American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

Corvidae (crows and jays) in the order Passeriformes


American crow adults are entirely black with a long, heavy bill. In bright sunlight there may be a purplish sheen on the highlights of the plumage. The tail is rounded at the tip, not wedge-shaped as in the common raven, a former breeding species that no longer even occurs in Missouri. Voice is the well-known “caw, caw.” Young birds are more nasal, resembling the voice of the fish crow.

Similar species: A more southern species, the fish crow (Corvus ossifragus) is expanding its range in southwestern Missouri, especially along trout streams. It is slightly smaller than the American crow. The best way to distinguish it is by its voice, a distinctive two-note, nasal, “AAH—aah” with the first syllable higher than the second; also a more nasal “ca aaaw” and “calk calk calk.” It is an uncommon resident of the Mississippi Lowlands and riparian areas north along the Mississippi River nearly to Iowa, and the Missouri River to mid-Missouri. Look for it on river and pond banks and in wet fields.


Length: 17½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).


American crow foraging for food on the winter ground.
American crow in the snow
Habitat and conservation

Found in a variety of habitats with trees. In winter, look for them in agricultural areas in river floodplains. When not nesting, crows often travel and roost in groups. Where large roosts occur in cities, they conflict with people. The American crow has been hit especially hard by West Nile virus, which typically kills crows within a week of contracting the disease. Some researchers estimate crow numbers have been nearly halved since 1999.


Crows forage widely for seeds, acorns, corn, fruit, insects, carrion, nestling birds, and small mammals and reptiles. Remarkably intelligent, crows follow other birds to locate food, use tools such as sticks to probe in holes for food, steal from other birds, and snatch food from dog dishes. Though they eat roadkill, crows cannot themselves tear open the skin of dead animals. Like turkey vultures, they wait for something else to open the carcass, or for decomposition to soften it sufficiently.

image of American Crow Distributuion Map
Distribution in Missouri



Common permanent resident.

Life cycle

In the wild, crows have been known to live for 16 years; a captive crow lived to be 59. The earliest they breed is at age 2, but more often age 4. A pair builds their nest of twigs, lined with softer materials, high in crotches and horizontal branches of trees, usually evergreens. There are usually 3-9 eggs, which hatch in 16-18 days. The young fledge in 20-40 days. Sometimes the young remain with the parents, helping them raise subsequent broods, for the next year.

Human connections

Crows eat many harmful agricultural pests yet also feast on corn and other crops (which is why there are “scarecrows”). Crows and relatives are symbolic in human cultures worldwide. Recently, an inventor has proposed a machine that trains crows to pick up trash by rewarding them with a treat.

Ecosystem connections

Crows are omnivorous and play a variety of roles in the food web. Their noisy mobbing of hawks helps other species escape predation. Members of the crow family are among the most intelligent animals on Earth. They use tools and bait, establish social rankings, and score high on IQ tests.