The Short Answer: Crows will eat almost any animal that is small enough for them to catch and eat as well as fruits, seeds, nuts, and carrion.
For more information on crows and what the eat, read on.
What Are Crows?
Crows are birds that are members of the family Corvidae, and more specifically the genus Corvus. This genus includes closely-related species like the rook, ravens, and jackdaws, and has 40 living members.
It is common for people to call all members of the Corvus genus crows, but only 28 species are actually named crows. For the purpose of this article whenever crows are mentioned, it will be in reference to those 28 species only.
Fun Fact: Birds are technically considered reptiles. They have scales on their legs and feet, and they evolved a long time ago from dinosaurs.
Birds are vertebrates, meaning they have a spine, and they are warm-blooded unlike reptiles. Birds can be distinguished from all other animals by two main features: bills and feathers.
Feathers are modified scales made of keratin, like our hair and nails, and protein structures called microfilaments that form their specific branching patterns. They attach to specialized follicles in the bird’s skin, which are similar to our hair follicles, and they overlap like shingles on a roof.
Feathers serve many important functions, and they can come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Feathers help maintain a bird’s body temperature, form a bird’s plumage, and are used to control flight.
Plumage refers to the visible portion of a bird’s feathers, and while most people picture crows and think of an entirely black bird, certain species can have gray and even white plumage as well.
Most birds have down feathers which are the soft, fluffy feathers closest to their bodies, vaned feathers that lie on top of the down feathers and form the plumage, wing feathers, and tail feathers.
Feathers can be heavily modified from species to species for differences in flight patterns like hummingbirds, elaborate courtship displays like peacocks, and other adaptations. For example, in most flying birds primary flight feathers help provide thrust, and secondary flight feathers help with lift.
In addition to feathers, all birds have bills made of bone and keratin. In birds with hard or hooked bills, you will more commonly hear them referred to as beaks.
A bird’s bill is directly related to what they eat, with bills adapting over time to match available food sources. Finches, for example, have short, fat beaks that are adapted to eating grains.
A crow’s bill is relatively thin, straight, and usually about 2 inches long. This kind of bill is typical for generalists, or birds that are able to eat a wide variety of foods. A cow’s bill can be used to catch fish and small animals, grab seeds and berries, and even dig.
Crows also have excellent eyesight, but their monocular vision is much better than their binocular vision. In other words, their eyesight is significantly better when they look out of one eye at a time instead of both together.
Fun Fact: Crows have an extra color sensor in their eyes that we don’t have and it actually allows them to see UV light. So while their plumage may appear black to us, it probably looks much more colorful to them.
The rest of the crow’s anatomy is similar to most birds: adapted for flight. They stand from 15-20 inches tall, and they have two wings that extend about 2.5 feet wide.
Like other birds, their bones are less dense than ours and some are even hollow. Instead of large lungs, crows and other birds have air sacs connected to small lungs that are more efficient at extracting oxygen from the air and are also more lightweight.
Crows and other birds do not have a chest and an abdomen, since they do not have a diaphragm or any other muscle to separate them. Instead, they have one large body cavity called the coelomic cavity.
Fun Fact: Birds are the only vertebrates with a fused collar bone called the furcula, but it is more commonly known as the wishbone.
Crow habitat and behavior
Crows can be found on all continents except South America and Antarctica and they prefer to live in temperate climates. They like wide, grassy areas with nearby trees, but they also thrive in urban areas.
Crows are diurnal, which means that they forage during the day and rest at night. They live together in flocks called murders and collectively defend their territory, care for their young, and hunt and forage.
Northern crows will form large groups of birds that can reach the tens of thousands at night in the late fall and winter, and these roosting groups can cause problems when they make themselves at home in neighborhoods and other urban areas. These large gatherings are thought to help the crows stay warm and ward off predators like owls.
Owls and hawks are the main predators of crows, but crows have been known to gang up on would-be predators – using strength in numbers to drive them off as well as other crows that stray into their territory. Crows even have sentries that warn the others of approaching hawks.
This strategizing and problem solving is not a fluke – crows are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They have a great capacity for mimicking and learning, and some have been taught to say over 100 words in complete sentences.
Crows can solve problems, build compound tools, and some species like the New Caledonian crow will often use tools like twigs to fish out bugs from tree trunks to eat.
Of the 28 crow species, only the Flores crow is endangered.
What Do Crows Eat?
Crows are omnivores, which means that like us they can eat both plant matter and animals. Crows are also scavengers, which means that they will eat dead animals as well as live ones.
Crows are extremely versatile and will eat all kinds of things including small fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, the eggs and chicks of other birds, insects, worms, mollusks, seeds, nuts, grains, and fruit. They will also eat carrion, and in urban areas they are notorious for eating garbage.
How Do Crows Get Their Food?
Even though they are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is available, crows have been observed traveling up to 40 miles from their roosting site in search of food. As mentioned, crows search for food in groups and will post sentries to watch for hawks while they forage.
Crows are also notorious egg thieves, and will search trees and bushes to find the eggs and nestlings of other birds.
Ever the problem solvers, crows in urban areas have been witnessed dropping nuts on the blacktop and waiting for cars to run them over before eating the insides. Similarly, crows in coastal areas will drop shells onto rocks to break them open and get to the meat.
Crows in urban areas are common sights at trash bins and dumpsters, and will also eat roadkill readily.
Fun Fact: Crows have been known to bury food and come back to it later just like squirrels.
What Do Baby Crows (Chicks) Eat?
Unless one of the pair is killed, crows appear to mate for life and both members of a breeding pair will help build their nest sometime between February and April. They prefer to have their nests in the top third of an evergreen tree, nestled in a crotch by the trunk.
Nests can be anywhere from 6-19 inches wide, and are usually made of twigs and some combination of pine needles, plant matter, and animal fur. The female will lay anywhere from 3-9 speckled blue-green eggs, and they will incubate for 16-18 days.
Once the eggs hatch, the chicks (called nestlings) will primarily eat regurgitated, partially digested food provided by its parents and older siblings about every 30 minutes. As the nestling matures, the parents will eventually switch to giving it torn bits of meat and insects to eat.
Almost all nestlings will fledge (leave the nest permanently) by 40 days, but they will continue to be fed until they are at least 60 days old, and in some species up until they are 4 months old. Crows reach sexual maturity around 2 years of age but do not reproduce until they are at least 4 years old.
Rather than leaving to form their own territory, crows will stay with their parents to help raise their siblings the next year. Crows will live for up to 14 years in the wild and can reach 20+ years in captivity.
In captivity, you’ll want to feed chicks soft foods with as high in protein content as possible in order to mimic what they would have eaten in the wild.
Cat food is a popular choice for nestlings as well as hard-boiled egg yolk, chopped beef kidney and heart, and oatmeal. You’ll have to hand feed it to start and you’ll want to gradually introduce insects and strips of meats as it matures, but most nestlings will be able to feed themselves by the time they are 6 weeks old.
It is important to note before attempting to rescue a chick, that fledglings often leave the nest before they are able to fly, and a baby crow may look more mature than it actually is. Oftentimes, unless the bird is in immediate danger, the best way you can help it is by leaving it alone.
What Do Adult Crows Eat?
Crows will readily eat a whole host of small animals and insects, including many insects that are pests to crops. Crows will hunt and eat rodents, young rabbits, lizards, frogs, snakes, and fish, with some species like the American crow walking along the ground and eating whatever they come across.
Crows will steal and eat the eggs of many other bird species including songbirds, and they will also eat the nestlings of other birds if given the opportunity.
Some species of crows will dig for insects and grubs or wade in shallow water to catch fish. When the opportunity presents itself, crows will eat carrion from roadkill or other dead animals and food scraps in garbage.
The opposite of picky eaters, crows will also eat any seeds, nuts, and fruits that they come across as they forage. Because of this, crows have earned the status of pests as they can do significant damage to crop fields by eating the sown seeds
Crows seem to display more foraging activity in the early and late parts of the day, while more casually hunting in the middle.
In captivity, you can feed adult crows everything that they would normally eat in the wild. With all of the other options to choose from you shouldn’t have to resort to table scraps and carrion, and instead you can offer them mice, mealworms, crickets, nuts, and fruits.
Cat food is also an option for adults, and you should make sure that your crow always has access to fresh water.
Crow Food Options
The nice thing about crows is that there is a huge variety of foods that you can give them. Some of the best options include the following:
- Organ meats
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Rolled oats
The Digestive System of the Crow
Crows are unable to chew their food, so instead it goes down in whole chunks. The food travels down the esophagus to the crop which is a storage organ, and from there food is slowly released into the proventriculus.
Chemical digestion occurs in the proventriculus by gastric acid and enzymes, and the food then moves to the gizzard. Crows will swallow stones that then stay in the gizzard, and these stones are used to help grind up food into digestible bits.
After the gizzard, nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine and then water and electrolytes are absorbed by the large intestine and ceca. The remainder passes as feces into the cloaca, which is the common opening of the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems, to be expelled.
How Often Should I Feed My Crows?
Chicks should have food constantly available to them in order to ensure that they grow properly. They should also have access to water, though if you feed them moist foods like wet cat food they may not need as much as they would otherwise.
You should also have some form of food constantly available to adults, although you can offer them something more substantial twice per day to mimic their natural feeding habits.
Just make sure that you clean up any old food consistently, even though the crows will eat it, to minimize both odor and the chance that they could get sick.
Summary of What Do Crows Eat
Crows are members of the genus Corvus, the genus contains other species like ravens which are often mislabeled as crows.
They are some of the most intelligent animals out there, earning their place among dolphins, chimps, and pigs.
Crows will eat almost any small animal that they can catch and eat, as well as seeds, grains, nuts, fruit, and carrion. This makes them both omnivores and scavengers.
Baby crows or chicks will eat partially digested food from their parents and will slowly graduate to chunks of animal meat as they mature.
Crow chicks are not as helpless as they may appear and should be generally left alone if encountered, but in captivity they can thrive and should be fed regularly.