While surveying a large pool at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, I heard a familiar call that echoed from over my left shoulder. Turning to locate its source, I saw a crow flying across an open marsh, being chased by a trio of red-winged blackbirds.
The crow's call reminded me of lazy afternoons on the seawall at Longboat Key, Florida. Indeed, this was a fish crow, more often associated with southern coasts but now increasingly common along the larger rivers of the eastern and central U.S. Like their widespread cousin, the American crow, fish crows are omnivores, feeding on waste grain, berries, seeds, insects, bird eggs, stranded fish, small lizards, small mammals, carrion and human food waste; in fact, they are among the most relentless predators of eggs and nestlings at heronries and sea bird rookeries.
Distinguished from American crows by their slightly smaller size and distinctive, higher-pitched "nasal" call (contrasting with the harsh, raucous voice of their widespread cousins), fish crows generally gather in large flocks and move toward coastal estuaries during the colder months. Until then, I and my birding colleagues along the Missouri River will lend an ear to their presence and enjoy a bit of audio from the coast in the American Heartland.