Crow (Corvus), a genus of birds belonging to the order passeres, tribe conirostres, and family corvidm. More than 20 species are described, found in most parts of the globe; some remain stationary within a certain district, while others migrate from place to place with the changes of the seasons; they generally assemble in flocks in cultivated places, in search of worms, grubs, caterpillars, small animals, the eggs and young of birds, carrion, and various grains and cultivated vegetables; a few species frequent the seashore, to feed upon the dead fish cast up by the waves, or in quest of shell fish, which they break by letting them tall from a considerable height upon the rocks. The old genus corvus includes the raven, the rook, the jackdaw, and other species not usually denominated crows, which will be noticed under their proper heads. Four species only will be described here, viz.: the American, the European, the hooded, and the fish crow. I. The American crow (C. Americanus, Aud.) was first separated from the European species by Audubon, and there can be little doubt that they are distinct. The bill of the adult is 2 1/6 in. along the ridge, black, straight, strong, and compressed; the upper mandible a little convex, the lower mandible straight; the edges of both sharp and inflected.
The nostrils are basal, lateral, round, and covered by bristly feathers directed forward. The head is large, and the whole form of the bird compact and graceful; the legs are strong and of moderate length; the tarsi are 2 1/2 in. long, black, and covered with scales anteriorly; the toes and claws are black, the latter being moderate, arched, compressed, and sharp; the third toe is the longest, the other three being nearly equal. The plumage is of a general deep black color, with purplish blue reflections, and tinged with purplish brown on the back of the neck; the under parts are less glossy, and the feathers are less compact than those of the back; the plumage of the head and neck is well blended; the wings are long, the first primary short, and the fourth the longest; the primaries are tapering, and the secondaries broad; the tail is long, rounded, of 12 feathers with their shafts undulated. The length of this crow is 18 in., and the extent of wings 3 ft. 2 in. The iris is brown. The female is slightly less glossy than the male, and the young are of a dull brownish black, with less brilliant reflections. Probably no bird is more generally and unjustly persecuted than the crow; every farmer thinks himself privileged to destroy it, and counts the death of every one a gain to agriculture.
Of course the bird, in order to save his race from extermination, must employ all his cunning and ingenuity to avoid his enemies; hence his extreme shyness, and certain flight at the sight of any one armed with a gun, the destructive properties of which he seems well acquainted with; perched on a high tree, he sounds the alarm at the approach of danger, and all the crows within half a mile fly off at the well known cry of the watchman. Thousands of crows are destroyed every year by guns, traps, and poisoned grain; and the young birds are killed in their nests by every urchin who can climb a tree. Though the crow pulls up a few seeds of the germinating corn, his services to the agriculturist far outweigh his depredations; he daily devours insects, grubs, and worms, which but for him would devastate whole fields of the young corn; he destroys innumerable mice, moles, and other small quadrupeds, every one of which commits ten times the mischief he does; he will eat snakes, frogs, lizards, and other small reptiles, and also fruits, seeds, and vegetables, and, if hard pressed for food, will even descend to carrion.
He will steal and devour the eggs of other birds, and will occasionally prey upon a weak or wounded bird; he delights to worry the owl, the opossum, and the raccoon, and will pursue the thievish hawk, and even the eagle, with all the forces that he can raise in the neighborhood; he is said to follow the larger carnivora, probably to partake of the bits which they may leave. On the whole, the crow is a persecuted, comparatively harmless, and indeed most serviceable bird. Audubon says to the farmers: "I would tell them that if they persist in killing crows, the best season for doing so is when their corn begins to ripen." Wherever the crow is abundant the raven is scarce, and vice versa. The crow is common to all parts of the United States, assembling after the breeding season in large flocks, many of which remove to the southern states in winter. It builds its nests in thick swamps, or on the sides of steep rocks, as much concealed as possible; the period of breeding varies from February to June, according to latitude.
The nest is made of sticks interwoven with grasses, plastered within with mud, and lined with soft roots, feathers, or wool; the eggs are four to six, of a pale greenish color, spotted and clouded with brownish green and purplish gray; both sexes sit upon the eggs, and watch over their young with the tenderest care; in the southern states they raise two broods in a season. Several nests are often found near each other, and when any stranger approaches the community, the noise of the assembled multitude is almost deafening until the intruder retires. The young, when about to leave the nest, are considered in some localities tolerable food. The flight of the crow is swift, capable of being sustained a long time, and sometimes at a great height; on the ground its gait is graceful and slow; it often alights on the back of cattle, to pick out the worms from the skin. Their well known notes, "caw, caw, caw," are very discordant, especially in early morning when they scatter into small flocks in search of food, and toward evening when the returning parties are selecting their roosting places for the night. The crow is very courageous against its bird enemies, and will not hesitate to attack any marauding hawk.
It makes a very interesting pet, as it displays considerable intelligence and docility; but its propensities are decidedly thievish. Like many other birds of a black color, the crow is occasionally perfectly white. The sight of the crow is very keen; and by this sense, and not by the sense of smell, it is guided in its search of food, and in the avoidance of its human enemies. When on excursions after eggs, which it carries away on the bill, it is often attacked and driven away, especially by the courageous king-bird. II. The European or carrion crow (C. corone, Linn.) is larger than the preceding species, being from 20 to 22 in. long, with an extent of wing of 40 in.; the bill is stronger, deeper, more convex on the sides, and the edges more inflected; the feet and toes are larger and stronger, and the claws robust in proportion. Were it not for its smaller size and some differences in the form of the feathers, it might be confounded with the raven, as its proportions are about the same, the body being full and ovate, and the neck short and strong. The palate is flat and the tongue oblong, while in the American species the palate is concave and the tongue narrower.
The plumage is moderately full, compact, and very glossy; the feathers of the hind neck are narrow, with their points distinct, but in the American bird they are broad, rounded, and so blended that the form of each is not easily traced; the feathers of the fore neck are lanceolate and compact at the end, as in the raven, but in the American crow they are three times as broad, rounded, and entirely blended; in other respects the plumage is alike in the two birds, the neck of the former being tinged with green and blue, but in the latter with a distinct purplish brown. From this description it can hardly be doubted that the American and the European crow are distinct species. The female is similar to the male in color, but somewhat smaller; the tints of the young have less of the metallic lustre.' The carrion crow preys upon small quadrupeds, young hares and rabbits, young birds, eggs, Crustacea, mollusks, worms, grubs, and grains; but, as its name imports, its favorite food is carrion of all kinds; it often destroys young-lambs and sickly sheep; it is very fond of attacking parturient ewes, frequently killing both the mother and the young, tearing out the eyes,-tongue, and entrails, in the manner of the vultures. Whatever its food may be, it is exceedingly voracious.
Unlike the American species, the carrion crow does not associate in large flocks, but is generally solitary or in pairs, except in breeding time, when a whole family will remain together for some weeks. Its flight is sedate and direct (hence the expression, "as the crow flies," for a straight line), and performed by regular flaps of the fully extended wings; it does not soar to any great height, and prefers the open moors, fields, and shores to mountainous districts. Its gait is similar to that of the raven, and its cry is a croak quite different from the bark-like cawing of the American crow. It builds its large nest amid high rocks or on tall trees, and lays from four to six eggs of a pale bluish green color, spotted and blotched with dark brown and purplish gray; these colors, however, vary considerably; the eggs are about 1 3/4 in. long, and 1 1/6 in. in their greatest width. They not unfrequent-ly build in the neighborhood of farm houses, in order to be near any rejected offal, and watch their opportunity to pounce upon chickens or ducklings, and to steal eggs from any of the domestic fowls.
The carrion crow is very easily tamed, and is capable of strong attachment; its docility is great, and its memory astonishing; its propensities are thievish; like the raven and the jackdaw, the carrion crow may be taught to imitate the human voice. According to Temminck, this species occurs over all western Europe, but is rare in the eastern parts. III. The hooded crow (C. cornix, Linn.) has the head, fore neck, wings, and tail black, with purplish blue and green reflections; the rest of the plumage is ash-gray tinged with purplish, the shafts being darker; the female is similar to the male, somewhat smaller, the black on the fore neck less in extent, and the gray of the back less pure; the plumage of the young is black, with the exception of a broad band of dusky gray round the fore part of the body. This species, except in color, much resembles the carrion crow; it is somewhat smaller, the length being about 20 in. and the extent of wings 39 in. It is abundant in the northern parts of Scotland, and it occurs in all parts of Europe; it prefers the coast, and the neighborhood of large maritime towns.
Not more than five individuals are often seen together; it is quite as omnivorous as the preceding species, though it prefers fish and mol-lusks to the carcasses of larger animals; it has sagacity enough, when it cannot open crabs and shellfish, to raise them into the air and drop them on the ground for the purpose of breaking them. It is very fond of perching upon a stone or tree in dull weather, and croaking for a long time, being answered by others that have stationed themselves at a distance; this habit has been considered as indicative of rain. Its ordinary flight is slow and regular, and its gait upon the ground remarkably sedate and dignified. It is a peaceable bird, and is rarely attacked. It does not soar, nor skim the hillsides in search of food, but skulks along the low grounds in the vicinity of water; it destroys many of the eggs and young of the plover and the red grouse and other birds frequenting the moors. They remain paired the greater part of the year, and almost always construct their nest on a rock near the sea; the eggs, usually five, are of a pale bluish green tint, marked, especially at the large end, with roundish spots of greenish brown and pale purplish gray.
The hooded crow is generally found in different localities from the carrion crow; and, when existing in the same district, the species keep separate, the latter being much more shy and wild. It is said, and probably with truth, that the species breed together, producing hybrids. It must be difficult to distinguish such hybrids from the present species, as the space occupied by the ash-gray varies greatly in different individuals. IV. The fish crow (C. ossifragus, Wils.) is smaller than the common crow, having a length of only 16 in. and an extent of wings of 83 in; the bill is nearly 2 in. and the tarsus 1 3/4 in. long. These two birds resemble each other in general appearance; the bill in the fish crow is concave on the sides at the base, and flat in the middle; the plumage in its general color is deep black, with blue and purple reflections above, and blue and greenish beneath; the bill, tarsi, toes, and claws are black; the iris dark brown. This species is abundant in the southern states, in maritime districts, at all seasons; it is occasionally seen as far north as New York in spring and summer, returning to the south in winter.
The fish crow is not persecuted like the common species, and is therefore quite familiar in its habits, approaching houses and gardens without fear, and feeding unmolested on the best fruits. Its favorite food, as its popular name implies, is fish; at early dawn the flock take wing for the seashore, in a very noisy manner; they skim along the shallows, flats, and marshes in search of small fish, which they catch alive in their claws, retiring to a tree or stone to devour them. Like others of the genus, this species will feed on all kinds of garbage, on crabs and mollusks, on eggs and young birds, on the berries of various kinds of ilex and stil-lingia, on mulberries, figs, whortleberries, pears, and other ripe fruits; they are in the habit of attacking on the wing the smaller gulls and terns, and of forcing them to give up their recently caught fish. They breed in February and March in Florida and South Carolina, and a month later in New Jersey; the nests are usually made in the loblolly pine, on the ends of the branches about 30 ft. from the ground; the nest and eggs resemble those of the common crow, but are smaller.
The note is different from that of the other species, resembling, according to Audubon, the syllables ha, ha, hae, frequently repeated; at night they are still, in the morning very noisy, and in the breeding season not disagreeable nor monotonous. Their flight is strong and protracted; they generally fly near the water, but occasionally rise to a great height. On the ground their movements are graceful; and they are fond of opening and shutting their wings, a habit common to the other crows. They can disgorge their food like the vultures, when wounded and attempting to escape; they are easily approached and shot, and in winter, when their food is chiefly fruit, they are very fat, and considered good eating. The female is smaller, and the gloss on the plumage is less bright, with brown reflections on the upper parts; the length is 15 in. and the extent of wings 31 in. - The habits of the crows seem to be the same in all countries. The carrion crow of Ceylon detects the wounded deer, and discloses its retreat to the hunter by congregating on the neighboring trees.
Whenever this bird sees an animal lying on the ground, it soon collects all its comrades in the vicinity; one of the boldest hops upon the animal's body; as this is not uncommon in their search for ticks, the creature lies still, grateful for the expected riddance of the vermin. Finally the crow looks into the eyes; then the animal, if able to defend itself, removes the dangerous friend by a shake of the head; but if the eyes be dim from disease or wounds, the crow perceives it, and plunges its powerful bill into the eyeball of the sufferer, and feasts upon its favorite morsel; the rest soon join, and attack the parts giving easiest access to the entrails. The hooded crow of Ceylon, like the other mentioned in Layard's "Ornithology of Ceylon," lives amid the densest populations, stealing everything eatable that comes in his way; if the spread table be left for a moment, the marks of feet upon the cloth and bills in the butter, and the disappearance of small bits, show that the robbers could not have been far off.
They are useful scavengers, and are rarely molested by the natives, of whom they stand in no fear; but at the appearance of the white man with his gun, the whole corvine community is in an uproar, and flies hurriedly to a safe distance.
American Crow (Corvus Americanus).
Hooded Crow (Corvus comix).