Carrion crow: the bird profiles


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

Can you tell the difference between a crow and rook? And how can you support crows in your garden? Here’s everything you should know about the carrion crow.

A carrion crow perches
Carrion crows are a clever bird [Photo: Rudmer Zwerver/]

The carrion crow (Corvus corone) is one of our more familiar corvids. With jet-black plumage and a hoarse call, the crow can paint a rather sinister picture. In fact, carrion crows are extremely intelligent, capable of distinguishing between one another individually and recalling human faces. Read on to find out more about this fascinating corvid, and how it differs from a rook.

Carrion crow: key facts

SizeAbout 44-51cm
WeightAbout 400-700g
Breeding seasonApril-May
LifespanApproximately 15 years
HabitatOpen and semi-open land, parks and gardens
Food preferencesInsects and other small animals, carrion, seeds, nuts, etc.
ThreatsDecline in natural habitat and displacement

How to recognise the carrion crow

Fifty centimetres long and with jet-black, glossy plumage, the carrion crow is both impressive and imposing. Crows spend much of their time around people, and are unafraid of us even at a few metres. In fact, you may spot one watching you with attentive and intelligent eyes.

Unfortunately, male and female carrion crows are indistinguishable.

Carrion crow stands on a tree
Carrion crows are uniformly black

How to recognise a young carrion crow

Young carrion crows are not as elegant as their parents. Their plumage is tinged brown and lacks the adult’s sheen. Their eyes turn brown with age, but, for a time, are bright blue and starkly contrast with the lacklustre plumage.

How to recognise a carrion crow egg

Female carrion crows lay between 3 and 6 green-blue eggs per clutch, each about 4cm long and covered in dark speckles. The eggs sit in an elaborate, cup-shaped nest, made from several layers of small twigs, stalks and clay, that is padded with hair and feathers.

Four carrion crow eggs
Carrion crows are green-blue [Photo: Vishnevskiy Vasily/]

How to tell the difference between carrion crows and rooks

For the inexperienced, distinguishing between carrion crows and rooks can be difficult. In fact, they are very often grouped under the term ‘crow’. However, once you know what to look out for, spotting the difference between these two corvids is trivial. The clearest difference is at the beak. The base of a rook’s beak is bare, which makes it look bright and large. While the base of a carrion crow’s beak is lined with black feathers.

A rook
Unlike the carrion crow, the base of a rook’s beak is bare [Photo: CezaryKorkosz/]

Note: There are two other common species that resemble the carrion crow. The first, the hooded crow, is easily distinguished by its grey and black plumage.

Hooded crow
Hooded crows are much easier to spot [Photo: R. Maximiliane/]

The second, the raven, is a little harder to tell apart. Rarer and completely black, the raven is characterised by its large stature and strong, curved beak.

Carrion crow stands
Carrion crows are one of the largest crows [Photo: WildlifeWorld/]

What is the perfect habitat for carrion crows?

Carrion crows are not picky about where they nest. Preferring land that is broken up with tree groves, hedgerows and woodland, the intelligent birds settle just as well in urban areas including parks, gardens and large cities. They do tend to avoid dense forests, however.

Where do carrion crows build their nests?

Carrion crows are meticulous builders, and construct extremely stable, open nests in tall trees. Despite the investment, however, the crows rarely reuse their nests. Fortunately, their care and attention doesn’t go to waste. Other bird species, like the long-eared owl and the kestrel, make good use of any abandoned crow nests.

Carrion crow nest
 Carrion crows build free-standing nests [Photo: David James Chatterton/]

When is breeding season for carrion crows?

Carrion crows normally raise just 1 brood between April and May. The female incubates the eggs for about 20 days, while her partner provides her with food and defends the nest from intruders. After hatching, the young birds remain in the nest and are provided with food by their parents for up to 30 days, before they make their first attempts to fly.

Note: Year old carrions sometimes help their parents raise their younger siblings.

Where do carrion crows spend winter?

Carrion crows are resident birds. They spend the whole year in their breeding grounds, roaming barren landscapes in search of food. The corvids can also be seen in gardens and at feeding stations, where they are known to aggressively defend food from other birds.

Carrion crow stands in snow
Carrion crows have no trouble with winter

What does a carrion crow’s song sound like?

The song of the carrion crow is rarely heard. It consists of a restless, chatty whistle. Much more common and characteristic, however, is its call, which booms through the landscape with a deep ‘Graaah’.

Help the carrion crow!

You can help these wonderfully intelligent birds by attracting them to your garden. Read on to find out about the carrion crow’s favourite meals and how best to support them.

What do carrion crows eat?

Crows are omnivores. In the summer months they predominantly feed on insects and other small animals. In winter, they switch to plant-based foods, such as walnuts, berries and seeds. Unsurprisingly, carrion crows also feed on carrion, disposing of road-kill and reducing waste!

At feeding stations, carrions prefer large seeds and nuts.

Note: Carrion crows can be very aggressive at feeding stations. As such, it is a good idea to set up a more sheltered bird feeder, away from the main one. Place this secondary feeder in a tree and songbirds will make good use of it, undisturbed by the antics of the much larger corvids.

Carrion crow holds a nut in its beak
Carrion crows feed on nuts in winter

Which birdhouses are suitable for carrion crows?

Traditional birdhouses, though perfect for jackdaws and great tits, are not suitable for carrion crows. The corvid will instead look for a tall tree. If you have one, avoid thinning it too much, as dense vegetation helps protect free-standing nests.

How can I support carrion crows even more?

Carrion crows have long been persecuted and driven away by humans. They are often considered agricultural pests, and are unwelcome in many gardens. And it is true that they are cunning nest robbers who can endanger smaller songbirds. However, this is their nature, and has little long-term impact on the smaller birds in comparison to our destruction of the natural environment. A little open-mindedness and respect for the intelligent crows will do a world of good and help maintain the natural behaviours of corvids and songbirds alike.

Another crow that has long been considered a thief is the magpie. However, there is more to the magpie’s story! Get to know this garden bird a little better in our next species portrait.