The Fish Crow is endemic to the southeastern United States and is primarily found in coastal areas. Recently however, it has been expanding its range inland and up river valleys, including along the Mississippi River into Tennessee. The first nests were discovered in the state in 1980. The Fish Crow's breeding range completely overlaps that of the nearly identical American Crow, and is most reliably distinguished by its more nasal call. The Fish Crow is a year round coastal resident from southern Maine to eastern Texas, and inland up the Mississippi and its tributaries to Illinois.
Description: Entirely black, including eye, bill, and feet, with some iridescence on the back. Males and females look alike. Juveniles (June-August) look similar to adults, but head feathers are not glossy, and the inside of the mouth is red.
Weight: 10 oz
Voice: Fish Crow's call sounds like a nasal awh, and the most diagnostic call is a double noted nasal uh-uh. The more familiar American Crow call is often described as caw-caw.
- American Crow looks nearly identical, and while the size and wing shape are slightly different, they are best identified by voice. Fish Crow calls can be confused with the food begging calls of young American Crows (see link below).
Habitat: In Tennessee, Fish Crows are found in bottomland hardwood forests along the Mississippi River and adjacent tributaries, also in residential areas in the vicinity of rivers. See Status below for more info on locations.
Diet: Fish Crows are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of plant and animal foods including carrion, garbage, bird eggs and nestlings, waste grain, and fruit.
Nesting and reproduction: Breeding pairs hold small territories, and once young are able to feed themselves, family groups often congregate at good feeding areas. Rangewide, Fish Crows begin nesting 1 to 2 months later than American Crows and raise only one brood per season.
Clutch Size: Range from 2 to 6 eggs, with 4 to 5 most common.
Incubation: The female alone incubates the eggs for 16 to 18 days, and is fed by the male.
Fledging: The male and female feed the young, which fledge 21 to 40 days after hatching. Family groups may remain together for more than a month after fledging.
Nest: Both male and female build the open cup-nest of sticks, with softer lining material, usually placed high in a tree. Nest heights range from 5.5 to 90 feet above the ground.
Status in Tennessee: Fish Crows did not start breeding in Tennessee until 1980. They are now a locally uncommon permanent resident, widely distributed in open wooded areas in all counties adjoining the Mississippi and its tributaries. They can also be found on the Tennessee River from Nickajack Dam near Chattanooga north (upstream) towards Knoxville (rare in Knoxville). In 2014, a pair was found on Woods Reservoir in Franklin Co.
Dynamic map of Fish Crow eBird observations in Tennessee
- The first recorded sighting of a Fish Crow in Tennessee was in 1931, and the first nest record was in 1980, both in Shelby County. Fish Crows are continuing to expand northward along the Mississippi River.
- The oldest known Fish Crow in the wild was 14 years 6 months old.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Fish Crows are year-round residents of bottomland forests adjacent to the Mississippi, including Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, Chickasaw NWR, Anderson Tully and Moss Island WMAs, and Reelfoot Lake.
For more information:
Fish Crow Identification
Mcgowan, K. J. 2001. Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus), The Birds of North America No. 589 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.