Photo Credit: John White
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Corvus ossifragus
STATUS: Breeder. Common in all seasons in Gulf Coast region. In Inland Coastal Plain region, fairly common in all seasons. In Mountain region, uncommon in spring, summer, and fall. Rare but increasing in Tennessee Valley region. Lowest Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: Very similar in appearance to the more common American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), the fish crow is slightly smaller, has a proportionately longer tail, smaller head and bill, and stiffer wingbeats than the American crow. Although they are all black in color, fish crows have a glossier appearance than American crows and are best distinguished from the American crow by the distinctive voice. Notes most often heard from fish crows include a nasally ca-hah, or car.
DISTRIBUTION: Fish crows are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Massachusetts and extreme southern New England south to Florida and west to Texas. They are found inland along the major river systems north to Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee, central Virginia, and south-central Pennsylvania.
HABITAT: Closely associated with water, they are most often found in tidewater areas along the coast and along lakes, rivers and swamp habitat inland. Found around beaches, bays, swamplands, riverine areas, urban and suburban areas, and farmlands.
FEEDING HABITS: Being an opportunist, fish crows will eat almost anything they encounter. Fish, carrion, shellfish, eggs and nestlings of other birds, corn, insects, lizards, and cultivated fruits are some of the items on which a fish crow will dine. Most food items are eaten on the ground, but they have been known to hover and pluck food items out of the water with their feet.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: The nests are typically found in a tree along a river or at the edge of a marsh, sometimes in loosely formed colonies. Materials such as sticks and twigs form the base of the nest, whereas pine needles, grass, hair, or bark flakes make up the lining. Clutch sizes range from four to five greenish eggs with brown blotches. Roughly 16 to 18 days of incubation are required to successfully hatch the eggs and the young leave the nest in approximately three weeks.
Bull, J. and John Farrand, Jr. 1977. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, NY and Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Canada. Pp-377-378.
Cassidy, James, R.L. Scheffel, G. Ferguson, G. Visalli, D. Palmer, C. Joh, and V. Gardner. 1990. Book of North American Birds. The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York, P. 69.
National Geographic Society. 1999. Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. P.318.
Peterson, Roger T. 1980. Eastern Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York. P. 206, Map 239.
Author: Jud Easterwood, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries