American crows are a lot of things: intelligent, mischievous — and big eaters.

Crows consume great numbers of grasshoppers, cutworms and other insects. In late fall and through winter, they eat the kernels of corn in fields after harvest, and also weed seeds, wild fruits, animal matter collected near water, roadkill and garbage.

In the southern half of Minnesota, American crows are seen regularly in winter. These stocky birds have a wingspread of about 3 feet and weigh about a pound. They are an all-black bird, including the bill, legs and feet.

American crows are resourceful. They are one of the most recognizable birds in Minnesota and are also among the most intelligent. While several are feeding together, one stands by as a sentinel to warn of approaching danger. They feed on roadkill but are rarely hit by cars. Unmated birds known as helpers help raise the young. A crow often entertains itself by provoking chases with other birds.

Another example of their intelligence is their well-developed system of communication. Variations of the basic “caw” convey vital information to all other American crows within hearing distance. Crows caw to keep fellow crows on alert, to warn of hunters and to pass the word on about new sources of food. Crows also announce to neighbors that a stranger is walking through their forest.

Communal roosting can be spectacular among American crows in late fall and through winter. They roost in huge flocks of hundreds or even 1,000-plus, dispersing each morning in small groups to feed and then return by sunset. I have seen these roosts even in downtown Minneapolis and Rochester, Minn.

 

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.