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Urban Crows

Crows are one of our most common urban wildlife residents. These omnivorous birds will eat just about anything, including fruits, vegetables, insects, small rodents, and even other birds and bird eggs.

American Crow - Jim Cruce

Natural History

Crows are oneof our most common urban wildlife residents. These omnivorous birdswill eat just about anything, including fruits, vegetables, insects,small rodents, and even other birds and bird eggs.

Giventhe opportunity, they will also raid garbage cans. Crows typically builda stick nest in the crotch of a tall tree but can also use ledges ofman-made structures.

Nest building occurs inlate April and May. Crows lay 3-6 eggs, which are incubated for 18days. The young remain in the nest for 28-35 days. It is common foryoungsters to leave the nest before they are able to fly.

Duringthis time, both parents as well as offspring from the prior year carefor youngsters. Young remain with the parents throughout the first yearof life and help raise the following season's offspring.

Crowfamilies will establish individual territories during the breedingseason, but during the non-breeding season they will gather at hugecommunal roosts (sleeping areas).

Communal roostscan be as large as several thousand crows. During the day, crows willdisperse to forage and then return to the communal roost in the evening.

Fledgling Crows

Fledgling crows on the ground

Likemany species, juvenile crows will typically leave the nest before theyare able to fly. They will spend several days on the ground building uptheir flight capabilities and learning essential survival skills fromtheir families.

This is a completely normal and veryimportant part of their life cycle. It is not uncommon to find youngcrows on the ground in suburban, urban and industrial areas.

Unlessthese birds are clearly injured, they should be left alone for theirparents to care for. Crows that are in immediate danger can be placed up off the ground on a low branch or structure, but should not be movedmore than 100 feet from where they were found.

How to tell if a crow is a fledgling?

Fledglingcrows can be found learning to fly during the months of May, June andJuly. People are frequently concerned that the crow they have seenon the ground is injured rather than simply a youngster learning to fly.

Oneeasy way to tell if a crow is a juvenile is to look at the color ofthe bird's eyes. Young crows have blue/grey eyes, while adults have black eyes. Another easy way totell if a crow is a fledgling is to look to see if other crows arehanging out nearby.

If there are other crows nearby,they are likely the parents. Size of the bird is NOT a good indicatorof age since fledgling crows are frequently close to the size of theirparents when they leave the nest.

Wouldn't it be safer to raise the crow in captivity and let him go once he is able to fly?

Althoughthe urban landscape may seem like a hazardous place for a crow to learnto fly, many crows do manage to survive. In fact, urban crow populationsare increasing.

Raising a crow in captivity and thenreleasing it to the wild reduces its chance for survival. Crows spendbetween one and two years with their parents, a much longer period thanmost other bird species.

This extended period isessential for young crows to lean complex life skills, a wide array ofvocalizations and to integrate into a complex social structure. Captive-raised crows miss out on all of these things and have very littlechance for survival.

Why are all these other crows making such a ruckus near the fledgling?

Thoseare the parents and youngsters from the previous year, and possibly theyear before that. This extended family will raise and protect thefledgling just as this fledgling will stay with the family and helpraise youngsters in future nesting seasons.

Crowsare very protective of their young and will bring food to theyoungster, attempt to direct it away from harm and drive off potentialpredators. The family may not always be present but are usually closeby.

Sometimes protective behavior by adult crows canbe confused for aggression against the youngster, but rest assured thata loud, raucous group of adult crows is a sign that a youngster is ingood hands.

Situations and Solutions

Aggression Towards Pets and Humans

Bothpets and humans are far beyond the size of crow prey. Aggression isalmost always the result of adult crows protecting nearby young and islimited to a very small area. It is a temporary situation that is bestresolved by trying to avoid the area they are protecting. While it canbe intimidating, crows rarely present a threat to humans, dogsor cats.

Unwanted Crows in the Neighborhood

Crowscan sometimes be deterred from roosting or foraging in a given area.Loud sudden noises such as banging pots and pans together just beforesunset can be effective in disrupting a roost location. There are alsocompanies that sell distress calls. Scarecrows do work but only in asmall geographic area, and if they are built such that they move in thewind and are accompanied by some sort of noisemaker. Tightly coveringgarbage and compost will help reduce attractants.

Crows Raiding Other Bird Nests

Crowswill prey upon small birds and will consume other birds' eggs. Whilethis may be difficult to watch, it is entirely natural and there is noreason to intervene. Similarly, crows may themselves be preyed upon bylarger predators such as Red-tailed Hawks and Great Horned Owls.

Crows are Protected Under Federal Law

Crowsare protected under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. It is illegal toharm a crow or to destroy an active nest. It is also illegal to have acrow as a pet. Only facilities that possess federal permits to usecrows for educational purposes are allowed to keep crows in captivity.

Download Living with Urban Crows Brochure


American Crow - Jim Cruce
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