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 are about 2.5x 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 about 20 years old.  In captivity they can live twice as long.

4) Can crows really talk?  Do you have to fork their tongue?  Yes they 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.  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.  Females also produce a sex-specific “knock” call.

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.

358 responses to “FAQs about crows

  1. Samantha

    My grandad as been feeding a one legged crow over 30 years in the wild of scraps meat nuts and it loves potatoes is it odd for a crow to live this long in the wild?

    • Hi Samantha, I’m sorry I missed this comment until now. It is unusual. Most sexually mature crows only live to about 17. There is one record of a crow living until 29/30 in the wild but it’s the only one I’ve ever heard about!

  2. kris0723

    Hi Kaeli, a found a dead squirrel on the road in front of our house today. When I went to move it out of the road and to bury it, six or seven crows were flying around and being very vocal. I think they may have been eating it or interested in eating it. From a biologic and crow loving standpoint, what should I do with the body?

  3. Elle O

    I’m going to print this question and response and leave it for my corvid friends to read :). Last week, a homicidal feline decapitated two squirrels and left the headless bodies. I thought for sure the bodies would be eaten, but neither the crows nor the hawk touched them! Finally, I found a willing “undertaker” (the Maintenance guy) but Obvs, my crowd are a little too well-fed!

    • Elle and Kris, one thing I should add is that crows cannot pierce the skin of a squirrel on their own. They will pick at the accessible flesh (eyes or open wounds if present) but can’t do much more than that. Remember human refuse and bugs make up most of their diet so while nibbling at a squirrel is a great treat, it’s not the dietary boon it is for a more sincere scavenger like a raven.

  4. kris0723

    Or a vulture! There were some open wounds and an eye was already missing. The eye could have been lost on impact or maybe it was eaten. I will leave it under a tree near where it was killed and throw away whatever remains after a while. It was really sad to see the dead squirrel. I’m hoping it wasn’t one who was blind in one eye. He/she was my favorite. Thank you again for your help.

  5. Elle o

    Oh, good! Then I can continue with my crow feeding without guilt. It’s fun to try things and see what they like.

    As for the squirrel bodies, they didn’t look like they’d been corvid snacks . They were right off the side of my deck so unfortunately I had a full view. Can a hawk or eagle pierce flesh? There’s a hawk around and there was a bald eagle who hunted on the water, but I haven’t see the eagle recently. I know the hawk is still around because the crows go mad whenever he visits.

    I was able to scare the cat away in time to stop a third murder, but still sad to see because those squirrels begged for treats when they saw me and one was a baby still.

    Once the killing spree was made public, the feline Hannibal Lecter’s person vowed to keep the homicidal maniac inside & under house arrest. Actually better for the cat as well because coyotes and Hawks can all hunt cat, I think.

  6. kris0723

    Hi Kaeli! What is the average range of an urban crow? Would crows from West Seattle roost in Bothell? One of my favorite West Seattle crows has a scar under its beak/chin. I noticed today, a crow in Wallingford had the same type of scar in the same location. Is scarring under the chin a common? It doesn’t seem likely the same Alki crow would be hanging out in Wallingford, or is it?

    • Hi Kris, the answer to that question is it depends. Urban crow territories are small, around 250 square meters. During the summer they are primarily tethered to their territories. During the winter though, while they still maintain their territory they also spend a lot more time off it. Sometimes even far from it. So it’s possible a west Seattle crow could make its way to Wallingford in the right circumstances. There are two major roosts in the city: Bothell and Renton. It’s entirely possible a West Seattle crow could roost in either. As for the chin scar, I don’t really know. It’s certainly not something I notice all that often, if that helps.

  7. Carol Swenson

    Observed last summer: A bald eagle showed up at our crow’s nest presumably to take a chick. The two adults near the nest sounded an alarm and then took up the fight. Both parents(?) fought valiantly for a few minutes but then one of the crows suddenly just left. The eagle stayed at the nest and the remaining parent continued the fight. Then, suddenly, four crows swooped in to the rescue, chasing the eagle away. Do you think the rescue crows were responding to the initial alarm? Is it possible that one of the parent crows went to get three other crows to help out?

    • I think they were just responding to the alarms. Eagles are bad news for the whole neighborhood and an event like that would have produced the kind of really intense alarm calling that predictably attracts neighbors. Together, they could effectively chase the eagle away. It’s possible one flew off to make its calls more effectively heard but it wouldn’t be very adaptive to have to leave every time you needed help since by the time you returned it might be too late.

  8. Carol Swenson

    One more question. I had just pulled into a parking lot the other day when I saw (about 100 feet or so right in front of me) what looked like a bird falling out of the sky. I stopped the car to see what was going on and the bird -now obviously a crow- suddenly righted itself and flew toward me for 4 or 5 strokes of its wings. Then, it did the same thing again. It tumbled toward the ground and then righted itself again. It did this two or three more times before it flew over the car. Just as it did, a small object hit the hood of my car and bounced off. I could not find whatever hit my car but guess it was one of the small pebbles in the parking lot. The crow continued to fly past my car, but no more falls from the sky. Do you think the crow was playing – maybe with that small object? Is it possible that she was intentionally dropping the object and then catching it during her “fall”? Or, did I just see a sick crow and the object hitting the car was just a coincidence?

    • Well it ~could~ be either and I can’t say one way or the other without being there or asking the bird. But, now that I’ve made that disclaimer I’ve definitely seen them do that very behavior in what I think is an obvious act of play. In my case it was using a sugar gum cone. It would fly up and then drop it just to chase after it with a lot of acrobatics. It did this over and over, always catching it before it hit the ground. I think you’re pretty safe to say you saw a crow having a bit of fun!

  9. Elle O.

    When either the bald eagle or Cooper, my hawk, show up, the crows go absolutely mad. It’s funny, because even though I only see “my crows”, 100s of them obv live in the woods 50 yards away because it’s a cacaphony of crow alarms, and they chase the intruder en masse. They don’t bother the little birds, the squirrels, or anyone else, just the eagle and the hawk.

    Also, OT, an FYI to those of us who are testing crow treat recipes: they love peanut butter pasta. I take leftover pasta, mix in crunchy peanut butter, let it harden up a bit, and break it into chunks. Rotini works particularly well. They’re also quite fond of corn tortillas with peanut butter. And their Christmas surprise is going to be a chicken strata (no cheese). I don’t eat meat, but they do, and I know they love roast chicken. If anyone wants the recipe, just let me know 🙂 (Yes I’m tipping the crazy scale lol

  10. kris0723

    Hi Elle O! Thank you for the food tip! I was wondering, do you ever worry about attracting rats? We live in the city and rats are a concern. One of my friends stopped feeding the birds because she said she was attracting rats. My neighbor said she had rats and squirrels in her basement (this was before I started feeding the crows). Fortunately I haven’t seen any rats at my feeder, but we have a lot of squirrels. I saw a hawk perched in the middle of a very tall sequoia today. There were a few crows flying around the tree and some even perched high above the hawk, but no warning calls, etc while I was watching. Carol, that is so interesting about the crow and rock. I love it that crows play.

    • Ann

      As Kaeli said, only feed what they can eat. I check for leftovers before dark and pick up anything that’s left. Can’t do anything about lost crumbs, though. One thing I’ve learned about living in the city – there are rats. *Somewhere*. If there are fruit trees or a lot of areas to hide, with not too much open ground, there’ll be a few rats. The only time I had any issue was when my own cats would bring youngsters in and either let them go or otherwise fail to live up to their ancestors. I know they’re “pests” but I still cry a little when they get trapped or eaten.

  11. Elle O.

    I don’t have a rat issue, BUT I live on the second floor with open railings and no vines for the rats to climb up, and I put the food out at specific intervals, so I see who gets what. Rats are everywhere, I guess, but I’ve never seen one here. I see squirrels (who beg for nuts shamelessly) and birds, sometimes Orcas in the Narrows, and I know there must be coyotes and foxes in the woods.

  12. kris0723

    Elle, you’re lucky! Your home sounds beautiful. We have three catios (outdoor cat enclosures) with four pet doors to allow our cats access to the outdoors w/out endangering themselves or other animals. I worry about rats getting in our house via the pet doors, but so far, so good. Our neighbor said she had rats and squirrels in her basement.

    • Hi Kris, Elle’s strategy is the best one if you’re worried about rats. Only put out enough food to feed a few crows and watch to make sure they eat it all. As far as rats are concerned bird feeders that are constantly putting out food or tidbits will be a bigger issue than a handful of peanuts.

      • kris0723

        Thank you Kaeli and Elle! I will try not to worry about rats as much. I’m more concerned about my neighbor’s home than ours. I set out 1/4 cup of bird seed and Jim’s Birdacious Bark Butter Bits in the bird feeder each morning and feed the crows on our fence. I throw away anything that is left (which is very rare!). My daily offering of just one cooked egg yolk and a few peanuts has morphed into more over time. It seems like I only have a few crow visitors year around. It’s been so fun to watch Stellar Jays, Northern Flickers, Black Capped Chickadees, Robins, Juncos, House Sparrows, Starlings, Cedar Waxwings, House Finches and Golden Crowned Kinglets in our front yard in Wallingford! There is also a pair of pigeons who visit us occasionally and seagulls fly around overhead, but they have never landed in our yard (as far as I know). A few days ago, I saw a hawk in a large Sequoia tree on block next to ours. Just ordered Dr. Marzluff’s book Subirdia. Am hoping it will be released as an audiobook soon.

  13. Elle O.

    Oh, I have a tiny apartment with no upgraded amenities BUT it is right on the Sound and I have no one in front or to the side, so I can pretend I live here alone in a tiny cottage and that I speak Corvid & Hawk & Chickadee 🙂 (I have a very active imagination 🙂 I knew about the downsides when I moved in, but windows all around and plenty of wildlife was more important! Thankfully, my cat is a pacifist weenie, so he doesn’t even look threateningly at the birds, and the one time a mouse did get into our apartment in Denver, he sat on the loveseat and looked annoyed by the noises I was making, but he made no effort to deal with the mouse. So it all works out 🙂

    I would definitely worry about rats coming in the pet door, but maybe your cats aren’t as lame as my cat! It sounds like you have it under control. Those catios sound nice!

  14. Elle O.

    I don’t really worry about rats or mice, either. I don’t want them for roomies, but otherwise, they have to eat, too. Still, I think getting to my place would be too much trouble, esp when the guy downstairs has many bird feeders, water and shelter 🙂

    So, Kaeli or Kris, what are the birds that are chubby like chickadees and kind of a muddy olive green with red heads and chest patches? They aren’t robins. I have robins, too, but these are chunkier. I actually think they and the chickadees have been using my faux trees on the deck for shelter/warmth, and then they can get food to go from their tray.

    • My Crows (Australia) eat any rats. I was outside one day on the phone and dear old ratty came out and with a swoop, “Fluffy” had it in his grip. We had a mouse plague in the area and our place was pretty empty. Didn’t set any traps at all.

  15. Elle O.

    Close, but not the same. No stripes, just dull olive green with red, and only a little patch on his chubby chest 🙂

    • Hi Elle, I’ve got to say I’m a bit stumped given your description. I would have initially suggested the same as Kris. Olive green makes me think kinglet but they’re hard to see and only have red on the top of their crown. Do these birds eat at your feeders?

      • ruth Fell

        hello! I wonder if this conversation is still taking place. I would like to join in. I have a couple of comments about the crows that seem to have populated our few yards within the past 4-5 years. Also, Elle, could your bird be a Golden-crowned Kinglet? Ruth

  16. Elle O.

    Yes, and as luck would have it, I have a photo of one looking very cute. I’ll email it. His little red patch on his chest is very tiny. I hope it’s a kinglet! I’ve never seen one in real life but I have an Audubon lithograph of one.

    • Yay, I love the mystery! Kris, I’ll forward you the photo so you can play too

    • Elle O.

      Ruth, I believe I do have a Golden-crowned Kinglet who comes to call. I also have a northern flicker, a spotted towhee, chickadees galore, stellar jays who are quite demanding, house finches, and the tiniest little birds (size of hummingbird, but not hummingbirds), plus the other usual suspects. Bran, the king of my crows, now comes within about 3 feet of me, and seems to know that I am his friend. The ambulance-cawing crow is back as well, and Cooper the Hawk is still showing up for take-out.

      I wish we’d have summer here, though. I’ve rearranged the patio and now have a tray and open bowl filled with shelled peanuts, and the little birds actually play on the deck and seem delighted by a few of the wind chimes (they land on them and make them ring). I have also added real plants to the silk trees, but the little guys do like the faux trees. So summer needs to show up so that I can enjoy that deck with my feathered friends.

      And I also have a new furry friend. There’s a small black squirrel or chipmunk who has figured out that if he climbs the tree by the railing, he can sneak in and steal peanuts, too. I haven’t figured out how to discourage him from this. I don’t leave food out at night or during the day when I’m at work, but he’ll even sneak up when I’m just inside the house on the other side of the window. Rather cheeky of him, I think.

      Ruth, you’ll have to share your crow stories with us now 🙂

  17. kris0723

    That would be great! I was so excited when I saw a Crowned Kinglet in our pine tree! I was super happy to see Cedar Waxwings too. I’ve only seen them once in Spring/Summer. They were picking spiders out of their webs from our pine trees. They were so fast and beautiful!

  18. Elle O.

    Well, Kris, you win! Stripeless house finch, and a really cute one. I can now pick out four birds! Well, actually, Kaeli IDd three for me and you also on one of those, and I figured out the chickadee with some help from a plate.(This is the closest I’ve ever lived to woods before). It’s so fun. Now I’ll look him up and see what they like.

  19. kris0723

    That is awesome Elle!!! Do you have a pair of binoculars? Or a camera with a telephoto lens? It is amazing how much you can learn and observe when you have a closer view and photos. I just saw a house finch with only one leg and a squirrel with one blind eye and crows with frost on their feathers. These are all things I would have missed without my camera. Have fun!

  20. Elle O.

    No, I don’t. Thanks for the tip! I will have to get some! Right now, they’re all showing up at my house anyway. Come spring I’ll need them, though. The squirrels actually run up and beg at my deck when they see me. And now they come to my bedroom window. I also have Stellar Jays making demands. And, of course, Cooper the Hawk shows up and sits on my balcony railing staring at his “take-out” meal at the feeder below. It’s really fun, but come spring, I’m going to need binoculars and some bird classes. We have a great bird store here in the Harbor, too. I always laughed at my mother and brother over the bird thing, and now here I am making crow bars…. I guess insanity does run in families!

  21. kris0723

    Hi Kaeli! People often see crows flying in huge groups in the evening to roost for the night. I was wondering if they leave the roost in the morning in equally large groups, family groups or ? You don’t hear people talk about large groups of crows flying away from popular roosting sites or are they leaving before dawn? Thank you!

    • Hi Kris, they do actually leave in fairly large groups, but do so under the cover of a little more darkness so I think it goes less noticed. There also isn’t, in my experience, as much socializing (I.e no staging) they kind of just head out. I’m writing a post on roosting behavior so I’ll be sure to include some stuff on this for you.

  22. kris0723

    Wonderful! Thank you!

  23. karin dale

    People in a town in PA are having a Crow murder fest this weekend! Its event is published on Facebook.. Under protest of activist groups. Those involved have made disgusting, threatening, and completely harassing comments to those who’ve voiced any opinion against such a cruel “sport” as shooting Crows for fun. The language is not only graphic inappropriate and needlessly offensive ( pointed at women especially) it shows how truly juvenile, uneducated,unreasonable and confrontational these people are wielding guns that are “gun ho” at shooting anything that crosses in view..on land or above. Such irresponsible people can’t possibly have legal rights to be allowed to hunt for no purpose of food or sport. Yet one stated ( name can be found on Facebook event page) that his ” friends” were amongst the police and or Sheriff’s office in charge of the county / town this event is to take place, and stated they will “go along” with what this ridiculous event of murdering Crows for some kind of prize, or type of reward. Also, on board with this imbecilic “hunt” is none other than a member of The E.P.A. of PA no less! How shameful for this community indeed.

  24. Monica Kerr

    I have been feeding a flock of 14+ Ravens for over a year, but they have all vanished except one. I had the best food for them; dried cat food, raw hamburger and fresh water poured daily. What’s up – I’m worried about why they left – if someone poisoned them, and worried about the one all by himself.

    • Hi Monica, if you look through some of the other comments-particularly on my ‘about me’ page-you’ll see yours is a not an uncommon experience. While I can’t offer a specific explanation I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. For ravens, the breeding season has been in full swing for a number of months already and that might be dramatically affecting their activities. It’s also getting warmer (depending where you are) and that too changes food availability and movement. So try not to fret and continue to keep your eyes and ears out. They may pop back up when you least expect it.

  25. Well informative article written, all these facts are right on! Hope to see more posts from you, thank you for this article.

  26. I work at the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a pair of red-shouldered hawks nesting in one of our trees for five years now. In the winter, while they’re gone, we’re also a very popular crow roost. This year for the first time, we’ve also got a pair (and helper) of crows that built a nest in one of our trees.

    Fortunately our property is about 3.5 acres and the hawks are at one end while the crows are at the other (right outside my window, yay!). But I’m worried about possible conflicts. Any suggestions?

    • Sounds like a wonderful area to work, Stephanie! My only suggestion, and I do not say this with a tone of snark or sarcasm, is to prepare for and embrace any conflict. Your red-shouldered hawks may attack and successfully kill and eat one or more fledgling crows (though, overall, RSHA eat birds fairly rarely). But it’s so, so important not to villainize predators when they eat the wild animals we may become attached to, particularly when they’re feeding on other native and abundant species. It breaks my heart when I watch my families show up with fewer and fewer fledglings, but crows babies need to fall victim to the parents of other birds and wildlife to keep our ecosystems sustained and healthy. So, you are welcome to root for one family over another but please don’t make any effort to intervene. It says something very good about the property to have a top predator and a potential prey species nesting there and I encourage you to take a lot of joy in knowing you have a diverse ecosystem at your doorstep. But…I do hope your family is successful and it is quite possible that the RSHA will ignore them 🙂

  27. The hawks prey on our robins an awful lot, so we’ve certainly gotten used to seeing it happen! (In fact, the robins often help us spot the hawks when they’re scolding about a nestling.) I would just hate to see either the hawks or the crows leave the property. We love watching the birds, and of course they get more attention on our social media pages than anything else I post. 🙂

    Now that I know crows like unsalted peanuts, I’m going to start leaving peanuts for them on top of the brick wall that surrounds our property.

    We really are fortunate–we have RSHA, pileated woodpeckers as well as the downies, hairies, and red-bellied, phoebes, pewees, and various songbirds. This winter, our grounds manager even saw a pair of red foxes, though we haven’t seen them again. It’s a great blend of my love of history and my love of nature! 🙂

  28. Tanya riedmann

    Hi I feed a pair of crows and they come and sit on the tree in front of my house all the time. These two are now trying to build a nest in the arbour right next to my front door. This is very strange cause I can touch it if I open my door. Is this just a thank you for me or is this a decoy nest? I can’t believe it would be a real nest because it would not be secure or safe from predators. I’ve knocked it down several times already but they are so president and keep rebuilding it. Any insight would be much appreciated.


    • Some species of crow are reported to build decoy nests, but I’m not familiar with AMCR building entire fake nests. Some crows just make bad choices about where to build their nest. Hopefully if it fails, they’ll learn the lesson!

  29. Tormod

    I see crows skip on to our roads here, eat somethong then skip off before approching traffic hit them ( most off the time, they make it) What are they eating? It’s not the usual road kill, no signs of that.

  30. Jen Pirret

    Hi, how far do you think it is possible for a crow to fly with food such as a sausage or egg in its beak. Would it take it back to their roost or just a ssfe place to eat it. Many thanks Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer, good question. Just to clarify, roosts are places crows go to sleep communally at night. They do not bring food to the roost. Perhaps though you meant their territory, meaning the home range a mated pair of crows lives on and defends. Although crows spend a lot of time foraging on their territory, during the winter they may venture off territory to forage in other groups. In these circumstances, crows are mostly leaving the place they’ve obtained to food in order to eat it without the harassment of other crows, or perhaps the prying eyes of people. If they’re on their territory, they may also take food to cache (hide) somewhere else. The short answer is that I can’t give you a specific number, but they’re certainly considering the return on investment. They’re not going to fly .5mi away for every egg, since that might be either a waste of energy or take so long as to miss future feeding opportunities. In general, I see them fly a block or less away. Does that help?

  31. Crows killed a newly fledged pigeon last summer, and an adult one a few weeks ago. Just torn apart and strewn across our lawn. Not nice, especially when they start squawking at five a.m. and when take a walk around our neighborhood.

    • For some people, the idea that some animals kill other animals is insurmountably objectionable. That birds communicate-particularly in the early morning when sound most efficiently travels-also irritates people. I’m sorry you feel this way but I encourage you to remember that predators (to be clear crows aren’t obligate predators but occasionally do so) are crucial parts of our ecosystems. It’s no coincidence that anything from snakes, to big cats, wolves, bears, birds of prey, sharks etc experience more persecution than their herbivorous counterparts. Sadly, that persecution is causing global ecological problems and biodiversity loss. Give them and crows a chance if you can. You may find there’s more there to appreciate than meets the eye and find yourself feeling equally affected when you start to see the dead crow babies that will soon dot our streets and yards as they get attacked by their own predators.

      • kris0723

        Hi Tanya, I am sorry you saw those upsetting things. We have a pair of pigeons who visit us daily plus numerous squirrels. Our neighborhood crows (only 3-4) always jump out of the way and give the pigeons and squirrels space. I agree w/Kaeli, crows are an important part of the ecosystem. Crows have relentless predators too. This weekend I saw a huge raccoon rooting around in the dirt while a lone crow cried from a nearby fence. No other crows responded. I’m not sure what the raccoon was doing but it was really upsetting the crow. I hope it didn’t kill a fledgling. A few days ago, I saw a Bald Eagle fly overhead with a dozen crows chasing after it. It was too far away to see what it had in its talons. The more I learn and observe crows, the more I appreciate and love them.

  32. wendy

    How do i bath a young crow who is a mess and hasnt quite learned.

  33. Sarah

    I have baby rabbits, will a crow try to attack them while they’re outside?

    • Depends on how small and vulnerable they are. If they are pretty fresh newborns I would not leave them unattended-though honestly you should be much more worried about neighborhood cats than crows when it comes to baby bunnies.

  34. haley

    Thanks for a great article.

  35. Melissa Wimble

    I have two fledgling crows that currently are residing around the area outside my house. I’ve been trying to give them space and I’ve informed my neighbours that they aren’t abandoned or injured. However I seem to increasingly find one of them in front of my door at different times during the day and night. Leaving my house seems to upset the older crows when they are around.

    Any advice?

  36. Clare Thomson-Wood

    My house overlooks a field. It is tree lined at the top of the field and a large number of corvids (I imagine crows or rooks) roost in the trees. Since the field was topped around 3 weeks ago the birds have in large numbers been standing on the grass in one part of the field facing uphill every day. They come and go but for the most part whilst they are on the ground (and this can be for fairly long periods of time) they are standing motionless. They do not have their wings spread. They have been doing this in all weathers: sunny, overcast, rain, windy. They obviously go back to the roosts at night but some are there from around 5am when I get up and some are still there until just before dusk. Can you please explain what they are doing?

    • Hi Clare, what an interesting description. I would need to see some kind of video of this behavior to really attempt to explain it. Mostly because you describe them as being “motionless.” Do you mean they are still as statues or they’re just not moving all that much? And you say they all face the same direction together? These details are making it hard to tease apart what might be happening. My general hypothesis though is that this is the a pre/post roost gathering site. It’s common that before the birds (I’m speaking specifically about crows here because I know less about rooks, but believe it to be the same) go to the roost they have these “pre-roost” gatherings. They’re generally in fields/parking lots/turf and we don’t really know what they’re for. They don’t eat, but they do move around. They’re all just kind of milling about from what I’ve observed. My guess is that the field has become the new gathering site. They will also do this to some extant as they leave the roost. Would love it if you could share some video though!

  37. Glen

    The other day, we had a young crow fall in our backyard. I ended up in a planter for about an hour…presumably shaking off the effects of falling. After a while, it emerged. All the other crows were squawking at it. I assume caws of encouragement to try again. It hopped around for a while and flapped his wings. Each time he tried to gain flight, he missed the required elevation and slammed into the fence. i set up a ladder and a few flipped buckets….thinking he could hop up to fence line and fly out. The other crows watched me but didn’t say anything. I watched for a while longer only to see him hit the fence again and again. I moved the ladder closer to his location…obviously too close for the crows friends and family. They all started cawing and dive-bombing me. I dropped everything and ran….a grown man 6 feet and 220lbs running like a child….I’m sure it was a sight.

    From the safety provided by my sliding door, I peeked out again. The young bird sat on a bucket by my door. He looked tired and worn out. And I was tired of game. I took an old towel tossed it over him and proceeded to carry him to the park behind my house. As I was under our patio at the time, the crows didn’t have line of sight. The next time they saw me, I was gently placing their friend on the lawn of the park. As many of you will have rightly predicated, there was quickly a lot of squawking and dive-bombing as I ran for the cover of my house. They also fire missiles from their bowels in case you wondered. And yes, one of them got me. Later in the day, I ventured out into my yard. I was greeted with a chorus of caws each time they saw me. No matter what combination of shirts, shorts, pants, glasses, the same caws! Even today they yell at me, though not as loud.

    My questions are:
    1. Did I do the right thing or did I interrupt a teachable moment….did I interrupt a parent teaching their child?
    2. I’m not moving! So I’d better figure out how to make amends with these crows. I can’t have them yelling and bombing me while trying to entertain a BBQ crowd.

    • Hi Glen! Well, ideally it would have been better if you had left it alone. As you may know from some of my other posts, crows often leave the nest before they can fly, sometimes by as much as 10 days before they’re fully flighted. That’s totally normal and basically has to do with the fact that nests are not the safest place to be. If it would have been possible to leave it there that would have been better. It would have spent the next couple of days bopping around you and your neighbor’s houses until it could fly (or was killed by something.) If it’s existence there is in harms way of pets, however, (which side note, I also encourage people to give pets less free range/unmonitored outside time during the summer for this reason) or the dive bombings are unbearable then I think moving it to a place that’s close enough so the parents can see where you put it is ok. That said, as you know they have learned your face. With time the might forgive the infraction (that’s a little anthropomorphic but you know what I mean) but you could also try and throwing a couple peanuts or as a show of good faith. Maybe that will speed up the process. Good luck!

  38. Kash


    I have two crows living in the trees near my door. I got really annoyed at them and threw a small stone (not trying to hit them but at the tree to scare them away for a little bit). I’ve since learned how smart they are as they now hate my guts and swoop at me until I’m half way up the block. I’m trying to make amends by leaving out food (bread, some of it soaked in water, blueberrys and popcorn) but they won’t take any of it. I’m wondering if I should just avoid them for a while or if I’m making them more angry by continuing to try to interact and gain their trust.

    • Hi Kash, haha yeah that was a bit of an oopsy daisy. I wouldn’t think you’re making things worse by feeding them, but I have no ostensible evidence that it helps. You’ll just have to keep trying and see what combo of time and food relieves the tension. Let me know, this is a frequent question here! Good luck

  39. Andree

    Hi. My yard has been filled with crows forever but they seemed to have left? Is it nesting season? I do have a lot of cow.and black bird s which I don’t normally have. I miss them!!

  40. Annette morriss

    I found a fledgling crow in my garden it could fly so far then stop as there are 4 cats next door and about another 10 in my street i took it in for the night gave it water dogfood and boiled egg which she ate that was three weeks ago now i take her out everyday to see if she can fly but to no avail also quiet a few times i,ve let her out she as been attacked by 2 crows my husband as built a massive cage for in the garden really don’t know what to do now because don’t want to keep it caged

    • Hi Annette, unfortunately given the age you took the bird in, and and how long you’ve had it, it’s unquestionably imprinted. If you release it it will probably die (though it would have probably died anyway because most baby crows will die within the first year) but to keep it is a violation of the law. As a rule I do not give rehab advice here (as I’m not a vet or a rehab professional) so I suggest you contact a licensed rehab facility and seek their advice. They are in a more knowledgeable position to help you. Best of luck!

  41. Pauline Bigglestone

    We have a young crow that was rescued from fox but have no idea how to let it go or when can you help Thant you Pauline

  42. How lovely to find this site. We’ve been feeding a crow family for the last five years – and some folk find that very strange. I began putting food out specifically for Oliver (he can be quite greedy!) when he started feeding on the seeds I put out for the ground feeding birds, and I checked online for advice. He still sometimes feeds amongst the other birds, who to my surprise are totally unfazed by his presence – I have never seen any sign of aggression from him or fear from them.

    Every year the pair bring their offspring down – usually two, three last year. This year’s pair seem much more secure than before – I wonder whether this is because Mrs Oliver has at last overcome her shyness and is coming down to feed whilst I am still nearby.

    Last year Oliver broke his leg. We were worried sick as he was finding it difficult to take off and was very vulnerable on the ground. Then a white ring appeared round the break – we feared this was a bad sign, but the break mended and now, apart from appearing a tad bandy, he is back to normal.

    Often when we have been out and draw up in the car we see Oliver swooping over the roof to be waiting for us on the back lawn. This is quite useful as they know that, when we are away for any length of time they know they won’t be receiving their usual ‘top-up’.

    We live in South London, so have none of the ‘exotic’ creatures some of you talk about, but I feel really privileged to have these regular visitors and have learnt so much from watching them. I’ve even managed to convert a few sceptical neighbours.

  43. Kate

    Just found that crows had destroyed our patio chair cushions by tearing the fabric cover and dragging the polyfil out,leaving it all over the yard. They ruined every single cushion! We’ve never had a problem with this before (20 years here) and do feed them irregularly. Why would they do this? Are they using this for nesting? How can we prevent them from repeating this with replacement cushions without getting on their bad side? We’re happy to share our yard but not lose all our cushions, 🙂 Kate

    • Hi Kate! Hmmm, that’s a strange problem. Where abouts are you located? I ask because it’s rather late in the year for crows to attempt to renest. At least around here if they’ve lost their nest/kids at this point they are done. That’s also an awful lot of work for something they could substitute for something easier to access. I won’t rule it out but that would surprise me. May I ask how you know it was them? Were you able to watch them from start to finish or did you just see them messing around in the wreckage? Either way I find your story very intriguing and will try to help!

  44. Wayne

    No, killing crows in most places without a licence isn’t illegal. It is very legal in many places. You need to know what the rules are in your area.

    • Hi Wayne, I’m afraid you are incorrect. Crows are federally protected under the migratory bird treaty act. So they have protections not afforded to invasive species like European starlings for example. Hunting them needs to be down within the season (which can be very long in some places) and with a hunting license. There are circumstances, however, where you can kill nuisance crows without a license. Though this is regulated at the state level. Now, depending on the culture of your community and local law enforcement, these rules may not be enforced but those are the rules.

  45. Brian

    I enjoyed the article on you in “The Week” and hope that more people appreciate the awareness of animals. I assume you have read these, but if not, read, “Beyond Words; What animals think and feel”, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”, and while it covers mostly human things, it does touch on our sad relationship to animals, “Sapiens”. Good luck and keep it up!

  46. david woody

    Chickamauga, Georgia, about three years ago. Four crows on a fence gate. They made a soft clicking sound, were close together and animated. My immediate impression was that one had told a joke. I haven’t seen nor heard of this action before. Any ideas? Also, my crows love Ritz crackers. I suspect they like the salt. Some will take the cracker to the bird bath and dunk it. One turns his over so that both sides are wet. I’m watching to see if any of the family decides that they want a softer cracker, too.

    • Hi David, crows make a wide variety of sounds including moans, clicks, rattles, wow sounds, water drops, hums and purrs. I’d have to see a video to say for sure if it was unusual but I suspect it wasn’t.

      As for the crackers-water dunking is a typical behavior and a common complaint among owners of bird baths.

  47. Robert Lacey

    Hi I live in a condo building in Kingston Ontario Canada, we have a pair of resident crows that frequent the property around the building. One of the crows sits high on the evergreens, while the other walks around the property, at first I thought it was injured , as it was always on the ground, but when I tried to app roach it it wood fly about twenty feet or so and then continue to stroll around. I have also seen the pair on the top of buildings, so I do know it can fly, but it seems to prefer the pedestrian way. Any thoughts.

    • Almost half of a crow’s daily food intake comes from insects they extract from lawns. They spend a lot more time strolling around on the hunt for grub (literally) than many people realize. Sounds like typical behavior to me!

  48. Erin

    I live in North Seattle (west side) and we have many crows in the trees in my neighborhood. Over this summer, I have noticed on a number of days, there is a crow that will squawk almost all day long – squawk….. squawk…..squawk…. He/she seems to perch him/herself up in a tree and then do this all day long. It can be in different trees. I found myself wondering what could be going on – I thought maybe it was protecting a nest, but I noticed this in July/August, so not sure. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  49. Mac Cullen

    We have a flat roof and the crows frequently drop the stones covering the roof onto the balcony outside our bedroom window…..making a big racket early in the morning. The rocks are 1 inch in size. Why do they do this?

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