Slightly smaller than the America Crow but otherwise very similar, the Northwestern Crow occupies a coastal strip in the Pacific Northwest. Northwestern Crows forage either alone or in groups, and consume a wide variety of food items. They have a small pouch in their throat in which they can carry food, though large items are carried in the bill.
Female Northwestern Crows do all of the egg incubation, though the males brings the females food. Sometimes a young bird from the previous year will help its parents raise a brood in the following year by watching for predators near the nest and helping to defend it.
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Description of the Northwestern Crow
The Northwestern Crow is all black, and is essentially identical to American Crows.
Seasonal change in appearance
Similar to adults.
Northwestern Crows occur along tidewater and shores of the Pacific Northwestern Coast.
Northwestern Crows are omnivorous, with a diet including but not limited to fish, insects, seeds, berries, bird eggs, and carrion.
Northwestern Crows forage mostly on the ground, but also in shallow water or in trees.
Northwestern Crows occur only along the coast of Washington north to coastal Alaska. Their population appears stable.
The Northwestern Crow is actually slightly smaller than the America Crow, and has a slightly hoarser voice, but the differences are subtle and cannot be used reliably for field identification.
Northwestern Crows often store food during low tide to consume later during high tide.
The main call of the Northwestern Crow is the familiar “caw” of the American Crow.
- American Crows are virtually identical, so Northwestern Crows must be identified by range
The nest is a bulky platform of sticks, usually placed in the fork of a tree.
Number: Usually lay 4-5 eggs.
Color: Bluish-green with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 18 days, and probably leave the nest in another 28 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Northwestern Crow
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Northwestern Crow – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
CORVUS CAURINUS Baird
The crows of the Northwest coast from the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island southward as far as the Puget Sound region of Washington were originally described as a distinct species, largely on account of their coastwise habitat and a somewhat different voice. Many modem writers, including the framers of the 1910 Check-list, have listed Corvus caurinus as a species. But it was reduced to the rank of a subspecies in the 1931 Check-list; it will now be restored to full specific rank.
It is similar in appearance to hesperis but is smaller, with relatively smaller feet.
Its favorite haunts are on the seashore, from which it seldom strays very far; it is a common resident bird about the wooded shores of the bays and on the beaches, where it feeds with the gull on shellfish and refuse thrown up by the waves. Theed Pearse writes to me that on Vancouver Island it is now showing signs of spreading out into many square miles of logged-over and burnt-over hillsides near the shore but that its main habitat is on the shores, especially where there are small coniferous trees.
A. M. Bailey (1927) says that in southeastern Alaska these “crows are especially numerous about the towns and villages, hanging about the camps for food. At low tide, the flocks repair to the flats, where they secure an easy living among the mussel beds”
Nesting: J. H. Bowles (1900) writes:
On the Tacoma Flats, at the head of Commencement Bay, is a small cluster of Siwash Indiaii houses, which are bordered by a line of scrubby apple and cherry trees. In these trees six or seven pairs of this sociable little crow band together in a colony during the nesting season. The nest is placed in a crotch at a distance from ten to eighteen feet above the ground, the same one being made over each returning season. On one occasion I saw two occupied nests in an apple tree only twenty feet higK Its appearance differs greatly from that of americasss&r, as it closely resembles a round basket having a very slight projecting rim of sticks. The average rim of projecting sticks in a series of americansis I have found to be 9.78 inches, while that of courinus is only a trifle over 4 inches. The inner dimensions average about 7 inches in diameter by 4 inches in depth. The composition also is nearly the same, only the material used is much less coarse, being a foundation of fine sticks and mud, lined with cedar bark.
Mr. Bailey (1927) “found a nest in Patterson’s Bay, Hooniah Sound, May 17, which was about twenty feet from the ground in a small hemlock. The nest was a rather bulky affair of spruce twigs, lined with dried grass, while the interior cup was composed entirely of deer hair. There were four eggs in the nest. Crows were abundant on Forrester Island, and it was there that Willett called my attention to a peculiar habit of theirs, that of nesting under boulders on the beach. They placed their nests far back in rather inaccessible places.
S. J. Darcus (1930) says that on the Queen Charlotte Islands “many nests were found, all built on the ground beneath bushes or windfalls close to sea shore.” Mr. Pearse tells me that on Vancouver Island most of these crows resort to the vicinity of the sea for nesting and nests will be found in quite low bushes and even in the side of a sandy bank. On June 16, 1940, a nest containing four eggs was found about 8 feet from the ground in a small fir in the logged-over area. Earlier reports of nests roofed over, like those of magpies, were probably based on incorrect identification. Mr. Rathbun writes to me: “For several years my home was near the crest of a high bluff along the Sound, its base bounded by the beach. The abrupt side of the bluff was thickly covered by a second growth of evergreen and deciduous trees, some of good size, and in several of the former a number of pairs of northwestern crows nested each spring”
Sidney B. Peyton writes to me that these crows are numerous on Forrester Island, where the majority of the nests were not over 8 feet from the ground in the thick spruce trees. One was in a hole in a cliff about 15 feet up,” and three others were under boulders on the beach “about 100 feet above the high tide mark”
Richard M. Bond has sent me some notes on this crow; he says that on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, “where the timber had only been gone over lightly for the best trees, the forest was almost in its virgin state. Here I was able to locate only two occupied nests, both about two-thirds of the way up fairly large Douglas firs: about 70 feet from the ground. In the San Juan Islands, even in virgin stands, the trees are in most places very small, and nests are easy to locate from the ground. Douglas fir is here the commonest tree, and though hemlock, western red cedar, alder, and others are also present in some numbers, I have never found a crow nest in any tree but the fir. The crows nest on the main islands rather like the western crow does; that is, in scattered groups, but they also nest on some of the small islets of an acre or less, where there are only two or three scraggly firs. I do not remember finding more than one nest on such an islet”
Eggs: This crow lays ordinarily four or five eggs. They are indistinguishable, except in size, from the eggs of other crows and probably a large series would show most of the variations common to the species.
The measurements of 40 eggs average 40.4 by 28.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 44.2 by 28.8, 40.8 by 29.8, 36.7 by 27.9, and 40.9 by 25.9 millimeters.
Young: In the locality mentioned above, S. F. Rathbun had a good chance to watch the behavior of the young crows, which, early in July, were still being fed to some extent by their parents; “now and then one of them would sidle up to an adult and stroke the old bird’s beak, evidently coaxing to be fed.” He says in his notes: “It is interesting to watch the old and young birds; there are upwards of 50 of them. The other day, during a strong wind, many of the crows played about in it; some of their aerial evolutions were most graceful and reminded one of the raven’s flight ability. Those I watched seemed to battle the wind for the pure love of the sport, old and young birds alike indulging in it.
“All the crows were drifting around in the wind just before sunset. There are now almost 70 of the birds. The young among them are still practicing flying, and some fly gracefully for they rise and fall with a floating motion, apparently without effort. The old birds are easy to distinguish, for they sit quietly in the trees and gravely watch their young at play”
Mr. Pearse tells me that he has seen young on the wing as early as June 10 and has seen young just out of the nest as late as August 23. He seems to think that two, or possibly three, broods may be raised in a season.
Food: The main feeding grounds of these small crows are on the beaches, where they are useful as scavengers, picking up the refuse thrown out by the fishermen, and where they show no fear of the natives, who never molest them, but they are shy of strangers. There they feed also on shellfish, crabs, and any edible refuse thrown up by the waves. In winter they find an ample food supply on the extensive beds of mussels on the tidal flats. In summer they frequent the salmon streams to feed on the dead fish, and are welcome as scavengers about the salmon canneries. Mr. Pearse tells me that late in summer and in fall berries such as wild cherry and saskatoon form a large part of their food; they eat fruit also and are especially fond of pears and apples, though they ruin more than they eat; in the fall of 1935, after an unusually early frost, they fed on the frost-rotted apples that still hung on the trees.
Mr. Bailey (1927) writes: “At low tide, the flocks repair to the flats, where they secure an easy living among the mussel beds. It is a common sight to see Crows darting in the air, as they drop mussels upon rocks, to break them. If the wind is blowing, they allow for the curve, and usually do not make many misses in their endeavor to hit a certain boulder. * * * These birds, too, are especially bad about plundering the nests of their neighbors and no species is safe from them, for they are continually hunting, possessing a boldness even greater than the Raven. They rob the sea birds nesting under houlders as well as the Murres upon the cliffs. They are not so conspicuous in their plundering however, as the Ravens, for they eat their eggs where they find them, and so probably put their time in to better advantage”
The presence of a human being in a sea-bird colony sends all the gulls, cormorants, murres, and pigeon guillemots off their nests, which is the signal for the crows to rush in, grab an egg from an unprotected nest, and fly off with it; the crows return again and again as long as the rightful owners are kept off their nests; this results in great destruction among the eggs and young of these colonial birds, for which some overzealous bird photographer may be unwillingly responsible. The eggs and young of land birds probably suffer to a less extent. Mr. Pearse tells me that some young birds are taken, but the crows do not seem to be persistent in hunting for them, though some individuals may get the habit. He once saw a crow that was apparently watching to locate a robin’s nest and was being mobbed by a lot of flycatchers, warblers, and chickadees. He next heard the agonized cries of a young robin, which the crow had captured and was carrying off; the old robins attacked the crow and made it drop the young bird. “The other birds in some way recognized the crow as dangerous and kept up their mobbing. Though I have seen the northwestern crow working through wooded areas, evidently looking for young birds or nests, there is none of the systematic beating of the ground that may be seen done by the western crow; moreover, I have seen very few cases of nests that may have been destroyed by crows.
R. M. Bond sends me the following notes on the feeding habits of the northwestern crow: “I have seen crows foraging in fields, where they were seen to capture grasshoppers. They also, in one case, were observed eating ripe wild blackberries (Rubus vitifoliu.r). I have also seen them feeding behind a plow in company with Brewer’s blackbirds and gulls.” He says that they had favorite times for feeding on the beaches: “One was near high tide, when the incoming water separated the house garbage from the ashes, with which it was frequently dumped, and when the innumerable amphipod ‘sand fleas’ were retreating before the water to the shelter of windrows of kelp and seaweed. I had a blind in a hollow log of driftwood and could watch the crows eat enormous numbers of sand fleas, as the flock worked by me. The other favorite period was near low tide, when cockles and gastropods were exposed.
“Carrion was a favorite food. This consisted mainly of dead fish that washed up on the shore. Dead dogs, cats, horses, etc., were also eagerly eaten, though they amounted to a very small percentage of the available food. Once a dead porpoise washed ashore on Blake Island, and for two or three days there was a stream of crows passing across ahout three miles of open water to this feast and back, apparently to feed their young”
Stomach analysis of three specimens by J. A. Munro (MS.) showed that the bulk of the food consisted of shore crabs and small mollusks; crab remains amounted to 80 percent in one case, and small mollusks to 80 and 60 percent in the other two cases. Mollusks and crab remains were found in all three stomachs, and the remainder of the food included a few insect remains, fish eggs (probably sculpins), oat husks, and miscellaneous vegetable matter.
Behavior: As northwestern crows apparently do little damage to human interests, the” are much tamer than crows elsewhere and pay but little attention to human beings. They make themselves at home about the Indian villages, where they are almost as tame as chickens and hardly move out of the way of the children playing on the beaches.
Mr. Pearse’s notes contain several references to the behavior of these crows. He has seen 12 crows “vigorously chasing a raven”; again he has seen the two species feeding side by side, though the crows recognized the “superiority of the raven and would not contest the feeding grounds”; crows feeding on berries hurried away when a raven came into the bush. He has seen nesting crows drive away a bald eagle that had settled on a tree nearby, making stoops at it, the eagle squealing as though at least annoyed; and he says that they will frequently attack a flying eagle, if it comes near where they are feeding; sometimes the eagle will turn at the crow, to strike it with its talons, which drives away the latter.
He tells of one of a pair of crows that had lost part of its beak, perhaps in a trap; it was being fed by its mate, “which regurgitated the food. The healthy bird was crooning to it and stroking it with its beak, a really touching sight”
One day, in July, he saw “two diving and swooping around in a stiff breeze, stooping at each other and turning over, a kind of game of tag. At times a flock will plane-dive down to the ground, and this usually presages a change of weather, usually wind”
Mr. Munro tells me that on four occasions in January and February he has seen a heavy flight, totaling about 800 birds, passing over Departure Bay about dusk and apparently settling in their winter roost in some thick woods.
Voice: Ralph Hoffmann (1927) says: “A trained ear can usually detect the difference in their notes from those of the Western Crow; they are usually slightly hoarser and lower in pitch but vary in pitch and quality and are at times very close to the Western Crow’s. In the mating season they have a ‘gargling’ note similar to that of the Western Crow”
Mr. Bailey (1927) writes: “They are probably the best imitators of their family in Alaska, and the variety of their notes is unusually large. Their most characteristic one is noted when the old bird is feeling especially foolish, for they duck their heads toward their feet, and then give an upward tug, at the same time emitting a sound like the pulling of a cork from a bottle”
R. H. Lawrence wrote to Major Bendire (1895) of a vocal performance that may have been part of a courtship display: “A flock of about one hundred and twenty were noticed February 7, 1892; a few were perched apart on a tree or snag, uttering strange sounds, like ‘koo-wow, kow-wow, koo-wow,’ the last syllable drawled and accented or emphasized; then, with a slight spreading of the shoulders and the tail, the head being down and the tail drooped, they produced by a curious chattering of the bill a sound (not made in the throat, I judged) which resembled that of horny plates struck together, and causing an odd shuddering of the head and even of the body. This was repeated a few times, varied with a noisy ‘caw, caw.'” FalL: Mr. Pearse writes to me that on Vancouver Island “the locally bred crows commence to flock as early as the middle of August, but it would be at least a month before the outside birds would arrive. Most falls there is a considerable immigration to the farmlands from outside areas, probably from inlets farther up the coast or from the mainland. At times during winter 1,000 birds will be feeding together on the cultivated areas. Banding operations show that there is a southerly movement of the locally breeding crows in fall and that birds banded in winter go to the mainland the following spring. Each year the crows disappear from here the end of August, and very, few are seen until a month later.” He also has seen some evidence of a northward migration in spring.