Crows are highly social birds, often seen in pairs or part of larger family groups. They form intense bonds with their chosen mates, bringing food gifts for each other and engaging in mutual preening.
But do these pairings last for just one breeding season, or do crows mate for life? Keep reading as we take a closer look at the courtship and mating habits of crows.
The majority of crows do mate for life, forming strong bonds with a partner bird and raising broods together year after year. However, under certain circumstances, they will also mate with other birds, and are said to be “monogamous but promiscuous.”
Copulations with a different bird to a mate accounts for around 18 percent of all crow broods.
For example, when a male bird has been non-fatally injured, its fertility may be impacted, leading its female partner to mate with another male instead to breed successfully. The female will remain loyally bonded with her original mate, but will be open to “no strings” mating with other males.
Most crows mate for life, forming lifelong strong bonds with their partner
Although rare, it is not unheard of for the bond between a pair of young crows to be broken if breeding attempts are unsuccessful, leaving both the male and female to form new couples before trying again.
Such break-ups do not happen among more mature birds; once a strong adult pairing has formed, then they’ll stay together and demonstrate a sense of deep protective care towards each other.
The vast majority of crows spend their entire adult life (on average 15 years) with the same partner bird, remaining together throughout the year, often within a larger group. Male and female crows share incubation and chick-rearing duties, raising one brood of between 3 and 9 chicks each year.
Keep reading to learn more about the deep bonds that form between pairs of crows, and how crows react when a partner dies.
A pair of Jackdaws foraging for food together
Corvid species are all said to mate for life. Ravens, magpies, jays and jackdaws share this trait, remaining faithful to a chosen partner once they have initially bonded. In all crow species, if a mate dies (both for male and female birds), the remaining partner will seek a new mate to continue breeding in subsequent seasons.
Jackdaws select a mate during the first year of life, and will breed for the first time the following year. They will remain together until one partner dies.
Another corvid that mates for life are magpies, which pair up on reaching maturity during their first year. Breeding may be delayed until the second year, although bonded pairs stay together as part of larger non-breeding flocks.
Ravens form strong bonds with their chosen partner, but like other corvids, will select a new mate in the event of their previous mate dying or disappearing. They maintain their strong bond outside of the breeding season by taking soaring flights together, mutual preening and singing to each other.
After what is an intense and complicated courtship selection process, blue jays remain loyal to a partner until one of the pair dies, sharing nest construction and breeding duties, and bringing gift offerings to each other throughout the year to maintain closely bonded.
Magpies mate for life - usually partners are established during their first year
Crows reach maturity at around two years, but do not usually breed for the first time until the age of 4. Crows follow an elaborate pattern of courtship rituals before pairing up.
In contrast to the noisy cawing most frequently associated with crows, males use a far softer, quieter range of cooing sounds as part of their courtship ritual.
Males attempt to impress females with their plumage, spreading their feathers wide and bowing their heads. Nuzzling against the beak of a potential mate follows, and if the female appears interested, then a series of plunging dives may be performed by the male to show off his flight skills.
Once the female’s seal of approval has been given, a period of mutual courtship follows, with bonded pairs spending time flying together and preening each other. They will then establish a territory together before the physical act of mating finally takes place.
Pair of ravens in courtship
Although crows are generally monogamous, they will seek a new mate if their original partner perishes or is injured and unable to breed. This is true for both male and female crows. Repairing happens quickly after the loss, and there does not appear to be any period of mourning, regardless of how strong their bond was.
Research by Science Focus indicates that crows may indeed be capable of a degree of empathy, and if the ritual of “crow funerals” is anything to go by, they do grieve the death of another crow.
Crows hold a mob “funeral” when they come across the body of any other crow, sounding a loud alarm call to summon any other crows that might be nearby. The noisy gang of “mourners” gathers for a short while before dispersing.
Rather than actually being grief-related, many theories suggest such events are actually a way of communicating a potentially dangerous location to other crows.
No evidence exists to support whether this reaction is especially strong or different in any way when it is the loss of a mate, as opposed to the death of any other crow.
A somewhat unsavory element of these crow mourning rituals is frequent interaction of other crows with the corpse. Pair of crows have been observed mate on top of, or next to, the body of the deceased crow.
On occasions, male crows have been seen attempting to mount a crow’s corpse, and females were also noted to display pre-copulation behavior around the dead crow.
Crows hold mob funerals, where they will summon nearby crows with calls
No evidence exists of female crows mating with each other. From a distance, it is hard to tell the difference between female and male crows, based on appearance alone. However, if you do happen to see a pair of crows engaging in mating behavior, it will always be a male-female pair.
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