Humans have been birdwatching for eons. There’s something about our feathered friends that have provided mankind with endless fascination. But anyone who’s ever watched crows will tell you these are no ordinary birds. They display behavior that can be described as nothing short of amazing mixed in with a little bit of “unsettling”—their keen intelligence is clearly evident and sometimes you wonder if they’re plotting something big. Some call it “scary smart.” In fact, scientists have discovered that crows display the intelligence of a 7-year-old child.
After reading these facts about crows, we think you’ll agree that they are truly fascinating creatures!
The American Crow Characteristics
Crows are members of the Corvidae bird family, or “corvids,” which includes jays, magpies, and ravens, and there are more than 30 species of crows around the world. Crows are found on every continent except Antarctica.
The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is the most common and widespread crow in North America. It is often confused with the common raven (Corvus corax), but crows are slightly smaller, have smoother throats, slimmer bills, and have the familiar caw-caw call. Crows are also more social than ravens and are more likely to be found in flocks. See below for how to tell them apart.
7 Fascinating Facts About Crows
1. Crows have some of the biggest brain-to-body ratios of all birds, and have a higher density of neurons than many primates. The New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides) has a brain that makes up 2.7 percent of its body weight (an adult human’s brain is only about 1.9 percent of its body weight, as a comparison).
2. Crows have been known to make and use tools such as sticks to wedge under bark to find food. Carrion crows (Corvus corone) in Japan have learned how to place nuts in the road for cars to break open, and will wait for traffic lights to turn so they can retrieve the nut meats. Some crows even use bread as bait to attract fish to hunt.
Fun fact: A group of crows is called a “murder.”
3. Crows can learn to recognize faces, and will remember specific faces for weeks or months. They are especially good at remembering faces that have been associated with disturbance or harm. In other words, they can hold a grudge. Conversely, they’ve been known to leave gifts for people who feed them.
4. Crows have been known to hold “funerals” for their dead, gathering around a deceased crow as if in mourning. It is believed they do this in order to learn why the bird died so they can avoid similar threats.
5. Crows, especially juveniles, often play games. They will taunt cats and dogs, slide on ice roofs, swing from branches, and play tug-of-war. These games help them practice survival skills for foraging, discouraging predators, and collecting nesting material.
6. Crows stay in large, extended families. Young birds may stay with their parents for up to five years, helping raise the next generations of baby crows by bringing food to the nest or defending the nesting area from predators.
7. Crows roost together in large flocks, with some flocks having as many as 100,000 birds or more resting in the same space for the night for warmth, mutual protection, and the opportunity to find a mate. These communal roosts may be used for many years, or they could shift location periodically. Most of these nightly crow slumber parties are made up of young birds without mates, but older birds may also be part of roosting flocks during the non-breeding season.
Crows vs. Ravens: Which is Which?
Crows and ravens appear very similar, and they’re often mistaken for one another. Here are a few key differences:
Ravens have fluffier feathers around their head and throat. They also have thicker beaks than crows, more of a curve to the end.
Additionally, a crows’ tail feathers are all fairly even in length, giving it a fan-shaped appearance during flight. Ravens have tail feathers that vary in lengths so their tails will appear wedge-shaped.
Some differences can be seen when the birds are on the ground, too. Crows usually walk, while ravens will do a walk-hop combination.
Take a few extra minutes to watch crows—you never know what other amazing behaviors and traits you might discover!
Melissa Mayntz is a writer who specializes in birds and birding, though her work spans a wide range—from folklore to healthy living. Her first book, Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds was published in 2020. Mayntz also writes for National Wildlife Magazine and The Spruce. Find her at MelissaMayntz.com.