out with me! Fortunately I buy my peanuts in bulk from nuts.com, but I’m buying them more often now!

    I love the crows and walking around feeding them gives me joy. The crows never squawk at me, but hen I come outside and start my walk I usually hear one start cawing from the top of one of the many tall trees nearby. The crows seem to show up soon after this announcement, and I’m now finding myself always looking around for them.

    Thank you very much for this blog, I just found it today after reading about you in the Seattle Times today. It’s wonderful, fascinating, and reinforces my love of crows.

    • Deb

      Tim – I have had the same experience with “my” crows in my neighborhood. I have been feeding them for over 5 years now. We have a very similar routine, except I just walk out my back door – one will see me and sound for the others. Then as many as 8 crows descend into my yard. I have a few posts where I place the peanuts and dog food for them – and keep water available – they each go to one of posts and wait. Sometimes they are already in my back yard and are just waiting to see my back door open. There have been many times when driving home, turn on my street and several crows are flying above heading to my house. I know they recognize my truck, since they have been around for years. At times, I have pulled up in the driveway , get out of the truck and they are waiting in the tree above me. By the time I go in the house to get the peanuts and open the back door, they are already at their favorite post waiting. I have enjoyed this so much and I too was so happy to find this website. I hope your walks and visits with “your” crows continues for years.

  34. Nichola

    Hi I have a question? I was woken by a loud noise that was a really loud group of crows, they where out side my window about 20 of them this morning so I looked out of my window and saw a few of them dive bombing a bird on my garden attacking it, so I ran outside and got the bird however after looking at the bird which does now have puncture holes on its side turns out its a fledgling crow now I’m unsure what to do and Why would they attack there own young?

  35. Jad Adas

    Hello,

    We have a country house in quebec canada for 5 years now. We had 3 crows around and they were never harmful. We actually liked them and the idea that they are cohabitating in our land.
    Until 2 nights ago we woke up around 5 am on a very loud noise banging on the window. We go outside and we see the crow pecking on the window aggressively.
    We let it go at first but he kept returning, pecking on the window and shouting 3 times, while others are on trees repeating his shouts.
    It’s been 3 mornings the same is happening.
    We are sad that they changed their behavior and they are becoming a nuisance since they broke a window now.
    Can you please advise what to do? We don’t want to harm them.

    Thank you for your help.

    Jad

    • Put paper up on the window or use painter’s tape to create lines about an in apart. It’s doing it because it sees its reflection as a threat. If you can break up the reflecting for the next month or so the behavior should stop and you can take the paper or tape down.

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