When you spot a black bird in your backyard, you likely assume it's a crow. While color is a common trait, many types of crows can surprise us with their diversity. Some are not entirely black, boasting lighter hues you wouldn't expect.
This article illuminates the classifications of these perching birds, their similarities and differences with other corvids, and more. Prepare for an enlightening look at these common yet often misunderstood birds. Read on to learn more.
Crows are part of the family Corvidae and fall under the genus Corvus. They're widely recognized for their intelligence and adaptability. Their black plumage and distinctive “caw” noise make them instantly recognizable to most people.
Crows relatives inside the Corvidae family are ravens, jackdaws, and jays, sharing color variations and intelligence. To distinguish them, ravens (Corvus corax) are usually larger, while jackdaws (Corvus monedula) are the smallest in the family. Unlike crows and ravens, jackdaws have a slate-grey color on the nape.
Meanwhile, jays like scrub jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) and blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) have striking blue hues.
About 40 species of crow exist around the world. Crows live in dense forests, mountains, coastal regions, or urban areas. Crows are omnivorous, adaptable, and intelligent. Let’s learn a handful of their species below. And for more from their intrigue in literature and mythology, you might also like our crow quotes.
American Crows are approximately 16-21 inches long, showcasing an iridescent, uniform black color. These daring birds in North America adapt comfortably to open habitats, flourishing in farmlands, forests, and cities.
Their diets are notably diverse, scavenging on grains, fruits, insects, small animals, carrion, and human food waste. Scientists have also observed them modifying wood and using it to probe a small hole where a spider lives.
Regarding parenting, the Corvidae family is practicing cooperative breeding. In the 1980s, Lawrence Kilham first observed adult and yearling American Crows take turns in parenting. Young crows can stay with their parents for five years or longer1.
Moreover, the West Nile Virus has impacted their numbers by 45% since 1999. Fortunately, thanks to their resilience, they are still a species of least concern.
The Northwestern Crow stands around 17 inches tall, slightly smaller than the common crow. This type of crow nests primarily along the coasts of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, predominantly in forested areas near rivers.
Interestingly, the diet of this coastal crow differs slightly from that of its relatives. Aside from the typical crow menu, it forages along the shoreline to feed on clams, crustaceans, and sea urchins, employing different tactics to open them up.
The Hooded Crow or Scald Crow showcases a combination of grey and black body coloring. On average, this crow grows up to 20 inches in length.
It's often spotted in northern and eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East. They display a preference for woodland, farmland, and urban areas. Like the Carrion Crow, they are constantly scavenging but feed on mollusks, small mammals, nuts, etc.
The Collared Crow, distinguished by the white collar marking on its neck and chest, is significantly larger than most crow species, usually measuring up to 22 inches long.
Typically found in China and Vietnam, the Collared Crow thrives in open habitats such as fields and wetlands. Its diet mainly consists of grains, seeds, insects, mollusks, and occasionally easily accessible eggs and carrion when food is scarce.
In 2018, IUCN declared them as vulnerable species because of agricultural intensification that kills most of their prey and direct persecution by humans3.
The White-necked Crow is distinguished by its black plumage, except for a patch of white stretching from its throat to its chest. The lighter hue is hidden since it only occurs on the base of their neck feathers, which are rarely seen.
Roughly the size of a small raven, it measures about 17 to 18 inches long. It boasts a large, slightly curved bill and red iris.
This species primarily dwells in forests and woodlands across specific regions of the Caribbean, notably Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Due to agricultural conversion, hunting, and pest control, this type of crow is already extinct in Puerto Rico. Overall, White-necked Crows are considered vulnerable species by the IUCN2.
The Grey Crow, also known as the Bare-faced Crow, sports a predominantly black plumage with a noticeable light grey patch at its neck and underside. It also has a bare, pinkish face and blue eyes. It measures 16-18 inches in length, similar to a medium-sized raptor.
Primarily found in New Guinea and some nearby islands, this crow species thrives in many habitats, from coastal areas to mountain forests. Their diet is varied: fruits, seeds, and small animals.
The Carrion Crow stands around 19-20 inches tall, boasting an all-black appearance that extends to their strong, stout bill and legs. Their glossy plumage exhibits hints of green and purple sheen.
You'd commonly find Carrion Crows stretching from Scandinavia to Spain across Western Europe. They adapt to numerous environments, from forests and fields to town centers.
As a predatory bird, their diet mainly comprises carrion, although they also eat insects, worms, fruits, and seeds. They also steal eggs and catch from other birds.
Fish Crows sport an all-black body, much like its relatives. It typically measures 14 to 16 inches in length. This species' distinguishing feature is its short, nasal, muffled call, different from the typical caw of other species.
These types of crows live mainly in the coastal regions and inland waters in the United States. Its diet includes fish and other seafood, hence the name, along with seeds, insects, and occasional food scraps.
The Pied Crow, standing at roughly 20 inches tall, is a native to sub-Saharan Africa. It boasts a primarily jet-black, white chest and belly area. Its habitat spans grasslands, semi-deserts, and human-inhabited areas.
This omnivorous bird has a diverse diet comprising small mammals, insects, fruits, as well as waste from human settlements.
The Cape Crow, also known as the Black Crow, showcases a glossy black body spanning up to 20 inches. It has proportionally longer body parts and slimmer bills than other crows.
Endemic to the more arid regions of eastern and southern Africa, the Cape Crow's diet mainly consists of grains, seeds, and invertebrates.
The Jamaican Crow, or the Jabbering Crow, stands out with its 15-inch size and dull black feathers. Particularly distinctive is its vocal range, with unique calls like garbled jabbering.
Thriving in Jamaica's lush forests and mountainous regions, this type of crow feeds on fruits, small reptiles, and the catch or eggs from other birds.
The House Crow stands out with its grey neck and belly, contrasting its otherwise black feathers. With a size of around 16 inches, this crow species is on the smaller side. While primarily recognized in India, it has adapted to diverse regions, including Africa, Europe, and other parts of Asia.
A true omnivore, the House Crow consumes a range of diets from plant-based materials to various types of meat, often scavenging around human population centers.
The New Caledonian Crow is mid-sized, boasting up to 16 inches long. It has iridescent black plumage and beaks with lower mandibles slightly curved upward.
This type of crow takes residence in the primary forests of New Caledonia, a group of islands in the South Pacific.
Named for their home, the Bougainville Crow inhabits the rainforests of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. This moderate-sized crow comes in around 16 inches long. They don a uniform black plumage with blue gloss at the head and a purple sheen at the upperparts. Their large beaks are strongly arched downwards.
The Cuban Crow is one of the Caribbean crows alongside the White-necked Crow (Corvus leucognaphalus) and Palm Crow (Corvus palmarum). They reach sizes of up to 17 inches long. Their plumage displays a glossy, deep black hue and long, gently curved beaks.
Native to Cuba and the Isla de la Juventud, these crows inhabit both forests and agricultural lands. As omnivores, they consume a vast diet ranging from seeds and fruits to tiny insects.
The Torresian Crow, a native of Australia and Papua New Guinea, stands out due to its size. Typically measuring 19-21 inches, it is notably one of the largest species within the crow family. It boasts the standard black plumage and eyes with a white iris and blue ring.
Moreover, this bird thrives across various habitats near bodies of water, from swamps to eucalyptus woodland. They are also common in farmlands and urban landscapes.
The Tamaulipas Crow, distinctively smaller than the average crow, measures around 15 inches long. Exhibiting a glossy black body and slender bill, these crows stand out for their unique charcoal-grey eyes, deviating from the usual dark eyes of standard crows.
This type of crow inhabits the Northeastern plains of Mexico and southernmost Texas. Unlike other bird relatives, they have a low, croaking call, unlike the harsh caw that most crows are known for.
The Sinaloa Crow, a species exclusive to Mexico's Pacific coast, is a relatively small crow, standing at a modest 14-15 inches. It's similar to the previous type of crow, but Sinaloa Crows have high-pitched calls.
The Long-billed Crow, endemic to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, is a distinctive crow with a long beak, relatively short tail, and white iris. Akin to other crows, its plumage is black but measures up to 21 inches larger.
In 2016, IUCN reassessed these forest-dwelling birds and changed their status from "least concern" to "near threatened." The declining population results from habitat loss due to commercial logging and agricultural conversion4.
The Large-billed Crow, formerly called the Jungle Crow, is characterized chiefly by its substantial bill, with the upper part thick and arched. It showcases dark gray and glossy black plumage with a robust body measuring up to 23 inches long.
Geographically, this species is widely distributed across Asia and adaptable to forests and human-dominated landscapes.
The Slender-billed Crow, native to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, is identifiable by its long, thin beak and jet-black plumage. Measuring about 16 inches from beak to tail, they are pretty similar in size to other common crows. You’d find them in the subtropical and tropical forests in Southeast Asia.
The Banggai Crow, unique to Indonesia, sports a length of around 15 inches, a mid-size in the crow world. Its glossy plumage is predominantly black, while its dark eyes have pale irises. This species is adapted to dense forest habitats in the Banggai Islands.
Previously thought to be extinct, searches in the early 2000s rediscovered them. Since then, local communities and governments have taken measures like awareness campaigns and promotion of forest protection. Today, they are critically endangered, with less than 250 mature Banggai Crows in the wild5.
The Mariana Crow, native to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, is small and entirely black, measuring about 15 inches long. This crow's habitat ranges from coastal strand vegetation to limestone forests.
Unfortunately, they are threatened by habitat loss, invasive species, and predation. Their population of Mariana Crows has dwindled to roughly 200 individuals. Despite earlier initiatives, they are already extinct in Guam. Conservation efforts focus on habitat protection, predator control, and rear-and-release methods.
The Hawaiian Crow, or Alala, is a medium-sized bird at 19–20 inches long. Notably, it flaunts stark black feathers with brown-tinged wings and tail and a thick, strong beak.
Our last type of crow is the rarest of all corvids and became extinct in the wild in 2002, mainly due to habitat destruction and diseases. However, through conservation efforts, captive birds rose from 20 in the 90s to 115 individuals in 2014. They have been reintroduced into native Hawaiian forests since 2016.
From exploring the varied hues that diversify the standard black bird image to learning about the threats they face, we now understand these often misunderstood birds more deeply. Together, let's champion the cause of protecting these intelligent avians.
BirdLife International. (2018). Corvus pectoralis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018
BirdLife International. (2017). Corvus validus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017
BirdLife International. (2017). Corvus unicolor. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017
Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.