What Is a Group of Crows Called?

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: April 27, 2023
© Bruce A Clifton/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points:

  • The American crow is a large black bird with brown eyes, glossy feathers, and a distinctive call that sounds like, “caw.”
  • These extremely social birds live in cooperative family groups called a “murder.” This unfortunate label was given by fearful English people who believed the birds to be a bad omen.
  • Crows are one of the most intelligent creatures on Earth with intellects that are equal to great apes. They possess amazing memories and the ability to pass on information and to use and devise tools.

An American crow is a species of bird that belongs to the Corvidae family. It is native to North America and is one of the most common birds in the United States. But I bet there are a few things you don’t know about the American crow. Let’s find out!

What Do They Look Like?

The American crow is a black bird with brown eyes and glossy feathers that can be found throughout Canada and the United States. It can be recognized by its loud, distinctive call, which is referred to as a “caw.” It is sometimes confused with the common raven. However, ravens are bigger and have a different bill, pointer wings, and a raspier cry.

American crow
The American crow is one of the most common birds in the United States.


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What is a Group of Crows Called?

A group of crows is known as a “murder,” and this name dates back to the days when English people believed that crows were bad omens. American crows typically live in family groups, with a breeding pair helping to build nests in spring or summer where four or five eggs are laid. After about five weeks, these young birds begin learning how to fly and catch their own dinner. Interestingly, some of them stay near the place they were born so that they can help raise other young crows too. This behavior has been observed for many years now, and it goes to show just how social these birds really are!

A group of crows is called a murder
A group of crows is called a “murder” which is a name that dates back to the days when English people believed that crows were bad omens.

©iStock.com/Karel Bock

They Form Enormous Winter Flocks

Winter roosting is a behavior observed in crows when they gather in large groups late in the day. This usually takes place near areas with tall trees, providing them protection from predators and elements. During winter months, these flocks of crows can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of birds! The largest winter flock ever counted contained 200,000 birds! That is one big murder!

When they get together during this time of year, it’s quite a sight to behold as their numbers create an almost mesmerizing dark cloud hovering over one area. It’s thought that these gatherings are more than just for protection and warmth, though. Some experts believe that the crow “conversations” may be complex social interactions between members of the flock.

They May Be Smarter Than Us

Recent studies reveal the impressive intelligence and social tendencies of crows. Disregard any biased thoughts you may have of these birds and prepare to be amazed. Crows and ravens are some of the most intelligent creatures in existence, as smart as chimpanzees. For example, the New Caledonian crow is renowned for its tool use abilities. American crows have been seen using tools like dipping a cup in water to moisten food and pulling off a splinter of wood from a handrail to attempt to catch prey.

Members of the corvid family, such as crows, magpies, and ravens, have been seen using tools and recalling the faces of people whom they either like or dislike. Two crows were seen cooperating at a train station’s water fountain, with one pushing the button with its beak while the other drank the water that came out. This demonstrates how intelligent these birds can be.

Studies have demonstrated that crows can think through problems they are faced with. This is usually a trait associated with the cerebral cortex in the human brain. But, birds do not have a cerebral cortex. Scientists have discovered that in crows, thinking is carried out in the pallium, which is a layer that covers the upper part of the cerebrum in vertebrates. This finding is revolutionary and upturns everything we know about the brain!

Previous beliefs were that the brains of birds were too small for higher intelligence, but recent research has disproved this. Crows have around 1.5 billion neurons, similar to some monkey species, but because these neurons are more densely packed, their communication is improved, and their overall level of intelligence is closer to that of apes like gorillas.

American crows are very smart
Crows and ravens are some of the most intelligent creatures in existence.


They Eat Just About Anything

Crows have been observed using their intelligence to find food sources in creative ways. They’ve been known to dig pits for clams, trick otters so they can steal their fish, drop nuts on rocks to open them, and even steal pet food from outdoor bowls. In addition to carrion, American crows also eat other birds’ eggs and crops like corn or wheat. They’re highly adaptable creatures that will take what they can get without hesitation — they’ll scavenge for scraps if necessary and won’t turn down a free meal.

Crows have not been very popular in the past due to their thieving of crops, so in the 1930s, an attempt was made to reduce their numbers by promoting them as a meal. A man in Oklahoma hosted events to make people think of crows as food, but it did not take off and ended by the early 1940s. Lucky for the crows!

An experiment conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Washington was an eye-opening demonstration of how crows can remember past events and hold grudges. By capturing a small group of American crows in nets while wearing a scary mask, they were able to show that more than ten years later, when the same researchers walked across campus wearing this same mask, these birds would immediately recognize it and respond with hostility – screeching and attacking them. It’s quite remarkable that after all this time had passed, more than half of the crows still remembered what had happened previously and reacted out of anger or fear. This shows just how powerful their memories are and how long they can last – generations even!

Crows are very social and family-oriented animals, which explains how they are able to pass along information like this to other members of the flock. During the day, they will often flock to dumpsters and farms. During winter, their numbers can reach up to two million. Families of crows can have up to five generations of members, with older members helping their parents with nest building, cleaning, and feeding the mother when she is sitting on the nest. Humans can benefit from this communal learning by observing the behavior of crows.

American crows are creative when it comes to food
Crows have been observed using their intelligence to find food sources in creative ways.


They Hold Funerals

When an American crow sees the body of a dead crow, it caws loudly to alert other crows nearby. Together, they gather around the corpse and have a loud conversation. If only we knew what they were saying!

It is believed that by gathering around the dead crow, crows can determine what happened to it and how they should act in similar circumstances. This knowledge may help them avoid potential threats in the future. Researchers have also observed American crows performing a ritualistic behavior when discovering another of their species deceased, which looks similar to mourning behavior. However, this could be for the purpose of gaining information about possible dangers instead of showing true grief or sorrow for their lost companion. By “scouting” out situations where other crows have died, they are able to gain insight into predators and hazardous locations so that they know what areas need to be avoided in order to stay safe from danger.

They Are Growing in Number

The American crow’s intelligence and adaptability helped them thrive in the Anthropocene, and they are still doing so today. Over the past four decades, they have seen a significant increase in population, with BirdLife International estimating there to be around 31 million in 2012. This rise in numbers has made them one of the five most common bird species in the United States. What makes them remarkable is not only their high population count but their ability to successfully breed and build roosts in urban areas.

It is not a new phenomenon that crows are leaving their rural winter roosts and settling in cities and towns, which has been occurring since the 1960s. Not only is this happening in the US, but it is happening worldwide, with many species of corvids becoming successful due to urbanization. This family of birds, which has been nicknamed the “Avian Einsteins” for their intelligence, seem to have an affinity for city life, though we are still unsure why. It is believed that the abundance of food available in cities contributes to this, as crows are not picky eaters and will eat both their natural and human-provided foods.

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The Featured Image

Crow perched on a post in sunshine
Crow perched on a post in sunshine
© Bruce A Clifton/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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