• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Fish Crow

Corvus ossifragus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Not everyone realizes it, but there are two kinds of crows across much of the eastern United States. Looking almost identical to the ubiquitous American Crow, Fish Crows are tough to identify until you learn their nasal calls. Look for them around bodies of water, usually in flocks and sometimes with American Crows. They are supreme generalists, eating just about anything they can find. Fish Crows have expanded their range inland and northward along major river systems in recent decades.

Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.
Merlin Bird ID app

Keys to identification Help

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

    Fish Crows fit the standard crow shape: hefty, well-proportioned birds with heavy bills, sturdy legs, and broad wings. At rest, Fish Crows’ wings fall short of their medium-length, square tails.

  • Color Pattern

    Fish Crows are all black. Immatures are less glossy and can become brownish as their feathers wear in their first year.

  • Behavior

    Fish Crows are very social birds—look for them in pairs in the breeding season and up to several hundred or more during migration or winter. When feeding and roosting they may mix with American Crows. When Fish Crows give their distinctive nasal calls from the ground, they often puff out their neck and body feathers, forming a distinctive, ragged ruff on the throat.

  • Habitat

    Fish Crows live along the coasts and inland along major freshwater rivers and lakes. You may find Fish Crows in a wide variety of habitats near water, often in towns and cities near parks, docks, and landfills. They share many habitats with American Crows.

Range Map Help

Fish Crow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Fish Crow

    Adult
    • Averages slightly smaller than American Crow
    • Solid black overall
    • Relatively short legs
    • Stout bill
    • © Beth Graham, Woodstown, New Jersey, May 2010
  • Adult

    Fish Crow

    Adult
    • Stocky and short-legged crow
    • Solid black overall
    • Stout bill
    • Best identified by voice
    • © Larry Meade, Huntley Meadows, Virginia, February 2006
  • Adult

    Fish Crow

    Adult
    • Stocky and short-legged
    • Solid black overall
    • Stout bill
    • © Laura Erickson, Florida, August 2005
  • Adult

    Fish Crow

    Adult
    • Stocky, short-legged crow
    • Slightly smaller than American Crow
    • Black overall
    • © Laura Erickson, Florida, August 2005

Similar Species

  • Adult

    American Crow

    Adult
    • Nearly identical to Fish Crow
    • Slightly larger and longer-legged than Fish Crow
    • Best distinguished by voice
    • © Kevin J. McGowan, Tompkins Co, New York, October 2008
  • Adult

    Common Raven

    Adult
    • Much larger and stockier than Fish Crow
    • Thicker, heavier bill
    • Shaggy feathers on throat
    • Large wedge-shaped tail
    • © Chug Von Rospach, California, April 2007
  • Adult male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Much more slender and elongated than Fish Crow
    • Glossy purple sheen on adult male
    • Glowing yellow or white eye
    • Wedge-shaped tail
    • © Byard Miller, Alabama, November 2007
  • Breeding adult

    European Starling

    Breeding adult
    • Much smaller than Fish Crow
    • Irridescent purples and greens on head and breast
    • Pointed, bright yellow bill
    • Pink legs
    • © Sam Wilson, Scottsdale, Arizona, April 2008

Similar Species

The easiest way to separate American Crow and Fish Crow is by their calls. American Crows give a burry, full-throated “caw”, while Fish Crows are more nasal, often giving short “cow” notes in pairs. American Crows are slightly larger with broader wingtips, but visual identification is very difficult. Boat-tailed Grackles are smaller and more slender, with much longer tails than Fish Crows. Common Ravens are much bigger and bulkier, with larger bills than Fish Crows, and are typically not found in the same immediate areas. European Starling is another widespread black bird that occurs in flocks, but it is far smaller than Fish Crow with a longer, more slender bill.

Find This Bird

To find Fish Crows, you’ll want to listen out for them. Chances are that many of the crows around coastlines, lakes, and waterways within this species’ range are Fish Crows. It will be very hard to tell them apart from American Crows by sight, but listen for the short, nasal, often doubled cah notes to give them away.