This archive post first ran on June 21, 2011
One of the Crow Questions I hear most often is, “Why do I never see baby crows?” In truth, it is likely that we have all seen plenty of baby crows–but we are misled by the human tendency to conflate “baby-ness” with small-ness. A few crows will jump from the nest before they are grown, and cannot yet fly. Such precocious chicks are quickly hidden beneath a shrubbery by their parents, and we seldom see them, though occasionally we might run across one of these fat, round, wide-eyed little fluffballs. Normally though, when a baby crow leaves the nest, it is about the same size as its adult parent, and now that it’s mid-June, we are in the peak of Baby Crow Season–they are everywhere. Physcially, you can recognize baby crows by: their bills, which have fleshy grayish-pink “gape” left at the base; their feathers, which are a dull matte brown-black, rather than the iridescent purple-black of the adult crow; their eyes, which are typically gray-blue, rather than dark amber as in adults; and perhaps their tails, which may be a bit stubby.
But the best way to tell a baby crow is by its behavior. Baby crows are not “dumb,” they possess all the native intelligence of their species. But they are naive. They sit quietly, looking slowly all around. They are approachable, and believe that just about anything–a bicycle, a giant cat with a bell, a raccoon, an SUV, you or me–is a strange, wondrous, and probably even a friendly thing. They have hesitant take-offs and rather bad landings. They look “sweet.” They are loud, begging for food from their parents with an annoying “waaaaaaaahhh” call. If you see a crow, and you instinctively think of it as a “baby,” you’re probably right. Watch for them–they are all around us, and they are super-fun to observe.
An aside: Ornithologists and even hard-core birders do not call young crows “babies.” “Humans have babies, birds have young,” we are told. True, true, but I believe it is a harmless colloquialism, and comes so naturally to our tongues implying, I think, an easy empathy that is one of our own species’ loveliest qualities. Still, if you want to be orno-hip, you can call these babies “hatch-year” birds through the fall, after which it becomes harder to identify them.
The other day I was riding my bike through the neighborhood, and saw a crow in the middle of the street. I rode up within two feet of her, and she looked up at me, wide-eyed, turning her head from side to side. The adult bird was on the wire above me, and gave me just a brief vocal scolding. I looked up and said, “What a lovely chick you have,” (then looked quickly around to see if there was anyone who might see that I am a Crazy Talking to Birds Lady). I stayed with the chick for several minutes, until she slowly walked to the sidewalk. Her parent was quite open-minded about my presence; if we are calm and unassuming, crow adults will often let us watch their young in peace. (But not always–see my earlier post about crow scolding and dive-bombing during this season of fledglings.)
By fall, most young-of-the-year will have grown their first adult flight feathers–their wings and tails will be shiny and new, but their backs and heads will still be a dull matte brown.
Enjoy the season of young wild creatures in our midst!
Thanks to Flickr users Joshua and Lepak pix for the lovely photos.
To me they sound babyish rather than annoying. Last year, my goat who was then a brand new mom seemed to respond to baby crow begging voices much as she did to her own kids, seeking the source of their voices and getting ready to care for them.
Sarah, this is such a nice, charitable view!
How remarkable that mama/papa crow did not divebomb you. I had a pair nesting in my area a few years back that were screaming parental furies–for a week I had to carry a rake over my head whenever I went in the yard, NOT to hit them with but just to make me “taller”–they would sweep down and over the rake while yelling instead of knocking me on the head.
Which I had happen to me once when I was scooting a baby crow out from under a car that I knew would soon be pulling out…I’m still glad I helped the crow baby, but for days afterward, the parents hollered when they saw me within a block of that spot!
Happy solstice 🙂
What is the difference between crows, grackels, ravens and rooks?
Hi Michael, good question. Lots of big black birds out there, it can be kind of confusing. Crows, ravens, rooks, and jays are all in the same family of birds, the corvid family. Rooks and crows are essentially the same–rooks are the common name for certain crow species in Europe. Grackles, though they are a large, black bird, are not closely related to the corvids, but rather to the blackbirds and orioles.
What a great description of baby crows and their behavior! A month or so ago I wrote to a birding group that I’d seen a fledged baby crow because I witnessed it “begging” from another crow. I was gently but quickly corrected by someone who pointed out that this is part of the dating/mating process for crows: the female acts like a child. Cross-species similarities!
Great post. I’ve been watching the crows here in West Seattle for babies, but they’re a little “wilder” than the crows in Ballard where I used to live. The crows here don’t get quite as close to people, and its not as easy to observe them up close. Still, I love watching them whenever I can.
After reading your book, I knew what to look for last year–the blue eyes. I identified a baby in our neighborhood crow family, and we had a great time watching that little one grow up!
We don’t have many crows in this part of France. We have a lot of buzzards and kites. I saw my first baby buzzard the other day, out cycling with my son. He was enormous but obviously a youngster, with his short tail and not-too-hot flying skills. We gently shooed him off the road where he was quite happy to sit and he waited for mum and dad to find him safely on the grass verge.
Thank you for this ID info (the pink beak bit). Yesterday I had a couple of crow tweens sitting on my rain barrel. I came within about three feet and talked to them in a low voice. They sat there about 10 seconds or so without flying off. Their eyes weren’t bright blue, nor were they adult color yet.
Hi, Lyanda — just wanted to note the serendipity — I’d just asked Tim why it is you never see baby ravens (we live in the midst of Raven City), but didn’t do the obvious and ask you, but HE realized the next day that he hadn’t checked your blog for a while — we love it and keep telling ourselves we should be doing one — and there you were giving us the whole lowdown on the “young.” And yes, there are are, sitting around on lawn and line, looking singularly naive — slightly dazed — thank you!!
And I hope all is well with you and yours,
My cat can no longer go outside during the day.
She’s always been an avid hunter, keeping the neighborhood free of vermin, but she made the mistake of killing (and eating part of) a crow chick.
The other day there was one crow yelling at her, today, four.
I’m concerned that she’ll get caught outside, now, and that they’ll attack her.
I have the reverse question for you: what does a pregnant crow look like? I ask because I saw a large black bird, shaped more like a football than a crow, on a neighbor’s fence. It’s feathers seemed grayer and… fluffier. It sat there for a very long time before another black bird came by. The 2nd bird seemed to be feeding the 1st. Could these have been a pregnant crow and her mate?
Good question. Because crows lay eggs over the course of a few days, and the eggs develop as they go, they never look “pregnant.” The fluffy bird you describe sounds like a bird that hatched this year, and the second bird would be its parent! Enjoy.
Thank you so much! I did actually try to figure it out myself, but a google search on ‘pregnant crow’ brings up all *sorts* of images… and none of them crows!
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Today I saw a baby crow crying and flying around a big crow (assuming it is the mom). The mother was ignoring the baby and when the baby seemed to have flown away( I found the baby not far on a pole nearby) the mother turned her head and peeked then not long after the baby came back flowing the mom( mother ignoring again) and it went on for a while. Eventually, the mother flew away and the baby was trying to follow her. The baby flew well and I lost them both. Just curious why the mother ignored the baby. I thought the mother was injured so I kept looking to see then got to see this interesting scene. The mother was ok,not injured at all.
Hi Jenn. Great observation. This is actually very common behavior this time of year, and fun to watch. The young crow (now the equivalent of a tween/early teenager) still wants to be fed by its parents, and its parents think its time for their young crow to start feeding itself! So for awhile we will be in this cycle of begging/ignoring. Often the adult will give up and give the young crow a little something, but less and less until soon they really will be on their own.
Oh, and by the way–the adult crow could be either the male or female. Both care for the young.
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Hi–I’m so happy to discover you! This is beautifully written. These days, I’m just sitting in my garden listening to the whining and the crying and the strangled gargling (when mom delivers lunch) – it’s like a big wonderful nursery! Can you tell me, how long do the “baby” crows beg for food and get fed that way? (in case: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10203923423435267&set=pb.1512219189.-2207520000.1402096951.&type=3&theater)
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I found a baby crow in my backyard and the parents were taking care of it. but as days pass I notice it falling over loosing its balance and laying around a lot is that normal or should I take it to a specialist
I found a baby crow (not quite a fledgling) it had likely fallen out of the nest during one of our regular storms. I searched for the nest other babies or parents thoroughly before I took it home when it appeared weak. It has been doing good I have been feeding it soaked dog food and worms but today it isn’t “screaming” cawing and makes this sort of wimpering noise. It has been getting fed every 30-45 minutes since 6am until sunset. Anyone have any ideas about the wimpering? Shouldn’t it be more vocal/obnoxious?
There is no where I can take it near me either so I’m stucking caring for the little guy.