Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt
This glossy, gregarious corvid replaces the American crow in coastal and tidewater regions of the Southeast. Its range has expanding up the Mississippi River Valley, its tributaries, and elsewhere away from the coast. While subtle structural differences exist, the most reliable way to identify this species is by call. Monotypic. Length 19" (48 cm).
Identification Very similar to the American crow but with proportionately longer tail and longer wings. Fish crows have a bluish-violet or greenish gloss over most of the wings and body (less so on lower underparts) that is more extensive than in the American. The bill is usually more slender, but female crows have smaller bills and small-billed female Americans may have bill that appears very similar to the fish’s. Juvenile: brownish cast to feathers; grayish eye, fleshy gape (quickly darkening after fledging). Immature: tends to show worn brownish wings that contrast with fresher black wing coverts. Flight: similar to American crow but with slightly stiffer and quicker wingbeats. When gliding, wings often appear swept back at tips, creating a less-even trailing edge to wing than American crow. The small-headed and long-tailed appearance is often most noticeable in flight. More apt to hover and soar than American crow.
Similar Species The American crow averages somewhat larger with proportionately shorter wings and tail, but such differences difficult to use in the field; best identified by call. Note that some juvenile begging calls of American Crow resemble fish crow vocalizations. Closely related to tamaulipas crow, but does not overlap in range; tamaulipas glossier, smaller, with proportionately even longer tail. Rarely overlaps with common raven, but common much larger with very large bill and wedge-shaped tail.
Voice Possibly more limited repertoire than American crow. Call: typically a high nasal ca-hah, second note lower; has a similar inflection and emphasis to American’s sometimes casual dismissal of something with an audible uh-uhh. Also gives low, short awwr. Begging calls of fish crow similar in quality to American’s begging calls, but are shorter and cut off abruptly.
Status and Distribution Common. Resident. Usually near fresh and salt water lakes, rivers, beaches, marshes, or estuaries. Migration and Dispersal: in many regions (e.g., Maryland, Tennessee, central New York), spring migration/return of breeders appears to peak in mid-March–April. Fall migration more protracted: Arkansas late August–early November; departs central New York September.–October; Maryland mid- or late September–mid- to late December (peaks October 20–December 10). Vagrant: casual: southern Ontario, southern Florida peninsula and Keys, Nova Scotia, and Bahamas. Winter: becomes more localized throughout range as species gather in large flocks. Because birds become less vocal in winter, the northern limit of wintering birds is somewhat uncertain. Withdrawal from northern portions of range, particularly in the interior.
Population Increasing in abundance, and populations spreading northward. First recorded Oklahoma in 1954; Kentucky 1959; Missouri 1964; Maine 1978; Kansas 1984; Indiana 1988; Vermont 1998.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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