Saturday, January 21, 2017

Episode 352 (1-23-17): Fish Crow

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:33)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 1-20-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of January 23, 2017.

SOUND – ~ 2 sec

This week, we feature another mystery sound.   Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess what’s making these calls.  And here’s a hint: what might you get if you combined fins with feathers in large, calling flocks?

SOUNDS - ~19 sec

If you guessed Fish Crows, you’re right!  The Fish Crow is one of four species of crows that live in North America, along with two species of ravens, similarly black-colored but larger birds that can be confused with crows. T wo species of crows are found in Virginia—the very common and well-known American Crow, and the slightly smaller Fish Crow.  Fish Crows look so much like American Crows, however, that the best way to distinguish them is the difference between each species’ basic call.  Have another listen for a few seconds to the Fish Crow’s basic two-note call, followed by the basic one-note call of the American Crow.

SOUNDS – ~ 3 sec

Historically, Fish Crows were primarily found near beaches, marshes, rivers, and other water bodies along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.  But over the past few decades the species has expanded inland and into more northern areas, particularly near water and near human structures that offer food, such as fishing piers, garbage containers, and agricultural fields.  Like other crows, Fish Crows will eat many kinds of food, including crabs and other marine invertebrates, turtle eggs, bird eggs and nestlings, carrion, trash, fruit, grain, and anything they can steal from other birds, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.   Other generally crow-like behaviors shown by Fish Crows include making a variety of sounds; gathering in flocks of hundreds or thousands during non-breeding times to feed and roost; forming mobs to drive away hawks and other predators; and displaying remarkable curiosity about objects they find.

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.   In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sounds of the Fish Crow and American Crow were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,


Above: A Fish Crow with a broken wing being treated in November-December 2016 at the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro (  Photo used with permission of the Wildlife Center.  The story of this bird’s rehabilitation, “Fish Crow #16-2468,” is available online at

Above: Segments of the Fish Crow painting done in the 1830s by John James Audubon in Birds of America (plate CXLVI [146]), as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York.  Upper photo is the male, lower is the female.  Photos taken January 23, 2017, from the reprint copy (no. 6 of 350 copies printed in 1985) owned by Special Collections of Virginia Tech Libraries.  Virginia Water Radio thanks Special Collections for permission to photograph their copy and for their assistance. 


Used for Audio

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at (subscription required).

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, “eBird” Web site, “Identification Pitfalls–Crows and Ravens,” March 22, 2011.

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md. (2006).

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y. (2001).

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at; link for Fish Crow; link for American Crow; link for Common Raven.

For More Information about Birds

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Bird Academy/Caw vs. Croak: Inside the Calls of Crows and Ravens,” 2 min./58 sec. video, online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird.  Information is available online at

Virginia Society of Ornithology: online at  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site at  This site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

A previous episode featuring the sounds of American Crows is Episode 309 (3-28-16): A Pondside Temperature Tale.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.10- impacts on survival of species.
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 - ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.

Life Science Course
LS.4 - organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.10 - changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs, which become effective in the 2017-18 school year:

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at