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The Enigma of the American Crow

If you live in North America, there’s little doubt that you’ve heard the caaw-caaw-caaw of an American Crow. These highly ubiquitous birds have a wide range throughout the continent and are very familiar to most people.

However, there are many things about these social birds that most people don’t know.

For example, even though the American Crow is considered a species of “least concern,” their numbers were hit hard when the West Nile virus was introduced to North America in 1999. Some estimates say that the population dropped up to 45 percent since that time.

Crows die very easily from exposure to West Nile virus, so it’s been a real issue for the species. These numbers were even reflected in the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual even that enlists the help of everyone to count birds for the sake of science.

In the early years of the GBBC, crows were usually high on the most numerous species list until 2003 when they dropped off dramatically. The results from the 2011 count saw crows get back on the list at number 7. While this could be an indication of a recovery for the species, it could just be a fluctuation, so the GBBC is waiting until next year before drawing conclusions.

Over the past few weeks, there have been a couple articles about the interesting behavior of American Crows. One of the authors, aptly named David Bird, wrote that he thinks crows are “the Most Fascinating Bird in the World.” The reason for his decision is because of their curious behavior, including the fact that they don’t really migrate south during winter months and sometimes roost together in the millions.

Though the American Crow is probably not as intelligent as the Caledonian Crow, it is still extremely smart and has similar social behaviors. For example, Blane Klemek of Minnesota pointed out that the birds have a strong sense of community and family:

It turns out that some crows will help raise their own siblings, staying within their parent’s territory for five years or longer while assisting with parental duties such as feeding nestlings and acting as sentinels.

The next time you see crows on your lawn, don’t think of them as intrusive and thieving birds, because even though many people think of them that way, crows are actually beautiful and interesting birds.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. I live in Brooklyn,NY. I noticed the Crows and Seagulls both took a hit from the West Nile virus but this winter I have seen a Crow family return to our neighborhood and I am happy to see them. I have watched them call their whole clan of twenty birds to Gramercy park to carry on about a hawk in the Park only to have the hawk ignore them as they screamed. I have also seen a mother crow desperately try to get her chick back up in the parks trees. The whole family screamed for hours trying to get the chick to fly . We left some raw hamburger for him. I had to leave the park and never found out his he survived . The park is locked so he had some safety.
    I am very pleased to see them return and hope they remain.

  2. […] already reported on some of the interesting findings of The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) that took place in February, but the project recently put […]

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