Though usually associated with death and bad luck, crows are brilliant birds who do more good than bad.
These blackbirds are part of the Corvidae family, along with ravens, rooks, magpies, jackdaws, jays, and treepies. Known as the most intelligent bird, they have proportionally larger brains than their body size.
Crows can recognize individual human faces and can communicate information about "bad" people to their fellow crows. Moreover, they show gratitude to humans who care for them by giving gifts.
Below, you will discover their incredible abilities and resourcefulness as you learn more about the most intriguing crow facts. Moreover, you'll understand their impressive cognition, social behavior, and how they interact with the world around them.
Crow is a collective name given to intelligent birds under the genus Corvus. Other members include the raven, jackdaw, and rook. There are approximately 40 crow species, each with unique characteristics and distribution. Crows live in dense forests and sprawling grasslands to bustling urban landscapes.
One well-known species is the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), found in North America. Another species is the hooded crow (Corvus cornix), prevalent in Europe and some parts of Asia. The carrion crow (Corvus corone) is native to Europe and lives in agricultural areas or near carrion.
Meanwhile, the Australian raven (Corvus coronoides) lives in Australia. Venturing to sub-Saharan Africa, you'll encounter the striking pied crow, boasting a black head contrasting with its white body. Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides), the smartest Corvid, are endemic to the islands of New Caledonia in the Pacific. Finally, the common raven (Corvus corax) is the most widespread and abundant species.
These crafty corvids have fascinated scientists due to their ability to solve problems and make and use tools, which only great apes and humans can do4.
The experiment of the thirsty crow is a famous demonstration of their problem-solving capability. Researchers offered a crow with a glass of water, though the water level was too low to drink. How did the crow solve the problem? It put rocks into the glass and elevated the water level.
Furthermore, these resourceful birds can use tools and work together to access food. For instance, the New Caledonian crow creates hooks and skewers from twigs. They use these homemade tools to extract insects from hard-to-reach crevices. The Hawaiian Crow or 'Alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis) also demonstrates this fantastic ability.
Another species, the carrion crow (Corvus corone), uses Japan's traffic to crack their favorite walnut snack. These urban crows drop nuts into the streets, so cars run into them and break them open. Interestingly, they can also read the traffic lights! The birds retrieved the opened nuts only once the lights turned red.
According to scientists, their intelligence comes from their sizeable brain-to-body size ratio and the presence of numerous neurons in their nervous system. Crow brains (especially those of the New Caledonian Crows) account for 2.7% of the bird's overall weight. On the other hand, human brains represent only 1.9% of our body weight.
Crows possess an uncanny ability to remember individual human faces, particularly those who have wronged them. Researchers have observed that these resourceful birds can recall specific faces for several years, reacting differently to perceived threats than harmless humans1.
Not only do crows recognize faces, but they also share their experiences within their flock. By communicating potential dangers, fellow crows can identify threats. This ability to share information and act accordingly has given them an evolutionary advantage in protecting themselves and their kin from harm.
Scientists attribute the crows' impressive memory skills to a well-developed brain region called the nidopallium caudolaterale, which is responsible for higher cognitive functions. For instance, researchers at the University of Washington demonstrated that American crows could remember and avoid a masked individual who had previously captured them, even after two years.
Furthermore, not only did the captured American crows mob the individual wearing the caveman mask, but other crows also joined them, showing that crows gossip with their peers.
One fantastic crow fact is that they can eat almost anything, as long as it's not poisonous. Crows' diet ranges from insects hiding beneath leaves to fruit growing on swaying branches. For example, the American crow loves seeds and fruits.
These wild crows snatch up beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers while enjoying berries, nuts, and grains. This varied diet supplies crows with essential nutrients, contributing to their energy and overall health.
They also hunt small animals, such as rodents and frogs, and won't hesitate to prey on smaller birds. Young crows, in particular, have a protein-heavy diet. Carrion, the remains of dead animals, adds another vital component to their diet.
In urban settings, crows involve in flock feeding of human food scraps and garbage. However, these tricksters also steal food from other animals. Some observed a group of American crows stealing the food of a river otter by distracting it.
Crows, known as master mimics, can remarkably imitate the sounds of other birds, animals, and even human speech. This incredible talent results from their complex vocal abilities and high cognitive skills2.
The Corvus species refine their mimicry skills, even sharing new sounds with their peers. Their vocal mimicry serves multiple purposes. Communication and social bonding play a significant role, but crows use their mimicry skills for more strategic goals, such as deception and resource acquisition.
For example, to deter potential rivals from a food source, a crow might imitate the call of a predatory bird, instilling fear in its prey. They also cleverly mimic distress calls from other birds to divert attention away from themselves or to attract predators toward their competitors.
Additionally, certain corvid species, like the American and fish crow, can mimic human language. While crows may not have the same advanced mimicry skills as parrots in human speech, their ability to produce recognizable words and phrases is astounding.
Crows know the value of teamwork. By gathering together, they employ a clever strategy to fend off predators like hawks, owls, coyotes, and raccoons. When spotting a potential attacker, crows gather together in groups, sometimes consisting of over a dozen birds, to confront the threat. This behavior is known as "mobbing".
In mobbing, crows perform coordinated actions such as swooping down on the predator, cawing loudly, and even physically attacking in some cases. This group effort makes it much harder for the predator to single out and target individual crows. Additionally, crows sometimes form alliances with other bird species to improve their mobbing efforts.
Did you enjoy the first half of our crow facts? Uncover more fascinating ones below!
Crows mate during spring. Male crows perform aerial acrobatics to attract a female's attention. However, what truly sets them apart is their culture of gift-giving. Males offer tokens of their commitment and ability to provide by presenting shiny objects or food items to win over the females.
These gifts not only establish trust but also emphasize the male's resourcefulness. Crows' mesmerizing aerial stunts and gestures help form strong, lasting bonds between partners.
Contrary to their reputation, they are loving creatures who value family most. They are monogamous, which means they mate for life. Crow parents are one of the best in the animal kingdom. They're so good at their job that even if their offspring reach adulthood, it still lives with their parents.
A juvenile crow may leave home and join large flocks, but in other cases, these older crow siblings stay and help their parents raise the newborn chicks. These helpers contribute significantly to the family's success by bringing food to the nest and acting as vigilant sentinels, protecting their younger siblings from potential threats and predators3.
This cooperative living arrangement among crows fosters an environment that promotes unity and decreases competition for resources. The older siblings may provide long-term help to their parents, sometimes for over five years, which allows the parents to invest more time and energy in raising subsequent offspring.
In return, the helpers gain valuable experience in nurturing and protecting their kin, boosting their chances of successful reproduction in the future.
Read more in our rundown of baby crow facts.
Crows, renowned for their iconic "caw, caw" calls, display subtle variations across different populations, similar to the regional dialects found in human languages.
In their 2005 book "In the Company of Crows and Ravens," ornithologist John M. Marzluff and author Tony Angell reveal that these regional dialects in crow calls allow these corvids to identify and bond with members of their group while distinguishing themselves from other crow populations.
When crows migrate and join a new flock, they learn the new flock's dialect by mimicking the calls of the dominant flock members. By doing so, they can easily blend into their new community.
Another intriguing fact about crows is their behavior of holding funerals. When a crow dies, the one crow who sees the dead fellow loudly calls, attracting other crows. More crows join in–sometimes reaching a hundred or even more–and perform aerial maneuvers and vocalizations.
Interestingly, the living crows keep a respectful distance from the dead, showing they're not there to scavenge. Researchers suggest that these gatherings, often called "funerals," help crows understand the danger and share crucial information about potential threats within their community.
Funerals aren't just for mourning, but it helps them identify and avoid similar risks in the future. Additionally, this shared experience strengthens the connections within the Crow community, highlighting the significance of teamwork and communication in their daily lives.
Crows are more than their reputation. These intelligent birds have a crucial role in the ecosystem. They feast on insect pests like caterpillars, beetles, and grubs. By devouring these pests, crows act as a natural pest control and maintain a healthy balance in the garden ecosystem.
Their scavenging behavior benefits the plants and keeps the garden safe for other beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies and humans and pets. In addition to their pest control role, they also disperse seeds.
While foraging, these birds often pick up seeds and inadvertently drop them in various locations as they move about. This process leads to the growth of new plants, promoting biodiversity within the garden. Crows also cache seeds for future consumption, burying them in the ground. If the birds don't retrieve the seeds, they can germinate and grow into new plants.
The term "murder of crows" originates from a time when animals had colorful and poetic names, such as a "parliament of owls" or a "gaggle of geese." This collective noun for crows likely developed due to their association with death and darkness in folklore, a theme that has persisted throughout history in various cultures.
However, alternative names for a group of crows, like a "horde" or a "parliament," might be more appropriate. These names capture these birds intelligent and social nature of these birds without perpetuating negative connotations.
Most crow species exhibit stable population numbers thanks to their remarkable adaptability. Factors such as their ability to exploit various food sources and adjust to human development help maintain their stable population status.
Nonetheless, some crow species face significant challenges to their survival. Take the Hawaiian Crow, for example. This critically endangered species, native to the Hawaiian Islands, has suffered immensely from habitat loss, disease, and predation. Deforestation and the introduction of non-native predators like rats and mongooses have diminished their numbers. Moreover, avian malaria and avian pox have further threatened their existence.
Thankfully, conservationists are working hard to protect this endemic species. Efforts include habitat restoration and captive breeding programs to bolster the dwindling population of the 'Alalā.
What are your favorite crow facts? Remember to share it with your friends!
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with C.
Marzluff, J. M., Walls, J., Cornell, H. N., Withey, J. C., & Craig, D. P. (2010). Lasting recognition of threatening people by wild American crows. Animal Behaviour, 79(3), 699-707.
Dalziell, A. H., & Welbergen, J. A. (2016). Elaborate mimetic vocal displays by female superb lyrebirds. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4, 48.
Baglione, V., Canestrari, D., Chiarati, E., Vera, R., & Marcos, J. M. (2010). Lazy group members are substitute helpers in carrion crows. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277(1683), 327-334.
Weir, A. A. S., Chappell, J., & Kacelnik, A. (2002). Shaping of hooks in New Caledonian crows. Science, 297(5583), 981.
Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.
Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.
Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.