Can Crows Talk? (And 5 Other Things You Didn’t Know About Crows)

A carrion crow perched on a branch.

Written by Laura Dorr

Published: February 24, 2024

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Crows are not quiet birds. You’ve probably heard their loud “caws” echoing around your neighborhood. But what are crows trying to say? Humans may never be able to fully translate their vocalizations.

But what if crows could communicate with humans — by talking like one? Let’s take a look at whether or not crows can talk with people, and other cool facts about these chatty birds.

1. Can Crows Talk? Sort of!

This pied crow has a lot to say!

Crows, like other corvids such as magpies and ravens, can imitate human speech and other noises if they are exposed to them enough. In addition to repeating words, they can also mimic specific voices.

Although crows can say words, they do not understand their meaning and are not actually “speaking” with people. However, it’s pretty strange to hear a crow greeting a human with a friendly “hello!”

2. A Crow’s Call Can Mean Many Different Things

Two crows fighting.

Crows are highly social and communicate through sounds and behaviors.

While crows may not understand what they are saying to people, they do have a wide range of vocalizations to communicate with one another. Crows don’t make noise just to annoy the neighborhood; instead, they are vocalizing to chat with other crows. In addition to their loud caw, crows also use clicks, rattles, screeches, and different vocalization patterns to get messages across.

Crow calls are divided into two categories: contextual and non-contextual. Contextual calls are vocalizations that the crow makes in response to an environmental factor. For example, a crow caws loudly and more rapidly when they detect a predator or threat. The bigger the threat, the louder the crow gets.

Non-contextual calls are calls that aren’t triggered by something else. A crow may emit a rattling noise to self-soothe, or to communicate intimately with another familiar crow. The American crows also vocalize when they find food, or to scold other crows when they are displeased. Separate groups of crows have different “dialects,” and may use similar sounds to mean different things.

3. Crows Like to Play Pranks

American crow eating

Crows are omnivores and opportunists and eat a wide range of foods.

Corvids are nature’s pranksters, and they enjoy teasing other animals and one another. Crows have been known to lock people into structures, provoke cats into fighting one another, or yank on people’s hair or dog’s tails just for fun. Crows also just enjoy having a good time and often participate in “purposeless activities,” seemingly just for fun. This includes rolling in snow, doing aerial tricks, hiding inedible objects through play caching, “talking” to themselves, and hanging off of branches upside down.

4. Crows Are Great Problem Solvers

American carrying off a stick to use for catching prey in a hole.

These clever birds use sticks to fish items out of holes they can’t reach into.

Crows are highly intelligent and have big brains (in fact, they have one of the highest brain-to-body size ratios of any avian species). This allows crows to problem solve like people. In fact, crows may be smarter than children. In experiments with captive crows, researchers discovered that crows understand water displacement, a concept that most human children do not master until they are around seven years old.

These savvy birds also use (and make) tools to get food. New Caledonia crows in particular are well-known for their advanced use of sticks to reach things that they want. They have even been recorded bending wire into hooks to lift items out of hard-to-reach places.

5. They Don’t Have Much Patience

These crows have had enough of a puzzle they can’t solve. Playtime is over.

Crows become impatient and frustrated when a challenge is too difficult. During training sessions with captive crows, birds that were unable to solve a puzzle tipped the entire thing over, threw pieces away, or otherwise refused to engage. Essentially, they threw a hissy fit. Crows can also remember specific faces and hold grudges against people who have frustrated them in the past.

6. Teenage Crows Are Good Babysitters

Nesting crow hatching, laying, sitting on the eggs

Crows incubate their eggs for 18-20 days.

Usually, where there is one crow, there will be more. These birds are highly social and enjoy spending time with other crows. Crows are usually monogamous and mate for life. Babies may stick around and form social groups with their parents and are sometimes even recruited for babysitting. Juvenile crows will assist the parents with chick-rearing, helping to defend the nest, and bringing food to the babies. One study found that up to 80% of crow parents received a helping hand (or wing) from a younger crow.

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About the Author

Laura Dorr is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife. Laura has been writing about various topics for over 15 years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English Composition from Cleveland State University. She is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator specializing in mammal neonates. A resident of Ohio, Laura enjoys running, caring for wild animals, and spending time with her horde of cats.

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