Jun 04 2012

Two Kinds Of Crows

Published by at 7:30 am under Crows & Ravens

It used to be easy to identify crows in Pittsburgh.  Every crow was an American crow (Corvus brachyrhyncos).  But not any more.

In recent years fish crows (Corvus ossifragus) have been expanding their range northward from the coastal Southeast. The first I'd heard of them in western Pennsylvania was when Marcy Cunkelman said they were common in Indiana, PA.  I found this odd because Indiana is land-locked.

What was a fish crow doing without fish?  They earned their name by scavenging on beaches but fish crows aren't picky.  They'll eat anything.  They must have made an easy transition from dead fish to discarded hamburgers.  Perhaps one spring they followed some American crows to western Pennsylvania -- and so they are here.  This year, they've been reported nesting in the City of Pittsburgh.

Fish crows are smaller than American crows but they're impossible to tell apart except by voice.  As Birds of North America Online says, "The only reliable difference between the two is vocal.  The Fish Crow sounds like an American Crow with a bad cold."

I'm sure you can imagine an American crow's call without listening but here's a recording to prepare you for the difference.  "Caw, Caw, Caw."

The fish crow's call is two nasal syllables:  "Uh-oh.  Uh-oh."    (Click here to hear.)

Easy?  Yes, except at this time of year.  Baby American crows have nasal voices too (yikes!) so the call you hear could be a baby crow.  There's still a difference, though.  Baby American crows call with a single note.  (Click hear to hear.)

So, now that we have two kinds of crows, you'll have to wait until they speak to be sure of them.  "Uh oh!"

(photo of a fish crow by Chuck Tague)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Two Kinds Of Crows”

  1. Deniseon 04 Jun 2012 at 8:27 am

    Thought I heard the Fish Crows call in squirrel hill one morning, I figured it was an American crow imitating it??? Maybe it really was a Fish Crow. I’ve heard them in North Carolina and there call is quite distinctive.

  2. Carlaon 04 Jun 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Are the American and Fish crows know to hybridize?

  3. Kate St. Johnon 04 Jun 2012 at 3:30 pm

    No, American and Fish crows do not hybridize. Interestingly, the American Crow and the Northwestern Crow do interbreed. The Northwestern Crow is only found in the Pacific Northwest.

  4. mason4saloon 04 Jun 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Now add ravens to that mix and it’s a brain teaser!

  5. Kathy Detweileron 04 Jun 2012 at 6:47 pm

    I love crows! I’ll keep an ear open for the Fish Crow.

  6. Neileyon 08 Mar 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Hello, I am in love with this photo. As well as many others on your site. I am an artist from Maine and would love to have permission to paint this particular one. If not, thank you anyway for the inspiration. Your blog is beautiful!
    Thank you either way,

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