There might be several inches of snow and ice still on the ground around New York Harbor, but that doesn’t stop some creatures to start thinking about the need to breed. Longer days and warmer temperatures are causing chemical changes in the minds of many animals to experience intense spring fever – the look of love.
For the American Crow, this means the start of another breeding season. American Crows are one of the earliest nesting bird species around the harbor. With a body length of 15 to 20 inches, the birds are big. They begin nesting early sometime around late March to May, with peak breeding around mid-April, in order to have time to raise young that will also be big birds.
Crows are highly adaptable birds and can be found all over New York City and New Jersey, especially in places with a reliable source of food. Although we most often see crows eat garbage and carrion on the side of the road, the birds also dine on seeds, grains, nuts, berries, and small animals such as worms, mice, fish, clams, and even young songbirds.
During the winter, some crows will migrate south to milder regions where more food is easier to find. Other crows will remain around the harbor to defend nests and nesting territories throughout the year. Crows appear to be monogamous and pairs or pair bonds likely remain strong even within large migratory flocks.
When another breeding season begins, these jet-black birds will come together with other family members to raise a new generation. American crows are intelligent and highly social birds. A breeding pair and their young from the past two years will frequently stay together to forage for food and help raise young. The breeding season is an important time and the whole family cooperates to ensure the success of the nest.
Crows do best in places were there are open fields to find prey and trees nearby where they can nest and roost. Nests are often built 18 to 60 feet above ground in oaks and pines. A nest is typically made of twigs and sticks, and lined with shredded bark, feathers, grass, and string. Both sexes help build the nest and it normally takes about two weeks to build one.
Starting now, look for crows to be carrying nesting material, preening each other, or being involved in brief conflicts with other crows or birds over territory. Listen for the familiar call of “caw, caw,” which might indicate that several crows are struggling over nest sites or attacking hawks or other birds that might fly too close to a nest site.
After eggs are laid, the birds becomes quieter and more secretive, so as to not give away a nest location to potential predators, such as large hawks. The average clutch is 4 to 6 eggs that hatch in about 18 days. Young fledge in about 30 days. The female incubates the eggs and is fed during incubation by the male and other family members.
The American crow is an all-black relative of the blue jay, magpie, and raven. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “the oldest recorded wild American Crow was at least 16 years 4 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in New York. A captive crow in New York lived to be 59 years old.” Most wild crows, however, live between 4 to 6 years.