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American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

American Crows are familiar over much of the continent: large, intelligent, all-black birds with hoarse, cawing voices. They are common sights in treetops, fields, and roadsides, and in habitats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town centers. They usually feed on the ground and eat almost anything – typically earthworms, insects and other small animals, seeds, and fruit but also garbage, carrion, and chicks they rob from nests. Their flight style is unique, a patient, methodical flapping that is rarely broken up with glides.

Bird Festivals
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4

Keys to identification Help

Crows and Jays
Crows and Jays
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A large, long-legged, thick-necked bird with a heavy, straight bill. In flight, the wings are fairly broad and rounded with the wingtip feathers spread like fingers. The short tail is rounded or squared off at the end.

  • Color Pattern

    American Crows are all black, even the legs and bill. When crows molt, the old feathers can appear brownish or scaly compared to the glossy new feathers.

  • Behavior

    American Crows are very social, sometimes forming flocks in the millions. Inquisitive and sometimes mischievous, crows are good learners and problem-solvers, often raiding garbage cans and picking over discarded food containers. They’re also aggressive and often chase away larger birds including hawks, owls and herons.

  • Habitat

    American Crows are common birds of fields, open woodlands, and forests. They thrive around people, and you’ll often find them in agricultural fields, lawns, parking lots, athletic fields, roadsides, towns, and city garbage dumps.

Range Map Help

American Crow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    American Crow

    Adult
    • Thick, sturdy bill
    • Eyes dark brown
    • Sturdy black legs
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, February 2009
  • Adult

    American Crow

    Adult
    • Scaly pattern over entire back
    • Sturdy black legs
    • Feathers covering nostrils and base of bill
    • Eyes dark brown
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, October 2008
  • Adult

    American Crow

    Adult
    • Large black bird
    • Thick, sturdy bill
    • Medium-length, square tail
    • Feathers covering nostrils and base of bill
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, February 2001
  • Adult

    American Crow

    Adult
    • Medium-length, square tail
    • Thick, sturdy bill
    • Feathers covering nostrils and base of bill
    • Eyes dark brown
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, November 2005
  • Adult

    American Crow

    Adult
    • Scaly pattern over entire back
    • Old feathers brownish, new ones glossy black
    • Tail feathers square-tipped, pointed in immature
    • Eyes dark brown
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, July 2008
  • Juvenile

    American Crow

    Juvenile
    • Shiny black wings but head and body dull blackish
    • Short tail of variable length
    • Silvery black bill
    • Blueish eyes
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, May 2007
  • Adult mobbing Red-tailed Hawk

    American Crow

    Adult mobbing Red-tailed Hawk
    • All black
    • Broad, rather short, rounded wings
    • Prominent thick "fingers"
    • Evenly rounded tail
    • © Eddie Callaway, Illinois, October 2007

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Common Raven

    Adult
    • Long, thick bill
    • Long wings and tail
    • Thin, shaggy throat feathers
    • © Chug Von Rospach, California, April 2007
  • Adult

    Common Raven

    Adult
    • Long, broad wings with pronounced "fingers"
    • Long, wedge-shaped tail
    • © Tripp Davenport, Alpine, Texas, February 2009
  • Adult

    Fish Crow

    Adult
    • Extremely similar; slightly smaller
    • Proportionally shorter legs, longer tail and wings
    • Voice different
    • © Laura Erickson, Florida, August 2005
  • Adult

    Northwestern Crow

    Adult
    • Plumage and structure identical to American Crow
    • Somewhat hoarser voice on average
    • Best distinguished by range and habitat
    • © Jim Dubois
  • Adult male

    Common Grackle

    Adult male
    • Glossy overall (may show blue, green, and purple)
    • Yellow eye
    • Very long, large tail
    • Long, sleek shape
    • © Jim Gilbert, New Jersey, October 2008
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Glossy overall (may show blue, green, and purple)
    • Yellow eye
    • Very long, large tail
    • Long, sleek shape
    • Long legs; long slightly curved bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Del Rio, Texas, April 2007
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Glossy overall (may show blue, green, and purple)
    • Yellow eye
    • Very long, large tail
    • Long, sleek shape
    • Long legs; long slightly curved bill
    • © Sam Wilson, Scottsdale, Arizona, April 2008
  • Adult male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Glossy overall (may show blue, green, and purple)
    • Yellow eye (dark eye in Gulf Coast populations)
    • Very long, large tail
    • Long, sleek shape
    • © Byard Miller, Alabama, November 2007
  • Adult male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Glossy overall (may show blue, green, and purple)
    • Dark eye (yellow in Atlantic coast populations)
    • Very long, large tail
    • Long, sleek shape
    • © catmca, Eau Gallie, Florida, January 2009
  • Adult male

    Brewer's Blackbird

    Adult male
    • Glossy overall (may show blue, green, and purple)
    • Yellow eye
    • Small size
    • © Laura Erickson, Santa Barbara, California, August 2005

Similar Species

The American Crow is nearly identical to both Northwestern and Fish crows. To distinguish Fish Crows, check range maps and listen for the Fish Crow's more nasal calls. Northwestern Crows occur only along the Pacific Northwest coast; they are slightly smaller and best separated by habitat. Common Ravens are larger, longer winged, and heavier beaked than crows. Ravens' tails are tapered at the end, giving them a diamond or wedge shape compared to a crow's shorter, squarer tail.

Regional Differences

Crows in the West are slightly smaller than eastern crows (noticeably so for people with trained eyes). Crows in Florida are small with large feet.

Backyard Tips

Crows don’t regularly visit feeders, but you can attract them to your backyard if you offer a mix of trees, open space, and food. Peanuts left in an open place are a good attractant. Crows are also attracted by compost, garbage, or pet food that the birds can feed on.

Find This Bird

American Crows are fairly common and conspicuous throughout most of the lower 48 states outside the southwestern deserts. You can find American Crows by looking around open areas near patches of woods, or in human modified landscapes like city parks, garbage dumps, campgrounds, manicured lawns, athletic fields, cemeteries and parking lots. Listen for their loud cawing.

Get Involved

You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds! project.

Report your sightings of crows to eBird. Continentwide data are useful in understanding seasonal changes in the distribution and numbers of crows, as well as impacts from West Nile virus.

You Might Also Like

The crow research page of Dr. Kevin McGowan, a biologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Up Close with Crows: An interview with Kevin McGowan

Caller ID for Crows: Sound analysis shows subtle differences in the alarm calls of individual crows

Keeping Company: Crows, sociable and intelligent, are the focus of several studies at the Lab

West Nile Virus Disrupts the Family Lives of Crows: A deadly disease alters crows’ complex societies.

American Crow: Consummate opportunist (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)

Counting Crows: Story in BirdScope

Inbreeding in the American Crow: Story in BirdScope

Watching Your Neighborhood Crows: Story in BirdScope

All About Birds Blog, To Know the Crow: Insights and Stories From a Quarter-Century of Crow Study [Video], April 2014.