The Carrion Crow is an all-black, medium-sized crow which is common across Britain, except for northern Scotland. It is also common throughout much of western and southern Europe.
Although absent from Ireland, northern Scotland and Scandinavia, the Carrion Crow is replaced in these areas by a very close relative, the Hooded Crow. The range of the Hooded Crow extends from Ireland, through northern Scandinavia to Russia and beyond. To complicate things further, hybrids are also found in parts of the range where the two forms overlap.
Both species favour open areas of farmland, woodlands, hills, cliffs and moorland, but they are equally at home in city parks and gardens.
Carrion Crows have a heavy black bill, a round forehead and flattish crown, and a square tail and are generally fairly compact-looking birds compared with the more angular Rook. Hooded Crows are structurally identical, but are instantly recognised by their ‘pseudo’ pied plumage.
Adult Hooded Crows show black on the head, breast, wings and tail. The rest of the plumage is battleship-grey, which when seen in flight can present a very striking image. On a close view, you may be able to see the very fine black streaks on the underwing, upper breast, mantle and flanks.
The plumage of the Carrion Crow is entirely black, with a hint of purple gloss. The chance of confusion with young Rooks is high, but note the heftier, rounder bill of the Carrion Crow, ‘shorts’ rather than ‘trousers’ (feather coverage of the leg) and a squarer tail. Listen out for the call, a loud, hard ‘kraa’, the archetypal ‘crow’ call in fact.
When seen in flight, the square-ended tail and the distinctive bulge along the rear edge of the wing will easily separate the Carrion Crow from other members of the crow family. Some birds, such as the one on the left, can show some silvery tones on the wings and tail. When soaring, the tail looks rounded.
The calls of the various members of the crow family are another big clue to identification. The Jackdaw has a fairly high-pitched ‘ke-ya’ or a repeated, metallic ‘chak’. Amongst its repertoire the Rook has a familiar long, drawn-out ‘kaa-aa’. This Carrion Crow is caught in familiar pose, body and head held horizontally whilst giving its ‘caw’, more raucous than the Rook’s, and lower-pitched.
The Carrion Crow is a particularly opportunistic feeder, with a remarkably well-balanced diet! It is quite happy to feed on fruit and grain as well as insects and worms, small mammals, birds’ eggs, nestlings and any bit of carrion it can find – such as this unfortunate Woodpigeon.