American Crow Cooing

Photo of American Crow foraging on the ground.Well, you never know what you will record when you are out in nature. While set up for stereo recording in an attempt the capture the very low pitched “drumming” of a male wild turkey, an American Crow perched near the mics and began to call very loudly. After several of these “rattle” calls I was hearing, through the headphones, a softer cooing. As I watched the crow it would deliver the rattle calls while upright, ever so slightly bowing its head during the call. Then it bowed its head way down, as if to touch it’s stomach, then quickly it raised its head slightly to a more typical bowing posture and cooed. The clicks that are heard with the cooing were coming from the crow. These clicks didn’t appear to be bill snapping, but rather a vocal utterance.

Here are two examples of this rattle call followed by several cooing calls.

American Crow rattle call and cooing example 1. Berkeley County, WV. April 18, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.

American Crow rattle call and cooing example 2. Berkeley County, WV. April 18, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.

There was no obvious behavioral context for this call and display. There were no other crows in the immediate area. The SASS mic system is black, about crow sized, was well out in the open and very close to this crow. Did he/she think that this was another crow? We’ll never know, but this is certainly a neat audio capture.

Bent’s Life Histories of North American Birds refers to this cooing:

Later [Charles W.] Townsend (1927) made further observations which he elaborated upon as follows:

Spending the nights in an open lean-to in my “forest,” at Ipswich, I found myself listening every morning to the courtship song of the Crow close at hand, and, on May 3, 1926, I discovered from my bed that a pair had their nest in a white spruce twenty-five yards from me, so that I was able to watch them closely. At about four-thirty every morning I awoke to the rattling song of the Crow, and I often saw one flying about in irregular circles, singing and chasing another. Both alighted on trees, especially on a spruce, from time to time. The song was given in the air and from a perch, and once I heard it given as a whisper song. I also heard for the first time at the end of the rattle a pleasing sound which suggested the cooing of a Pigeon or the note of a cuckoo clock, but softer and more liquid. It was usually double–I wrote it down ‘coi-ou’ or a single ‘cou’–and generally repeated several times, although sometimes given only once. These soft sounds, which I heard many times when the bird was near, generally followed the rattle, but were often given independently. When the bird was perched, he bowed and puffed out his feathers at the time of their delivery as during the rattling song. The cooing was also given in the air and on one occasion, I saw a bird drop slowly down with wings tilted up at an angle of forty-five degrees, singing as he fell. The rattle song was once given fifty-four times in succession, followed by a series of ‘cous.’

The female was at times very importunate, calling slowly ‘car car’ like a young bird begging for food. If the male approached, the calling would become more and more rapid and end exactly as in the case of a young bird in a gurgle or gargle–‘car, car, car, cowkle, cowk!e, cowkle.’ After mating the male would fly to the next tree and call loudly ‘caw-caw’ several times. Occasionally the loud ‘wa-ha-ha-ha’ was given. An examination of the nest made at this time showed three heavily incubated eggs.

You would have to be very close to a calling crow to hear this cooing. Other than the posturing, there would be no indication as to what the crow was doing if you were farther away, out of hearing range.

Comments

  1. Carl Aspin says:

    I have been interacting with and feeding a breeding pair of crows for more than a year now. (chunks of stew beef, string cheese, and occasionally mixed nuts) When they see me in the kitchen window or on the back porch they will fly to a nearby railing and most often puff their feathers, bow, coo, and occasionally send a series of clicks. They will watch through the window as I prepare their food and then, as I approach the railing, where I place the meat and cheese, they fly to a nearby gazebo to watch. They most often coo, fluff, bow, and click as I put out the food. I look at them and “click” back. Over the past year they have left, on the railing, a number of “gifts”: a piece of writing chalk, pine cones, unopened hazel nuts and the like, and a number of Apache tears (obsidian) collected from a nearby table where I have an assortment of minerals.

    When I lived in Arizona I had a similar connection with a pair of ravens. I fed them raw chicken drumsticks. One of the ravens would follow me around as I did my daily cores, cleaning horse stalls and the like. He would watch from a nearby pole and, when I finished, he would fly on ahead to meet me at the house.

    These are intelligent animals that recognize individual humans.

  2. Zack Frieben says:

    I have never heard a crow coo, though I have heard them rattle before. However, if you have to be very close to a crow to hear it, that’s probably why. I’ve only been very close to a calling crow on several occasions.

    I have heard a strange call from a crow before that I think has to do with warning. On two occasions, I heard and saw a crow giving a low-pitched, drawn out moan, which slowly increased in pitch and volume. The moans had a raspy quality, and I’ve never heard it in recordings. The moans lasted about a second.

  3. Christie W says:

    (Maine US) I also heard a crow make a cooing sound – I think it was a young male (there appeared to be a family of three that would allow me to feed them.) This young male also seemed to like to ”show off” to me by picking up brightly colored objects such as plastic and holding them in his beak while tipping his head to glance at me. There were no other crows around when he did this. He once even picked up a piece of ice I had tossed on the ground and made the same display – I found him amusing even if slightly species confused!

  4. In missoula montana, I frequently heard the crows “cooing” during the breeding season. I always described as “flute-like.”, Got into an intense discussion just yesterday about that.

  5. Susan Fast says:

    June 13, 2010, Brooktondale, NY
    This morning is still, rainy, and foggy. I was awakened at about 5:30 EDT by our crows, the family that nested in a pine at the back of our property. I heard the cooing,done in pairs, several times. It was not always preceded by the rattle.
    S Fast

  6. Thanks Julie. It is interesting that you refer to the louder vocalization as a love rattle. What behavior have you seen this call involved with?
    Thanks,
    Wil

  7. Yes, I have heard the coo after what I refer to as the “love rattle.” Very nice capture!

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