Imagine you’re on a road trip and you spot some road kill beside the highway.
Suddenly, a crow swoops down and picks it up, flying away as fast as it came. This might lead you to wonder, what do crows eat?
Crows eat a wide variety of food. Being an omnivore, they will literally eat almost anything. Their dietary restrictions are fairly minimal, leading them to eat many things like seeds, grains, mice & dead animals, small fish, reptiles and even other birds.
The Crow has a wide and diverse diet. While many people just associate them with eating meat scraps on the side of the road, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Here we’ll go over the extremely dynamic diet of crows and why their preferred foods actually change from place to place, even at different times of year.
Crow Diets Linked To Habitat
Before we dive into the crow’s main diet & preferred food sources, we need to take a quick look at where crows actually live.
It’s important to realize that setting and habitat goes a long way towards determining the specific diet for any kind of bird, but this is especially true for crows.
Crows are what’s known as “habitat generalists”. This means their habitat is widely variable & diverse.
Unlike some birds that require very specific conditions to survive, many crows can successfully live almost everywhere from urban areas with minimal vegetation, all the way to dense forests.
Because of this widely diverse range, the specific diets they eat in different habitats can be quite different depending on what’s available.
Urban Areas (Living Among Humans)
While human civilization has been a major destructive force to the habitats of countless species, some species like crows actually benefit from our presence.
This is an interesting fact!
Crows enjoy the mixture of open human landscapes dotted with trees & parks to nest in, and human settlements provide a reliable source of food even in winter.
However – This also means that many crows are living in situations that create a different type of diet from it’s original native habitat.
By steadily immersing itself in the environment of humans, they expose themselves to new forms of food. When crows live in human environments like cities and parks, their diet actually changes.
Instead of feasting mostly on insects and wild foods of more wild landscapes, crows living in the city or near people will tend to rely more on worms and garbage, which isn’t always ideal.
In many human environments, crows are considered pests and this is one reason why I typically do NOT encourage people to feed crows.
They really don’t need our help to survive, and feeding them can increase their populations, thereby putting increased pressure on other more sensitive bird species.
A More Natural Setting
In more natural wilderness areas, crows enjoy diverse and mixed landscapes, with plenty of trees and cover, but also open areas.
They do live in forests and even campgrounds, but they tend to prefer mixed landscapes.
As a result, in natural settings you’ll notice crow populations are much lower, and in true wilderness areas there tends to be much more competition with Ravens.
While their population in these situations might be less, this more diverse landscape also gives crows the ability to eat more natural foods.
Here they will likely become more predatory and spend more time hunting for small insects & amphibians or even eggs from other birds nesting in the area.
This is much different from a city environment diet, although crows definitely still steal plenty of eggs in the city.
Many natural settings also provides a completely different diet structure for another reason: Marine life. Living near rivers and streams, even beaches, is wildly popular amongst many species of crow.
Having the ability to include marine life in their diet makes a huge difference to what they focus on eating.
Ever changing fish possibilities and shore dwelling options can dramatically increase the diversity of the crow’s diet, making them less dependant on humans.
While crows routinely devour food found on the surface layer like dead animals & nuts, they’re also quite good at finding food buried in the soil.
Sometimes this is live food, and sometimes other types.
While foraging the Earth’s soil for food, crows tend to feast on worms and seeds.
Being able to fly down and grab a worm or any seeds buried in the dirt makes this a much easier and more reliable meal than having to find carrion or steal bird eggs.
Fruit & Grains
Crows are extremely well known for being scavengers at heart.
If there’s one word to best describe how crows approach gathering their daily food, it’s that they’re opportunistic.
This means they focus on whatever opportunities are easiest & most available in a given situation.
(This is actually a big part of what makes crows so intelligent as we’ll discuss in a later section.)
At certain times of year, particularly summer & fall, the biggest opportunity is often fruit and grains.
Fruit is easy for them to swoop down and grab.
Since grains grow from the earth, there’s little danger for crows to acquire these things. They don’t have to worry so much about being chased off by hawks and eagles when going after plant based foods.
Therefore fruit is a consistent notch in the crow diet. Wild berries are easy to take, but it’s not only wild berries or other fruits in the natural habitat.
More populated environments like towns and cities provide great opportunities for families of crows. Sometimes fruit is thrown out and ends up in landfills. This is prime & easy picking.
Eating fruit and other food out of trash provides a safe and reliable food source for crows as its usually risk free to get to. However, the danger of ingesting something non edible like stones is always there.
When this happens, crows will simply sift through the inedible material in their stomach and bring it up in little pellets.
We’ve established that crows are first and foremost opportunistic scavengers, but this doesn’t mean they don’t also hunt for food.
When it comes to hunting, crows are not nearly as fast & agile as true aerial predators like hawks or owls, so they are not well known for hunting mammals or adult birds.
(Though given the right opportunity they probably could occasionally catch something small like a mouse or vole)
Instead, you’re much more likely to find crows hunting for smaller types of animals like insects, frogs & salamanders, or young birds (particularly bird eggs).
Reptiles are also firmly in the realm of the crow diet. Hunting lizards and snakes is common.
Crows will tend to hunt from above, watching carefully and then swooping down to strike when the time is right.
These easily catchable critters tend to dwell near rivers and streams, but also can be found in urban areas. Making them a staple food in various settings.
The most notable example of crow hunting of course is with younger birds. Newborn birds present an easy prey for the hunting crow.
Crows are well known to raid nests and it’s a big part of their opportunistic diet during spring, with many songbirds having very specific patterns of alarm that can help you spot hunting crows.
A Quick List Of Favoured Crow Foods:
Here’s a recap of some favourite foods of crows covered so far…
- Nuts, seeds, grains
- Fruits & Berries
- Insects, worms
- Frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards
- Dead animals, road kill
- Bird eggs & possibly nestlings
- Fish stolen from Ospreys & Eagles
- Other forage-able marine life
- Pretty much anything nutritious they find opportunistically
More Facts On Crow Feeding Habits
The feeding habits of crows are quite interesting to study in more depth.
Numerous observations cite a method by which an American crow consumes it’s food by dumping the food into water before consumption.
This is actually similar to a feeding behavior displayed by another highly intelligent omnivore – raccoons!
Many people appreciate crows for their intelligence and ability to adapt in widely versatile living conditions.
However because of this incredible adaptability, crows have also been known to destroy farms and are commonly labeled as a pest.
It’s important to be informed and sensitive to the wide variety of relationships humans hold with crows.
In some places crows are valued for their ability to control harmful insect populations, which actually helps farmers.
In other cases, crows can and will do significant damage to crops (and the livelihoods of farmers) when presented with the right opportunity.
Many farmers therefore take to tactics to deter crows from destroying profitable crops.
This could includes spreading cheaper seeds and grains, around their crops, hoping the crows take to the easier to eat seeds instead of the stocks of corn or other vegetables.
Other common ways of deterring crows are noise makers that produce loud sounds on a timer. And in some places even active hunting of crows is permitted.
Crows Compared to Pigeons
Sometimes the best way to understand just how unique crows are is by comparing them to other birds like the common pigeon.
Both crows & pigeons can be found thriving in urban habitats, but ultimately their strategies for survival acquiring food have certain key differences.
The difference with crows really comes down to intelligence, and this sets them apart from almost all other birds in the animal kingdom.
As discussed before, the varying diet of the Crow not only makes it a skilled predator and scavenger, but ultimately it means crows are omnivores.
This means crows eat both plants and meat, which gives them access to a wider range of nutrition.
Pigeons and most other birds are much more simple and restricted in their diet compared to crows, eating mostly seeds, grains or berries.
While crows will certainly eat these foods as well, they use very different strategies for actually acquiring the nourishment food.
Pigeons have an incredibly simple feeding strategy that basically involves wandering around and picking up whatever is there.
Crows are much more active and intelligent about their approach to acquiring food.
They have very analytical brains, and can think critically about which foods will provide the greatest benefit for the least amount of effort.
The similarity between these birds lays in the fact that they eat some of the same food i.e. seeds, grains and berries.
But the vast diet of crows around the world makes it nearly impossible to list everything they eat as it could very well include anything edible.
This is the nature of being an omnivore, and like many other fascinating things about crows, it makes the crow a very unique bird.
Debra Spinetta says
I have crows that come into my birdbath in my yard frequently. The past few days every morning there are a pile of feathers right by my birdbath. Yes it’s likely that the crows are sitting in the tree above the birdbath waiting for easy marks as in doves and Blue Jays? The feathers to me looks like probably dove feathers although I do have a number of smaller birds even like sparrows that come to my feeders and birdbath. I’m trying to figure out how to stop the carnage in the evenings or early mornings.