By Steve Phenicie
Even non-birders know about American Crows—the “caw-caw” guys. But Fish Crows—the “uh-uh” guys? Not so much. Fish Crows are a bit smaller than American Crows (about 15.5 inches vs. 17-21 inches) but are so similar that usually the only way to distinguish between the two is their call.
Unlike many species, the range of the all-black Fish Crows seems to be expanding and their numbers increasing. Range maps vary, but generally the bird can be found from New England down the Atlantic Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico up along the Mississippi River. Adam Betuel, Georgia Audubon’s conservation director, says, “Fish Crows are definitely expanding their range northward (well beyond Georgia) and are common in the Atlanta area during most of the year. They definitely could be undercounted as most birds that do not vocalize are left as just ‘crow species’ or are not reported.”
Decatur birder Mary Kimberly says, “It’s my experience that they are much more abundant in recent years.” Anne McCallum of Clayton County says, “We see lots of them at the Panola Mountain Banding Station,” which is near Stockbridge. Jay Davis, who isn’t willing to venture whether he has noticed an overall increase, says he sees more Fish Crows than American Crows now that he lives near the Chattahoochee River. He adds that late in the summer of 2020 there were hundreds of Fish Crows gathered for several weeks at the Johnson Ferry South unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Fish Crows are more likely to be found near water than American Crows, and their plumage is smoother and silkier. They like tidewater, river valleys, swamps, woodland and farmland. Along the coast they forage on beaches, marshes, and estuaries. Inland they usually follow the large rivers, although they may feed in woods or fields miles away. Just about anything is on the menu, including carrion, crabs, shrimp, crayfish, insects, berries, seeds, nuts, bird eggs, turtle eggs, and garbage.
When it comes time to nest, often a few pairs form a loose colony. They put their nests near the tops of evergreens, deciduous trees, palms, and mangroves depending on what’s available. They may nest in heron colonies and raid the herons’ nests. The nest is a bulky platform of sticks and strips of bark, lined with softer materials such as grass, rootlets, hair, feathers, paper, pine needles, and even manure.
A clutch typically consists of four or five eggs, which are dull blue-green to gray-green, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by the female, possibly assisted by the male, for about 16 to 18 days. Both parents probably feed the nestlings. The age when young leave the nest is not well known but is probably three to four weeks.
Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 450,000, entirely in the United States. Although crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, states retain the right to allow hunting of them because they are regarded as pest species.
By Gabe Andrle, Habitat Conservation Program Manager
Habitat loss and habitat degradation are the top threats to biodiversity across most of our planet. Georgia Audubon is addressing these issues with the expansion of our Habitat Program focused on the ecological restoration of spaces across Georgia. Our state is home to an incredible array of natural communities anchored by unique geological features, from the mountains to the barrier islands. Each of these communities has a distinct mixture of plants and animals whose intricate relationships and interactions allow these systems to perpetuate. As we lose green spaces across the state to development and our remaining greenspaces face the threats of non-native invasive species, fire suppression, pollution, overuse, etc., it is vital that we begin to reverse the damage we have already done in order to preserve the unique identity of our state but more importantly the life it sustains.
Historically, our habitat work has focused on smaller urban spaces, which are incredibly important for community engagement, education, and preserving urban wildlife, including the hundreds of species of migratory birds. Urban habitat work will continue to be a part of our restoration efforts moving forward; however, we are beginning to work on larger scale projects across the state that will be able to support a greater array of plants, insects, birds, and more.
For example, through the support of the Georgia Ornithological Society and the Robert F. Schumann Foundation, we have begun work at Panola Mountain State Park where we are working on our largest projects to date. Half of our project is focused on removing non-native invasive plant species such as Chinese privet, Bradford pear, and Elaeagnus from a riparian area and woodland edges. The other half is focused on restoring native grassland habitat which is critical for some of our most at-risk bird populations due to the development of the large majority of historic southeastern grasslands.
As we take on a variety of restoration projects we are excited to be working with both new and old partners which allows us to grow stronger relationships with the organizations and people that make much of this work possible. At Cooper’s Furnace, a greenspace open to the public near Lake Allatoona, we are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manages the space, to convert turf grass around the parking lot into some beneficial pollinator meadows which will support insects that so many of our birds and other wildlife need to survive and reproduce. Finding supportive partners ensures that the restoration work we do will be managed long-term for the good of the planet.
As we continue to add new projects we hope you will begin to see some new faces joining Georgia Audubon. With a never-ending supply of restoration work to to be done, we will need more and more hands to scale up this important work. Not only will it be important to add new staff members, but a great deal of this work would not be possible without the gracious hard work of our restoration volunteers. If you or anyone you know is interested in volunteering with our Habitat Program to remove non-native invasive species, plant native plants, and more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Georgia Audubon was recently awarded a grant from National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program to complete bird-friendly habitat restoration on Jekyll Island. With this funding, Georgia Audubon brings its successful model of restoration to the Georgia coast for the first time. Funds will support the restoration and stabilization of 3.5 acres of coastal dune habitat with native maritime grasses and perennials on the east side of the island between the Ocean View Trail bike path and Beachview Drive, North. Georgia Audubon is partnering with the Jekyll Island Authority/Jekyll Island Historic District on this project.
The Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) is a self-supporting state entity responsible for the overall management and stewardship of Jekyll Island, a Georgia State Park. JIA has set up parameters to protect the island’s ecosystem while ensuring it remains an inviting destination for visitors.
As part of the project, Georgia Audubon’s habitat restoration crew and volunteers will remove non-native invasive plant species from the 3.5-acre project site, primarily Bahia Grass (Paspalum notatum) and Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon). This will be followed by an installation of new native plant vegetation, including approximately 24,000 native coastal grass and perennial plugs (Muhlenbergia sericea, Panicum amarum, Sporobolus virginicus, Paspalum virginicus, Monarda punctata, Euthamia graminifolia, and Pityopis graminifolia).
“We are thrilled to have the support of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation for our organization’s very first habitat restoration project along the Georgia coast,” says Adam Betuel, Georgia Audubon’s director of conservation. “The Jekyll Island Authority will be a key partner to us on this project by providing guidance on restoration site selection, ground reconnaissance, restoration and long-term site maintenance services, and providing assistance with work permitting. This project will serve as a model of restoration that can be undertaken on all 14 of Georgia’s important barrier islands."
In addition to the invasive plant removal and native plantings that will occur, the project will also engage local community members through volunteer projects, bird and wildlife monitoring, and public outreach and education programming. In addition to the Jekyll Island Authority/Jekyll Island Historic District, Georgia Audubon is joining with several other partners to complete this work, including the UGA Marine Extension Sea Grant Program, Coastal Georgia Audubon Society, and the Georgia 4-H Tidelands Nature Center.
Notable for its pristine beaches, tidal salt marshes, and dense coastal forests, Jekyll Island boasts quiet beaches where endangered sea turtles nest, critical "stopover" habitat for migrating shorebirds, and an abundance of wooded areas for millions of migrating birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. A tidal creek and salt marsh border the island on its western side, while a rim of low dunes, beaches, and the Atlantic Ocean border the eastern side. It and Georgia's thirteen other barrier islands protect valuable salt marshes, which represent 28 percent of all salt marsh habitat along the U.S. eastern seaboard.
This is the fifth award that Georgia Audubon has received from The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program, which seeks to develop nation-wide community stewardship of local natural resources, preserving these resources for future generations and enhancing habitat for local wildlife. Grants seek to address water quality issues in priority watersheds, such as erosion due to unstable streambanks, pollution from stormwater runoff, and degraded shorelines caused by development.
The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration grant program seeks to develop community capacity to sustain local natural resources for future generations by providing modest financial assistance to diverse local partnerships focused on improving water quality, watersheds and the species and habitats they support. The program is sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC), in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USDA Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), FedEx, Southern Company and BNSF Railway.
About Georgia Audubon: Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and community engagement.
Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive.