– Hi, I’m Kevin McGowan from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

I’d like to teach you about crows. I’ve been studying the American Crow for over 30 years.

I’ve spent thousands of hours closely watching one of the most common birds in North America, and I keep doing it.

Thousands of hours watching crows, and I still see new things all the time. Who knew the common black bird I grew up not paying attention to would turn out to be one of the most fascinating birds on the planet? And I’d like to tell you about them.

They may be common, but their lives are anything but simple. The American Crow displays more human-like traits than perhaps any other animal. Intelligence, adaptability, sociability, and caring, with strong family values and lifelong bonds.

And just like people, there can be moments of lust, betrayal, or even murder. But they’re not people. They don’t have the same lifestyles that we do.

They’re birds, trying to eke out a living in the world, and the fact that they’re not people, but have so many things in common with us, makes me appreciate the complexities of the world even more.

I hope you’ll join me to talk about one of the most interesting birds on the planet, one that lives in your own back yard, the American Crow.

End of transcript

Anything but Common: The Hidden Life of the American Crow

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"After thousands of hours and several decades of studying the American Crow, I am still learning new things all the time.  This common black bird, that few of us pay much attention to, is one of the most fascinating and misunderstood on the planet.

I am excited to share with you what our research has revealed about the rich natural history, captivating behavior, and creative genius of crows.  Once you uncover the hidden lives of these birds, you will never consider crows ‘common’ again."

—Dr. Kevin McGowan, Course Instructor
American Crow in flowering tree Photo: Kevin J. McGowan
American Crow

Get to Know The Crow

This course is all about the remarkable lives of American Crows. Taught by world-renowned crow biologist Dr. Kevin McGowan, who has worked with a banded population for decades, you’ll get an inside look into what makes them so compelling—from their complex social lives to their impressive problem-solving skills.

  • Explore the rich family lives and surprising social networks of crows
  • Confidently distinguish between crows and ravens using our identification tips
  • Get an insider's perspective on what we know about crow intelligence

What's Inside

– [Kevin] This course first will introduce you to what makes a crow a crow. What’s a crow, and what’s not?

The bulk of the information presented in the course is the result of my own research and that of our crow research group based out of Cornell and Binghamton University.

Our research has been based on knowing crows as individuals and tracking them throughout their lives. This approach has allowed us to find out many things about crow lives, some mundane, some unexpected, many complicated and surprising.

In the second section, we’ll delve deeply into the everyday lives of the American Crow. What’s the basic social unit of the species? How crows interact and work together, or not. What happens in the normal life of a crow?

We’ll talk of roosts, flocks and families, good family values and neighborhood watch. We’ll consider crow intelligence and creativity, how crows meet the challenge of a changing world.

The final section considers less obvious parts of a crow’s life. We’ll look at things that couldn’t be discovered without long hours of intense observation of individual birds, sophisticated lab techniques, scientific sleuthing, and just plain luck.

We’ll talk of junk food, coalitions and competition, friendships, and foul play, betrayal, double-cross, and murder. I’m sure we’ll tell you things you didn’t know about crows because we’ve discovered things we never expected.

I still shake my head sometimes and think, really? This common black bird does that? Who would’ve known?

End of transcript
Completion Time:
3 hrs estimated
Optional CEU Credits:
0.3

You’ll enjoy 10 instructional videos packed with facts and stories to help you understand life from a crow’s perspective, 7 SnapIDs to hone your crow and raven identification skills, 3 quizzes to reinforce your learning, and just for fun, an exclusive exercise that challenges you to distinguish individual crows.

Meet the Course Instructor

Kevin McGowan
Dr. Kevin McGowan Professional Ornithologist, World Series of Birding Champion

Course instructor Kevin McGowan combines deep knowledge about birds with a passion for helping others learn. He is a professional ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one of the world’s foremost experts on the behavior of crows. Kevin is also an accomplished birder and World Series of Birding champion. Among his contributions to Bird Academy, he created the popular Be a Better Birder series of courses and live webinars and co-authored the university-level Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology course.

Most Recent Course: Anything but Common: The Hidden Life of the American Crow

Course Overview

Lesson 1:

Get to Know the Crow

Learn what makes a crow a crow, practice telling the difference between the American Crow and Common Raven, and go behind the scenes with a crow research group.

Lesson 2:

Families, Flocks, and Creativity

Crows are devoted family members, community-oriented, and adaptable. They make great neighbors!

Lesson 3:

The Secret Life of the American Crow

Just as with people, there’s some drama in the lives of crows… including a real murder mystery.

Photo: Sarah Rackowski/Macaulay Library

This Course is Entirely Online

There’s nothing to be shipped, and no additional material is necessary. Bird Academy courses are online, self-paced, and never expire. You can return to them for reference or practice as often as you want. All course material, practice tools, instructional videos, and quizzes are available through your web browser. Learn anytime, anywhere*. Gain the skills and understanding you’re looking for.

*Requires an internet connection and a modern web browser.

Hear What Students Have to Say

Your instructor has presented this material in live webinars and in-person seminars over many years, here is what they’ve had to say.

Information about crows was fascinating. Presenter's depth of knowledge impressive and the ability to translate to lay people was excellent."

Bird Academy Student

I've developed greater appreciation for the ten American Crows that are raiding my bird feeders!"

Bird Academy Student

All aspects contributed to my knowledge of crows, but the topic of the real culprits of nest predation blew me away."

Bird Academy Student

Crows are just about the most fascinating birds on earth, and I'm always eager to learn more about them."

Bird Academy Student

I had NO idea that the roost was such a dynamic population. Crows are full of surprises."

Bird Academy Student
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CREDITS
Top Video:
Narrator: Kevin McGowan
Producer and Editor: Domenick Zerilli, Dom Z. Production
Kevin McGowan research and Crows on compost, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
American Crow Vocalization, DOTV/Pond5
American Crow, Jay McGowan/Macaulay Library 483494
American Crow Southern Migration, DOTV/Pond5
Pair Of Crows, DembinskyPhotoAssociates/Pond5
Crows On Tree At Sunset, fotospirale/Pond5
American Crows Foraging, Timothy Barksdale/Macaulay Library 408623
American Crow Perched, Jay McGowan/Macaulay Library 472842
American Crow foraging, Timothy Barksdale/Macaulay Library 408304
American Crow Preening, Timothy Barksdale/Macaulay Library 440872



What's Inside Video (In order of appearance):
Narrator: Kevin McGowan
Producer and Editor: Jeff Szuc

American Crow: Jamie Chavez/Macaulay Library 93473021
American Crow: Paul Fenwick/Macaulay Library 87185671
American Crow: Russ Morgan/Macaulay Library 123445321
Red-winged Blackbird: Mike Miller/Macaulay Library 158640601
American Crow: Craig Gibson/Macaulay Library 133220731
American Crow: Kevin McGowan
American Crow: Jeremiah Trimble/Macaulay Library 46495551
American Crow: Kevin McGowan
American Crow: Kevin McGowan
American Crow: Kevin McGowan
American Crow: David Tonnessen/Macaulay Library 126085201
American Crow: Steven Macaulay Library odinow/Macaulay Library 77865391
American Crow: Cheri Phillips/Macaulay Library 77991431
American Crow: Don Roberson/Macaulay Library 30914851
American Crow: Kathryn Keith/Macaulay Library 59710471
American Crow: Ann Baldwin/Macaulay Library 134506671
American Crow: Bruce Mast/Macaulay Library 27702941
American Crow: Ann Vaughan/Macaulay Library 31242771
American Crow: Anonymous eBirder/Macaulay Library 138904501
American Crow: Jamie Spence/Macaulay Library 143143701
American Crow: David Burleson/Macaulay Library 146052791
American Crow: Kevin McGowan
American Crow: Belen Schneider/Macaulay Library 147348431
American Crow: Helene Crete/Macaulay Library 59911441
American Crow: Liette Desfosses/Macaulay Library 65350841
American Crow: Dennis Kent/Macaulay Library 159798911
American Crow: Anonymous eBirder/Macaulay Library 147834631
American Crow: Kevin McGowan/Macaulay Library 39883931
American Crow: Tim Lenz/Macaulay Library 82338961
American Crow: Elizabeth Curley/Macaulay Library 80825521
American Crow: Peter Svensson/Macaulay Library 71253891

Give the Gift of Learning

Gift certificates are a great way to give the bird enthusiasts in your life something that supports and encourages their passion.

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Photo: Ryan Schain/Macaulay Library