Crows are one of the most interesting and intelligent birds in North America.
A crow can have a wingspan of up to 6 feet (1.8 meters), which they use to soar gracefully over the ground. They are entirely black, and their plumage has a distinct, opaque appearance. If you look at a crow in direct sunlight, you’ll notice some of its wing feathers reflecting the light and shining.
American crows are native to the Nearctic region all over North America. You can also find them in the southern areas of Canada.
The crow family, which includes ravens and rooks, has a diverse diet that ranges from small animals to large insects.
This post will explore what crows eat, including carrion (dead meat), small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans (like shrimp), eggs and various types of plant material such as berries or corn.
We will also have a look at typical feeding behaviors. Do crows eat whatever comes their way? Do they have preferred foods? What about captive crows? We will explore these questions.
The Crow’s Digestive System
All birds share the same type of stomach, and crows are no different. The stomach of birds has 2 chambers:
- The proventriculus—this is where food is softened by secretions of digestive juices.
- The gizzard—this is where the food gets ground up by small stones.
Crows are not big eaters, so they don’t need an enormous stomach. Their stomachs are less than 1 ounce (28 grams) in size. Despite the tiny size, they can eat relatively large quantities of food when they get the chance.
Once the food has passed through the stomach, it is sent into the intestine. Birds’ intestines are divided into a small and large intestine.
The small intestine is where the nutrients are absorbed into their blood. Nutrients take about an hour to travel through a crow’s intestines. This means that crows have slow digestion rates which can cause problems if they eat too much at once or there isn’t enough food around.
The large intestine is where the waste is stored until it is evacuated from the body.
Crows will eat anything small enough to fit in their beak. However, they have been known to eat harmful objects, such as lead or glass. Captive crows have even been observed eating plastic. This can be very dangerous for them, damaging their esophagus or stomach.
What Do Crows Eat: Crow Diet
One of the most common misconceptions about crows is that they are scavengers and only eat dead meat. This could not be further from the truth. Crows are omnivores like humans. They eat all kinds of food.
Crows are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of a food source when it is available, but their diet consists mostly of insects, small mammals, eggs, and other birds.
It’s mostly a matter of convenience for them – they eat whatever food is easily available. If that’s carrion, then they will eat mostly carrion. If it’s small mammals, then they will eat mostly small mammals.
Here’s a comprehensive list of what crows eat.
Crows eat small mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits. They usually hunt these animals by watching from a perch until the animal is within striking distance. Once they have caught their prey, they will eat it on the spot or carry it back to their perch.
Crows are known for having interesting hunting techniques – one of these is called ‘mobbing’. This means that they soar over a flock of birds until they see an easy target, then attack after singling out their prey.
This type of behavior is usually seen in the winter months when food is scarce and crows are forced to do what they can to survive.
Carrion (dead meat)
A crow’s diet can include carrion if it’s available to them. While this does not form the majority of their diet, you may see a crow eating dead animals, including other birds such as hawks or owls.
Crows are not the only animals that eat carrion. Raccoons, vultures, and hyenas all scavenge for dead meat as well.
One of the main reasons crows will eat carrion is to access the insects that are feeding on the meat.
In urban areas, crows regularly eat leftover human food such as chips, bread, and other scrap. They will also search through trash cans for items such as meat or fish bones. As opportunistic feeders, they will hang out around restaurants and in parking lots waiting for the chance to pick up discarded food.
Insects & Grubs
Most crows’ diets comprise invertebrates such as insects and grubs. Crows have a voracious appetite for invertebrates because they are able to eat so many of them at once. They are like cherries to us. Once you eat them, you can’t stop.
Crows will either peck at the ground or even search under the soil to retrieve these bugs – they are successful hunters.
Large groups of crows may flock to areas where insects are abundant. Once they find a suitable spot, they will spend hours hunting for food. It can be very beneficial for crows to hunt in groups because of their combined strength and numbers.
If you have pets and crows are in the area, it’s likely that they will go for your pets’ food. They really like the small pellet food you feed your dogs and cats. They love the taste – it’s crunchy, and there’s plenty of it! What’s not to love?
This is why it’s best to feed your pets inside if you have many crows in your local area.
If you’ve ever had an apple tree in your yard, you will be familiar with the painful feeling of seeing your apples ravaged by crow beaks. Other fruits they eat include bananas and oranges.
They also love wild fruit, especially berries and grapes. They eat stuff that is poisonous to us, so don’t think you can get rid of them by adding bushes of poisonous berries around your garden.
This foraging behavior can be prevented by covering your trees with netting or bird spikes to make the treetops inaccessible to birds. This makes sure that crows do not get the chance to damage any more apples!
Crows also learn from each other by watching other individuals in their group or flock and then applying that knowledge to their own hunting techniques.
Crow’s Feeding Habits
Crows will eat almost anything, but their greatest preference is rodents like mice and shrews.
Their diet is very diverse, which is one of the main reasons they are so common all over the world. Crows are highly adaptable thanks to their ability to feed on so many foods. In other words, it’s pretty hard for a crow not to find sources of food.
Crows will also eat roadkill if they find it soon enough! During the cooler months of the year, crows will seek food that is easily available, such as bird’s eggs or seeds and nuts from plants like acorns. Crows living in more northern climates (where these types of food aren’t as abundant) will migrate to warmer climates where they can find food.
Crows are highly intelligent and curious, so it’s easy to see why their feeding habits might differ from other birds.
Here are the 2 behaviors crows use during foraging:
- Kleptoparasitism—This is when a crow steals food from other animals. This can include stealing food from other birds, mammals, or even reptiles!
- Provisioning—Crows will bring food back to their nests to feed their young. They cache (or hide) food in trees or on the ground for later use. This helps provides them with a readily accessible food source when there is a food shortage.
Please note: Crows are exceptional at balancing their diet. However, they seem to ignore nature when they are fed by humans. If you want to feed crows yourself, make sure you aren’t only giving them one type of food so their diets are varied and therefore healthier. Sure, they can go hunt for their own, but crows are way too opportunistic to pass up the chance for free food.
What not to Feed Crows
Crows can be befriended. If you have a bird feeder, put out some food for crows, and they will start coming to your garden. But be careful what you put out for them to eat.
Do not put out:
- Salt—Crows can eat some salt, but too much of it is bad for their kidneys. You’ll notice that the rest of the items on this list often contain lots of salt.
- Bread—Bread has little nutritional value and is full of carbs (sugar). Crows are omnivores, so they need more protein than bread provides. If you want to feed crows in your backyard, put out food that will provide good nutrition for them.
- Garbage—Crows will eat garbage if they find it, but this is not good for their health and can make them sick or even kill them since there are so many chemicals in the trash we put out these days.
- Meat products—Although crows will hunt small mammals like mice and shrews, too much meat is bad for them. They are omnivores, not carnivores. The seasoned meat is especially bad for them.
- Small Pets—Crows will eat mice and rats, but they prefer to hunt their own food. Do not feed crows rodents or any other small animals that live in your yard, since this will encourage them to go after these types of prey more than they normally would.
- Roasted nuts—Nuts are nutritious, but roasted nuts contain oil, salt and sugar, which makes them unhealthy for crows.
Crows are opportunistic feeders – they will eat anything they can find. Although they prefer small mammals and insects, they’ll also eat fruit and carrion if these are available to them.
If you want to feed crows and befriend them, avoid foods that are damaging to them. Anything with lots of salt is especially bad for them. You might see crows feeding outside big fast-food chains, eating thrown-away chips. Please understand that these foods are terrible for their diet, but crows will always follow their opportunistic nature. It’s like when we eat lots of sweets – we love them, but they are dreadful for our health!
So, as you can see, crows are not just scavengers. They are very resourceful and know how to get the most out of their environment. Just because they eat some things that we might not like doesn’t mean they’re dangerous birds—in fact, they are very intelligent creatures.