Crow Family

Blue jay.
Saskatchewan Environment

The members of the family Corvidae include crows, ravens, jays and magpies. These large, gregarious, intelligent perching birds have strong feet and stout, straight beaks which enable them to feed on any available food. The larger species are often predators on smaller birds and rodents. Most plumages are black, gray or white, with only the jays being more colourful. There are approximately 118 species, found on all continents except Antarctica. Twenty of these are in North America, with seven found in Saskatchewan. Several species, such as the American crow, common raven and black-billed magpie, were reportedly common in the grasslands in the days of the great bison herds. With the destruction of the herds, the populations of these scavengers declined, but they are now recovering and expanding.

Four of the species are permanent residents. The gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis), a soft-plumaged small crestless jay, is a permanent resident of the boreal and mixed wood forests which comes into the townsites and wooded areas of the grasslands. The common raven (Corvus corax), distinguished from the very similar American crow by its heavier beak and wedge-shaped tail, resides permanently in the north, coming into the southern regions in the winter. The blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata), with its bright blue plumage and noisy chatter, is a common sight in the middle of the province and is seen occasionally in the townsites of the grasslands; the populations are higher in the summer, and this species has both resident and migratory populations. The black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) is again a common resident of the southern half of the province, increasingly found in townsites as well as wooded natural areas. The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a species found earlier in the forested areas, is increasingly a resident in the older, heavily treed townsites. The arrival of the crows in April and May is a sure sign of spring.

Two species, the Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) and Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) are rare strays from the Rocky Mountains.

Diane Secoy

Further Reading

Alsop, F.J., III. 2002. The Birds of Canada. New York: Dorling Kindersley.