Large-billed Crow

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
55 cm

A corvid about which there is much taxonomic uncertainty, the large-billed crow as currently conceived has nine subspecies, ranging from Afghanistan to Sakhalin Island and the Lesser Sundas. The distribution encompasses much of China, with three subspecies: mandshuricus in northeastern China, tibetosinensis from southern Qinghai south to Yunnan, intermedius in southern Tibet, and colonorum in central and southern China (including Taiwan and Hainan). A supremely adaptable, intelligent, omnivorous scavenger, the large-billed crow is found in the largest urban areas, around villages and agricultural land, by woodlands, and in mountains above tree line, at altitudes ranging from sea level to 6400 m below Mount Everest. Eats wide array of fruits and cereals as well as animal items, both vertebrate (including nestlings and birds’ eggs) and invertebrate, living and dead; often seen on roadsides eating roadkill. Feeds almost entirely on ground, though it commonly steals away with a piece of half-eaten fruit and devours it on a perch. Gathers in large roosts, especially in winter, and very often forages with carrion crows. Races differ in bill size, overall size, and glossiness, but are alike in having a steep forehead and a heavy bill that is nonetheless not as heavy as that of the larger common raven. Ssp. colonorum, a mid-sized race, has entirely black plumage with variable purplish or bluish sheen. Long bill black, with deeply arched culmen, and bristly feathers covering the base of the upper mandible. Feet black. Ssp. mandshuricus and tibetosinensis are large, and tibetosinensis is very glossy; intermedius has white bases to the neck feathers. Common raven is almost always larger than even the largest races of large-billed crow, and it has longer wings and a longer neck (with shaggier feathers on the throat) and a heavier bill with a straighter culmen; in flight, the common raven shows more pronounced fingers on its primaries and a more wedge-shaped tail. Carrion crow has a flatter crown and a slimmer, less deeply arched bill. House crow noticeably smaller. Very noisy and vocal, with vocalizations varying among races; all, however, have variations of the hoarse, grouchy “caw” and the mocking “awa-awa” as well as croaks, groans, and burps. — Craig Brelsford


Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.

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