The Fish Crow, Corvus ossifragus, which closely resembles the American Crow, inhabits coastal states from Texas to Rhode Island and is commonly seen on both Sanibel and Captiva islands all throughout the year.
Distinguishing the Fish Crow from the American Crow might not be easy, but with its smaller size and more nasal voice, close observation and attention to their call can provide a positive identification. Additionally, the Fish Crow’s habitat is primarily along the coast in our Southwest Florida area, so if you spot a crow on the islands, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s a Fish Crow.
Just to make sure, listening is the key. The “caw-caw” of the American Crow is quite different from the “awe” or “uh-uh” of the Fish Crow. Recordings of these calls are easily found online and will certainly boost your confidence in identifying that flock of noisy crows flying overhead.
Similar to when they migrate, Fish Crows forage in flocks, often foraging along the shorelines in shallow water. While walking and foraging, their diet consists of the typical prey they will encounter, which includes crabs, shrimp, crayfish and carrion. If not foraging along the shoreline, they can also feed amongst the trees and will find insects, berries, seeds, nuts and bird eggs.
Nesting pairs share in the nest building, which is typically a platform of sticks and bark strips, lines with grass, hair, feathers, paper and often pine needles. The nest location may vary from low to the ground near the coast to high in the trees in deciduous trees in inland swamps. Pairs often provide 4-5 eggs that are incubated for 2-3 weeks. Once hatched, the well-fed young leave the nest within 3-4 weeks.
I was recently reminded of the Fish Crow as a large group of them flew overhead out on the course. In the quiet of a Sanibel summer afternoon, the noisy “hello” of the Fish Crows rang out and just my luck, one landed and perched atop of dead tree for this weeks Sweet Shot.
Keep your eyes out for this year-round Sanibel resident. A solid black, relatively glossy and vocal resident of the islands that might not be the flashiest bird around, but has its place on our Sanctuary island that provides for an abundance of wildlife that we can all learn about and enjoy.
Four Keys to ID
• Size and Shape – Strong, well-proportioned birds with heavy bills, sturdy legs and broad wings
• Color Pattern – All black. Mature birds are glossier than immatures.
• Behavior – Very social birds. Will travel in groups of hundreds during migration. They often feed and roost with American Crows. They give of distinctive nasal calls from the ground while puffing out their neck and body feathers at the same time, forming a ruff on their throat.
• Habitat – Live along coastal areas and inland lakes and rivers. They inhabit a variety of habitats near the water, from city environments to more natural park settings.
• Fish Crows are well-known nest robbers. They raid the nests of many waterbirds and songbirds as well as dig up turtle eggs. They’ve been known to also steal food from ospreys, gulls and other crows.
• When finding a good source of food, they sometimes cache extra for later. The food can be hidden in tree bark crevices and in clumps of Spanish moss. In order to feed their young, nesting adults may pull from this cache of stored food.