There are some 45 species of crows in the Corvus genus which includes rooks, ravens and crows. With broad, stout and powerful beaks, crows are certainly not known to be picky eaters, so what do crows eat?
All species of crows are flexible, opportunistic feeders that will consume just about anything ranging from insects, invertebrates and meat from animals or carrion, as well as all types of nuts, seeds, vegetables and other plant matter.
With their large, thick bills, crows will tuck into just about any meal available to them. This includes other birds, including baby birds and bird eggs. Many crows are excellent hunters too, but they generally prefer to feed opportunistically.
Read on to discover more about the feeding habits of these intelligent and curious birds!
A crow foraging on the grass
Given that there are some 45 species of crows (also including rooks and ravens), this does vary hugely between region to region and species to species. Broadly speaking, however, crows are exceptionally versatile and flexible feeders.
For example, the Carrion Crow, a very common species of crow, consumes carrion as well as many types of insects, worms, small mammals and plant matter. Some crows, such as Hooded crows, also have a liking for fish and shellfish and are observed dropping crabs and shellfish from a height to crack their shells.
In general, crows consume at least the following foods:
Small animals and birds; lizards, amphibians, rodents, etc, both alive and as carrion
Seeds, nuts and legumes
Vegetables, flowers, bulbs and other plant matter
Insects, earthworms and other invertebrates
Fish, shellfish and molluscs
Human scraps and leftovers
Crows are certainly not bad at hunting either. The Large-Billed crow is an expert hunter of lizards whereas American crows and New Caledonian crows have been observed using tools to pry grubs from logs. This is indicative of the high intelligence of birds from the Corvid family.
A Carrion Crow eating seeds off the ground
The main change to a crow’s diet during winter is a shift from insects to plant matter. Insects become more scarce in the winter, though crows do spend some time digging them up from the grass or dirt.
Their diet will shift to accommodate more grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Scavenging human leftovers will also become increasingly important and many crows will frequent bird feeders and bird tables in the winter too.
Baby crows need extremely soft foods in their first two or so weeks. The parents will firstly regurgitate food into the chicks’ mouths, which is a very common practice amongst omnivorous birds. After a week or so, the chicks will also be fed soft grubs, maggots and partially digested food.
Crow parents feeding newly hatched baby crows in the nest
All species of crows are omnivores, though some lean towards being more herbivorous and others lean towards being more carnivorous.
For example, The Fish crow is one such crow that prefers a more meaty diet, feeding upon living and stranded or dead fish, crustaceans and shellfish. The Australian Raven is also largely carnivorous. The Cuban crow, conversely, feeds almost solely on fruits and nuts.
Overall, crows are flexible, adaptable omnivores and tend to eat whatever they need to to survive.
Crows shouldn’t be overfed on bread or processed foods. Like other birds, crows should also not consume mouldy food. Foods high in salt and sugar are also not ideal for crows or other birds. Bread should be kept to a minimum when feeding birds - opt for grains, seeds and vegetable or plant foods instead.
A Hooded Crow with bread - Crows will happily take bread, however, it should be kept to a minimum and opting for grains or seeds is much better for them
Unsalted, unflavoured peanuts are a firm favourite of crows. In fact, some recommend giving crows peanuts to provoke them to give gifts in return.
Crows have been widely observed to bring humans ‘gifts’ - usually pieces of shiny material, plastic, glass and stones - in receipt of food. This young girl from Seattle has amassed a vast collection of crow gifts in return for peanuts and other energy-rich foods.
Many crows could feasibly hunt squirrels, especially younger squirrels or those that are injured, unwell or already dead. Hunting a live, fully grown adult squirrel would probably be quite difficult for most crows.
American Crow siblings fighting over food
It is common for crows to eat other birds. Crows are well-known for killing other birds, particularly nestlings and fledglings. Magpies (from the same family as crows and closely related) have quite a reputation for preying on baby birds.
Crows are also known to mob other birds, including baby birds. Whilst this seems brutal and merciless, it is relatively common amongst birdlife and much other wildlife.
Crows and other Corvids are well-known to eat baby birds, both as fledglings and nestlings. If crows locate an unattended bird’s nest, they are certainly prone to eating the baby birds and eggs. This does vary between species of crows, however.
Whilst crows consume other baby birds opportunistically; they likely won’t actively seek them out. Crows will rarely lack food, and there are usually easier meals available.
A flock of Hooded Crows foraging for food together
Crows regularly eat mice and many other small rodents and mammals. Whilst crows are capable hunters, they’re not so specialised in hunting fast-moving prey such as mice. They will still feed on them opportunistically, however.
It’d be very difficult for most crows to hunt an adult rabbit, and they are not specialised to catch fast-moving prey. Crows have been observed to gang up on larger birds and animals (known as mobbing), in which case killing a rabbit is possible. It’s much more likely that crows would eat either sick or injured rabbits, or dead rabbits as carrion.
Corn has a solid nutritional profile for birds and crows will certainly eat it if it’s present in their territories.
Eurasian Jay feeding on corn
It’s not illegal to feed crows, but it is illegal to poison them in the UK and US at least. There have been rare cases of fines being issued for bird feeding in the UK, either when it causes a public nuisance or is otherwise antisocial.
One woman in Glamorgan was fined £3,000 after a court found her guilty for breaching a community protection notice that restricted her excessive feeding of birds.
All species of crows in the US are omnivorous. The American crow is known for its particularly flexible diet, which mainly includes carrion, insects, invertebrates, seeds, fruits - pretty much anything they can get, due to their scavenging nature.
The Australian Raven is one of the more carnivorous species of crows, feeding largely upon small rodents and mammals, lizards, shellfish, insects and invertebrates.
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