American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
The American Crow is one of the most common and best-known species in Tennessee. Its harsh caw can be heard in every county in the state and in every month of the year.
It is a clever opportunist and might be seen in flocks in agricultural fields, in suburban neighborhoods scavenging roadkill, or at the city dump. It is widely distributed, breeding across central Canada and from coast to coast, avoiding only the desert regions of the southwest.
The northernmost breeders migrate to the southern portions of the range in winter. American Crows form communal roosts during the non-breeding season that can be enormous with many thousands of individuals.
Description: Medium sized all black bird including dark eyes and black legs.
Weight: 1 lb
Voice: The call is a familiar caw, along with other sounds.
- Fish Crow is very similar in appearance, but has a nasal voice. This species is uncommon and found most often in West Tennessee.
- Common Raven is larger with a longer and more curved bill, shaggy throat feathers, a wedge-shaped tail, and a deeper, more guttural voice. Ravens are only found in the eastern mountain regions of East Tennessee.
Habitat: Found in a variety of habitats. Requires open ground for feeding and scattered trees for roosting and nesting.
Diet: American Crows are omnivorous and will eat waste grain, earthworms, insects, carrion, garbage, seeds, amphibians, reptiles, mice, fruit, bird eggs and nestlings. They feed primarily on the ground.
Nesting and reproduction: American Crows do not breed until they are at least two years old, and many not until four years old. Young from previous years are known to help their parents raise the current brood.
Clutch Size: Usually 3 to 6 eggs.
Incubation: Females incubate the eggs for 18 to 19 days, and are fed by their mates.
Fledging: Both adults feed the young, which leave the nest in 28 to 35 days. They remain dependent on the adults for another 2 weeks. Family groups remain together into the winter.
Nest: Construction of the well-made cup nest begins in March, and takes about 2 weeks. The outside shell is made of sticks, with mud and grass on the inside. Nests are usually placed high in a tree, often in cedar trees in Tennessee, and nest heights in the state range from 10 to 70 feet with an average of 32 feet.
Status in Tennessee: The American Crow is a common year-round resident across the state, with numbers generally increasing from west to east. Migrants from northern regions augment the resident population in winter.
"Sport-hunting" is allowed in fall and winter in Tennessee, but there is no estimate of the number of birds killed annually. American Crow populations appear to be stable in the state, however, severe susceptibility to West Nile virus may cause population decreases in the future.
- American Crows congregate in large numbers in winter to sleep in communal roosts. These roosts can be of a few hundred, several thousand, or even up to two million crows. Some roosts have been forming in the same general area for well over 100 years. In the last few decades, some of these roosts have moved into urban areas where the noise and mess cause conflicts with people.
- Despite being a common exploiter of roadkill, the American Crow is not specialized to be a scavenger, and carrion is only a very small part of its diet. Its stout bill is not strong enough to break through the skin of even a gray squirrel. It must wait for something else, like a vulture, to open a carcass or for the carcass to decompose and become tender enough to eat.
- The American Crow appears to be the biggest victim of West Nile virus, a disease recently introduced to North America. Crows die within one week of infection, and few seem able to survive exposure. No other North American bird is dying at such a high rate from the disease. The population of crows in some areas has been greatly reduced due to mortality from West Nile virus.
- The oldest known American Crow in the wild was 14 years 17 months old.
Obsolete English Names: common crow, southern crow
Best places to see in Tennessee: This species can be found in a variety of habitats in every county of the state.
For more information:
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Verbeek, N. A. M., and C. Caffrey. 2002. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). The Birds of North America, No. 647 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.