American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos


Year-round Resident
Has Nested near Park

Fish Crow

Corvus ossifragus


Year-round Resident

American Crows are year-round residents at Monticello Park and nest in the neighborhood near the park. Fish Crows are year-round residents who do not nest in the park. They prefer habitat closer to water.

Where to See Them in the Park

American Crows can be seen and heard regularly at Monticello. They spend a lot of time high in trees, sometimes in large groups, and they will occasionally go into the stream or perch near the bridge. Fish Crows are mostly seen and heard as they fly over the park. The number of Fish Crow flyovers has increased in recent years.

Physical Descriptions


American Crow
American Crow - Photo by William Young

Telling American Crows from Fish Crows is very difficult if you do not hear them vocalizing. American Crows can be loud and raucous. Sometimes if a hawk or an owl is in the park, crows will vocalize loudly and mob it. Other times, the crows will produce their mobbing vocalizations to make other birds think that an owl or hawk is in the park, even though none is there. By doing this, the crows might see where the resident species nest and later go to the nests to eat the eggs and/or nestlings.

American Crow
American Crow - Photo by Ashley Bradford

American Crow and Blue Jay
American Crow and Blue Jay - Photo by Michael Pollack

Crows regard hawks and owls as threats to their eggs and young. Similarly, songbirds who nest at Monticello regard crows as threats to their eggs and young, and with good reason. Blue Jays, who are in the same family as crows, nest at Monticello, and they sometimes aggressively chase crows away.

Fish Crow
Fish Crow - Photo by William Young

Fish Crows are slightly smaller than the American Crow, and their bill is not as large. These differences can be difficult to see unless the two species are next to each other. If you would like to study their features and watch their behavior, a lot of Fish Crows can often be found at the Belle Haven Marina.

Fish Crow
Fish Crow - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Fish Crow
Fish Crow with nictitating membrane over eye - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Fish Crow
Fish Crow - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations

American Crows have a broad repertoire of calls. The most familiar is caw-caw-caw. The most common call of Fish Crows is more nasal and sounds like anh-anh. They also utter single note calls. Sometimes American Crows utter calls that are deeper and more nasal than their typical cawing, and they sound like Fish Crows.

Hear the calls of the American Crow.
Hear the calls of the Fish Crow.

Notes

Common Ravens are larger than crows. In recent years, they have expanded their range into the Washington metro area, and they have nested at Chain Bridge and other nearby locations. One autumn, a Common Raven was heard calling over Monticello Park. The calls of the raven are much throatier than the calls of crows. The intelligence of crows and ravens has been well documented. Crows are capable of remembering faces and solving complex puzzles. The PBS show Nature featured a documentary about crows.

Origin of Names

Common Names: American from where they live. Fish from spending a lot of time near water and sometimes scavenging fish. Crow comes from the Anglo-Saxon crawe, which is a representation of their call.
Genus Name: Corvus is Latin for "crow".
Species Names: Brachyrhynchos means "short bill", possibly when compared to a raven. Ossifragus means "bone-breaker", named by Alexander Wilson for an unknown reason.

American Crow video footage
Fish Crow video footage

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