Birds – Fish Crow

(Corvus ossifragus)

Length—14 to 16 inches. About half as large again as the robin. Male and Female—Glossy black, with purplish-blue reflections, generally greener underneath. Chin naked.

Range—Along Atlantic coast and that of the Gulf of Mexico, northward to southern ,New England. Rare stragglers on the Pacific coast.

Migrations—March or April. September. Summer resident only at northern limit of range. Is found in Hudson River valley about halfway to Albany.

Compared with the common crow, with which it is often confounded, the fish crow is of much smaller, more slender build. Thus its flight is less labored and more like a gull’s, whose habit of catching fish that may be swimming near the surface of the water it sometimes adopts. Both Audubon and Wilson, who first made this species known, record its habit of snatching food as it flies over the southern waters —a rare practice at the north. Its plumage, too, differs slightly from the common crow’s in being a richer black everywhere, and particularly underneath, where the “corn thief” is dull. But it is the difference between the two crows’ call-note that we chiefly depend upon to distinguish these confusing cousins. To say that the fish crow says car-r-r instead of a loud, clear caw, means little until we have had an opportunity to compare its hoarse, cracked voice with the other bird’s familiar call.

From the farmer’s point of view, there is still another distinction: the fish crow lets his crops alone. It contents itself with picking up refuse on the shores of the sea or rivers not far inland; haunting the neighborhood of fishermen’s huts for the small fish discarded when the seines are drawn, and treading out with its toes the shell-fish hidden in the sand at low tide. When we see it in the fields it is usually intent upon catching field mice, grubs, and worms, with which it often varies its fish diet. It is, however, the worst nest robber we have ; it probably destroys ten times as many eggs and young birds as its larger cousin.

The fishermen have a tradition that this southern crow comes and goes with the shad and herring—a saw which science unkindly disapproves.