It’s usually the middle of March when I first hear and see fish crows each year. Oh, I sometimes hear the single calls of one or two of the somewhat migratory crows in the first couple of weeks of March, but it’s mid March when bands of the crows start moving through. Groups of the birds come bouncing through the sky, their nasal calls filling the air. They seem to be having fun, happy to be back from wherever it was they were for the last several months. They were very noticeable on March 17th of this year.
The slightly larger American crows are with us all year. Fish crows depart sometime in September or October. They don’t go far. In fact, if you look at a range map for fish crows it will show that they are here in our area year round. Perhaps a few are, but the bulk of the birds shift habitats and move either to our coast or the Gulf Coast.
So, what’s the difference between fish crows and regular crows? As mentioned, fish crows are slightly smaller than American crows. The size difference, however, is often very difficult to determine, even when the birds are side by side. The fish crow’s wing shape is a bit more pointed than the American crow due to the length of certain feathers near the tips of the wings. That too, is not easy to determine without some practice. There are other more subtle differences, but again, it takes experience to differentiate the two species.
So how do I know that the birds I saw and heard on Saint Paddy’s Day were fish crows and not the standard variety? The call. The fish crow sounds as if it has a cold, or, as if it were pinching its nose as it calls.
Try it yourself. Say the word caw. Then pinch you nose, and say it again. Can you hear the difference?
Here’s the calls, courtesy Bird Watcher’s Digest.
The American crow call amcr
Now, here’s the fish crow ficr
See, it’s easy, isn’t it. Sometimes, the two can sound very similar, but when the birds are calling they usually keep calling and you will most likely hear the signature call of each in the end.
Oh, one more thing, someone once suggested, as the birds are flying overhead, and calling, look up at them and ask, “are you American crows?” If they answer, “Uh-uh,” they’re fish crows.