Easily observable at sunset, when it travels in large flocks, the hooded crow is abundantly present in vast areas of the European continent, becoming a very common presence even in inhabited areas. Not graceful, with dull colors and with a not so musical song compared to other passerines, the hooded crow is a species that is rapidly colonizing areas that didn’t belong to it, sharing the spaces with herring gulls and magpies and settling in environments without direct competitors. The species benefits from the proximity of man, eating waste and seeds from crops.
Hated by peasants, loved by ornithologists, snubbed by most: crows are a constant presence in the skies of most of Europe. Often confused with the crow, Corvus Corax, or with the black crow, Corvus Corone Corone, the hooded crow, Corvus Cornix, it’s recognized for the intermediate size between the other two species and for the typical grey coloration of the chest and back, while wings, tail and head are black.
Like all corvids, the crow is also extremely intelligent. Specimens of Corvus Cornix living on European coasts have developed a simple yet surprising nutrition strategy. To feed on molluscs, they drop the shells from heights such as to ensure that they shatter on the first attempt, so that they can feed on the animal hidden inside. Furthermore, they deliberately ignore smaller shells and focus on those that guarantee a larger meal.
Often unjustly associated with melancholy and negativity, just think of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheat Field with Crows” or Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, corvids are actually one of the most interesting bird families from an evolutionary point of view, having privileged the intelligence and the ability to adapt rather than the musical singing or the beauty of the plumage.
- Scientific name: Corvus Cornix.
- Weight: 400 – 600 g.
- Wingspan: 84 – 100 cm.
- Age: Up to 16 years.
- Diet: Omnivorous.
- Habitat: Anywhere in Europe, except Iceland. Can be found in agricultural areas, urban areas and woods, but it avoids over-dense forest areas.
- Threats: Man is its only threat, as it has often been shot down for causing serious damage to crops.
Easily distinguishable from the other common Crows for its look, it has a light grey back and lower body, while head, throat, wings and tail are in black. The beak is robust, black and slightly curved, and the eyes are dark brown.
Male and female are indistinguishable in appearance: both have dimensions between 45 and 55 cm in length, wingspan that varies between 84 cm and one meter, while the weight can reach over half a kilogram. The flight is straight, with regular beats. The flocks have a more orderly appearance than those of the common crow and gather in the evening to reach the dormitories.
The hooded crow has a very wide distribution area that includes Europe, Asia and Mediterranean Africa. In Europe it’s found throughout the central, northern and southern part. To the east it goes up to the border with the Ural Mountains. Northern European populations tend to spend their winter in the south, while southern populations are mostly sedentary. Its natural habitat consists mainly of partially wooded environments where it can nest. However, it does not like forests that are too dense and thick with vegetation. It prefers countryside areas, groves, gardens and public parks.
The crow is however a very adaptable species and over the decades has colonized the most disparate environments, also adapting to living in urbanized environments, where it can more easily find food. It’s a predominantly sedentary and partially migratory species.
The hooded crows are omnivorous, which means that they feed on everything they find in nature. They do not disdain to feed on carrion, eggs, chicks, small mammals, birds and insects. They also feed on berries, seeds and fruits. They do not fear humans and approach crops, often damaging the fields.
In the city and in the countryside it’s common to surprise them eating out of the bowls of domestic pets. Just like with seafood, they tend to throw shelled foods from above in order to break them and be able to eat their fruit. It’s not uncommon to see them wandering near high-traffic roads and highways, where, they lurk waiting for some animals to be hit and killed by cars and then feed on their carrion. In the spring, however, its diet is almost exclusively based on vegetable substances.
The mating season for hooded crows coincides with the arrival of spring and ends in mid-May. The nest is built by both members of the couple and has the shape of a voluminous cup made up of intertwined branches, stems and leaves. It’s built on the tallest and strongest branches of the trees.
The female lays on average 4-6 oval eggs, with a white and shiny shell. The hatching lasts 21 days and is entirely entrusted to the female, while the male takes care of feeding it. As soon as newborns are born, they depend entirely on the parents who look after them and feed them. They stay in the nest for up to five weeks before taking flight and they will continue to stay with their parents until winter.
The hooded crow is stable in Europe and its conservation status is considered favorable. Most European populations are stable or growing.
The omnivorous diet is one of the characteristics that make the prospect of survival and spread of the Hooded Crow look positive. The extreme variety of the diet it can have ensures that this bird can easily adapt to almost any habitat.
The beak of the hooded crow is also a valuable survival tool in case of food shortages, it allows it to move even the bark of trees to find the larvae. This, in addition to the ability to break shells and nuts by letting them fall from above and other habits, reveal the ability of this bird to develop ever new adaptation techniques and a strong intelligence.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.