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Fish Crow

Photos © John White

Text by Ellen Katinas

Fish Crow
Corvus ossifragus
Order: Passeriformes
Family:  Corvidae

The Fish Crow is what’s called a generalist: a bird who will eat just about anything and live just about anywhere. 

Carrion, trash, the eggs and nestlings of other birds: all this and more make up the Fish Crow’s diet. If residing by water, the crows dig up turtle eggs. They also love to steal food from other birds.

They live by beaches, marshes, lakes, rivers, fields, and even golf courses and landfills. They build their nests near the tops of trees and even make themselves at home in heron colonies, which they take advantage of by raiding the heron nests.

The birds are curious and often playful.  One was even seen hanging upside down and swinging from a willow branch. Mated pairs are affectionate and preen and groom each other’s heads. 

Fish Crows live on the East Coast and in the Southeastern United States, and they are non-migratory.  Many fell victim in the early 2000s to West Nile Virus, but according to the Breeding Bird Survey their numbers are recovering. 

Some states regard them as pests, because their raiding habits may affect breeding bird populations, and in those states it is legal to hunt them. 

Female Fish Crows construct their nests with care.  One location may contain existing nests from up to four different years.

Although they are nearly identical to the American Crow, Fish Crows can be identified by the nasal quality of their call, and by their habit of puffing out throat feathers during this call, which gives them the appearance of wearing a ragged ruff.