Questions and Answers about the American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos.

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We are happy to answer, as best we can, any questions relating to the American crow. Unless you request otherwise, questions and answers will be posted on this page. Address questions via e-mail to

QUESTION (1/3/00) Cape Cod, MA

I've been spreading cracked corn for the crows on the street in front of my house . (I live at the end of a deadend street with very little traffic.) A group of 5 to 7 crows periodically stop by to feed. They are very wary and will check out the area, fly back to a tree several times before settling down to peck. This morning I saw a sole crow on a limb, and it was bobbing up and down as if bowing. It did the bobbing several times, then other crows appeared in the tree, and they all flew down to the corn. Was the bobbing a signal that all was well, or did it mean something else ? It seems the wrong time of year for it to be some sort of mating ritual.


I think that the bobbing that crows do is often a sign of nervousness while the bird is working up the courage to do something it thinks is risky. I've often seen them do that bobbing, sometimes mixed with wiping the bill on a branch and hopping about when they have to face a problem alone.

QUESTION (12/18/99)

As I understand crow behavior they have scouts. A crow stays aloft, perhaps in a tree while others fly down and eat. My question how is this organized? My best guess is that the crow with the highest altitude volunteers as his vantage point is best for sighting danger. However, given the option that maybe two or three crows are about the same the level or there is always some swooping in flight to confuse the issue or at least my thinking .... hummm? Could you please and thank you help me with my mystery.


The whole question of sentry crows (or as you call them, scouts) is another of those areas of crow behavior that is poorly understood, largely because its so hard to distinguish one crow from another. I think its a pretty safe bet, that when crows are in family groups, one of the parent birds will act as sentry. With a group of younger unmated birds, it seems like they take turns eating and watching. When a large flock of crows are feeding, usually there are several birds in trees "keeping watch", but how these birds are "selected" is anyone's guess.

QUESTION (12/10/99)

What are the origins of the phrases "as the crow flies" and "to eat crow"?


As the crow flies simply refers to the fact that crows are often observed flying high up and in a direct line, passing over any obstacles in their path.

The other expression is more interesting. "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" has the following to say about "To eat crow", which means to be forced to do something extremely disagreeable.

"The expression arose from an incident during an armistice in the war between Britain and the U.S.A. in 1812. A New Englander, having crossed the British lines by mistake, while out hunting, brought down a crow. A British officer, who heard the shot, determined to punish him. He was himself unarmed, but gained possession of the American's gun by praising his marksmanship and asking to see his weapon. Covering the huntsman with his own gun, the soldier declared that he was guilty of trespass and ordered him to take a bite out of the crow. The American was forced to obey. However, when the soldier returned the gun and told him to go, the American in his turn covered the soldier and compelled him to eat the remainder of the crow."

QUESTION (12/9/99) Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Urban residential area, tree lined avenue, right in front of our house. No nearby eateries. About 500 crows were perched on the hydro lines and in the trees last night and left this morning. This was the first time that it has ever occurred according to long time residents. Out of curiosity I surfed your site to find out where crows migrate for they are not seen around in winter in this area so I thought they must gathering to migrate to warmer climes. So far we have had a very mild late fall so I thought the birds were probably gathering for migration or something. Maybe it was a one time staging area since so far tonight there is no sign of a recurrence. Are their staging areas arbitreaily selected? From what I read the roost area seems more permanent.


In regard to crow migrations - some migrate and others don't. Those that do generally don't migrate very far, possibly a few hundred miles south. New crow roosts and staging areas are popping up all the time as a result both of the destruction of traditional habitat and a population explosion that seems to be going on among urban crows. If you don't have a crow gathering again, it was probably just a passing flock with an atypical migration pattern due to the unusually warm fall. Let me know if they show up again and perhaps we can give you a better answer.

QUESTION (12/9/99) Manchester, New Hampshire, USA

We noticed hundreds of crows flying about on the 7th. they seemed to be circling around the area. The strange thing about this is that they would swoop into the area of trees that border our residence. A wave of them would light onto the branches of the trees and it seemed they would be watching other waves of crows flying by then they would take flight again. The unusual thing about this is that we have been living in this area for four years and have never noticed such a swarm of crows. Their vocalizing was so piercing and disconserting that the domestic animals {mostly cats} were running around and scurrying for cover. These crows never landed on the ground but they were only 20 to 30 feet off the ground as they perched in the trees.

Now, today the 9th just before dusk, that would make it about 4 p.m. EST we observed hundreds of crows 100 feet or so in the sky flying in a southerly direction. Would they be migrating? Again, the oddity of this is the multitudes of crows we observed. We have never seen this many at one time.


This is the second report we have received tonight about large numbers of crows appearing in areas where they never were present (in such numbers) before. As you suggest, it may be due to the unusually warm fall that we've been experiencing in Northeastern North America. It might also relate to habitat destruction in an area where the crows previously gathered or changes in the size of the crow population. Let us know if the crows return again. Perhaps we can give you a better answer if we get more information.

QUESTION (11/27/99)

I've heard that a group of crows is called a "murder" as in an exhaltation of larks. Is this terminology correct?


I have heard of a "murder of crows" too, but only from that book "An Exhaltation of Larks" that appeared awhile ago and I was never sure that all those terms included were really correct or in common use. I've always heard "a flock of crows" or a "flight of crows" or a "gang of (young) crows" and rarely "a coven of crows". I have never seen "a murder of crows" documented anywhere, except the "Exhaltation" book, but I'll see if I can track anything down on it.

QUESTION (11/17/99) Lawrence, MA, USA

Every day in early morning crows by the hundreds are in trees by the Spicket River, a very small river adjacent to the hospital parking lot. At or about dawn they start to fly all around "cawing" very loudly and in the process they REALLY mess up our cars in the overnight nurses parking lot. They were here last year for several months and have now returned. How do we get rid of them. There are hundreds of them!! >Comments: Very destructive behavior as the cars are covered with crow feces every AM.


This defecating on cars parked near communal roosts is probably the major thing that sets people against crows in urban areas. Its not a simple problem to address because of the dynamics of communal roosts. In order to figure out how to aleviate the problem, some knowledge of roosting behavior is required. We will try to write up a concise summary of the subject in the next few days and post it on this site as a start. Then we'll go on from there.

QUESTION (11/14/99):

I'm in Cleveland, Ohio and I've been wondering is it unusual for crows to fly in a big group and is it mating season for them this time of year?


At this time of year crows tend to gather in large communal roosts towards evening where the spend time interacting before settling in for the night. In some areas these roosts can contain 50,000 or more birds at night. Before they arrive at the roost, many crows will gather in "staging areas" where they "hang out" for a while before flying more or less as a group to the roost. If you are seeing large groups of crows flying towards the end of the day, you are probably seeing flights from staging areas to the roost or you might be seeing the birds flying over the roost itself. If you follow the birds, you might be able to find the roost, which is a fantastic sight in the evening.

The roosts don't have anything directly to do with mating. During the mating season and the period of incubating eggs and rearing young, crows tend to be spread out in their family territories and generally don't assemble in large roosts. The roosts may indirectly serve a mating purpose since they are logical places for young crows to find prospective mates. Mating season is in late winter or early spring.

QUESTION 11/11/99, Nampa, Idaho:

Name: Susan Franklin,

Ok, I know you are going to think I am crazy, but here it is. My husband came home a week or so reporting that down the street from us near a small lot which is empty there was a white crow in a crowd of other crows. There are a lot of seagulls here, but he swore he saw it. I believed him. As a fisheries biologist, he pays closed attention to animals and well I trusted him.

Today I saw it too. Just like he said, creamy white with soft dove grey stripe over its left eye (couldn't see the right one) and same grey on its rump, black eyes, black beak, shaped just like the other crows. Definitely not a seagull.

So am I crazy, do you think it is a "tag-a-long" bird of another kind? It was just hopping about pecking at the ground with its friends. I am going to try to get a picture of it this weekend. What do you think


No, I don't think you're crazy. Like most other animal species, crows sometimes have albino individuals. I've heard of them, but never actually seen one. If you get a good picture, please let us know and maybe we you'd let us put it up on the website (with credit to you, of course). The other possibility is that it might be a tag-along, even possibly a foreign corvid that escaped from captivity and joined the local crows. A photo could help us figure that out.

(This section will be added to on a continuing basis. Your comments and suggestions are welcomed. Other parts of the site are also under construction. This site will be continually expanding as the Project grows.)

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