What Smells Fishy?

Once found only along the Southeastern coast of the United States, fish crows have spread north. They’ve also moved inland, chowing down on a half-eaten Filet-o-Fish as well as a beached red snapper.

Robert Miller of Newstimes.com writes,”I hear it when I walk across The News-Times parking lot on the way into work in the morning — a sort of sneezy nasal caw, like a crow with adenoid problems…and I know a fish crow is nearby.”

It’s actually a good habitat for corvus ossifragus — the only crow that, at the moment, is a totally American bird. It likes streams and rivers, and the Still River and all its tributaries run through the neighborhood.

“A Dumpster and a stream,” said Pat Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut. “It’s good habitat for fish crows.”

Comins speculates that 10 years ago, when common crows, or Corvus brachyrhynchos, were hit by West Nile virus and had a dip in their populations, fish crows might have found a little room to move in.

Fish crows look pretty much like common crows, except they’re a little smaller — their wingspan is about 33 inches across and the length of their bodies can range from 14 to about 16 inches. Common crows have a 36-inch wingspan and can be 15 to 21 inches long.

“I can identify them in flight,” Comins said. “But the correct way to identify them is to hear their call.” (Again, think of a badly congested caw.)

And at the same time that fish crows are coming up from the South, the common raven — Corvus corax — is moving down from the North.

Comins said it isn’t right to think of ravens returning to Connecticut. Until recently, they haven’t been here.

They’re birds of the woods, and because Connecticut was largely farmland until the turn of the 19th and 20th century, they had no habitat.

“In the early records of birds in the state, they were considered rare,” he said.

But as the pastures-turned-woods grew back into forests, ravens began coming down to northern New England to set up nests in Litchfield County.

They’re the grandest of the corvids, with a wingspan that can be 45 to 50 inches across, a heavy bill, and a shaggy ring of neck feathers.

They don’t caw, they croak hoarsely — that is, when they’re not vocalizing with a wild variety of clucks and gurgles.

And like their black-feathered cousins, they’ve learned there’s good eating downtown.

Ravens — the mythical bird of the woods and mountains, the winged companions of Norse god Odin, chosen because of their intelligence — are becoming dumpster divers par excellence.

Comins said he’s seen all three — fish crows, common crows and ravens — at the same fast-food joint in Meriden, where he lives.

Give corvids an inch and a free meal, and smart birds that they are, they’ll take it.

“It’s a tribute to their adaptability,” Comins said.