These highly intelligent and widely distributed birds called corvids or crows are known as the smartest birds and include colorful jays, large ravens, magpies, nutcrackers, and crows.
Crows are among the most intelligent of birds and show skills equivalent to a 7-year-old child. They make tools to get bugs out of crevices and even to fish with!
Crows are omnivores and will eat whatever is available and this can cause problems when they target trash and it can give them a bad reputation. They are also associated with death and bad omens in folklore.
There are 9 types of crows in Montana and these include Black-billed Magpies, Common Ravens, American Crows, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Blue Jays, Steller’s Jays, Canada Jays, Pinyon Jays, and California Scrub-Jays.
Love them or hate them they are fascinating birds to watch and so check out all the corvids in Montana.
9 Crows in Montana:
1. Black-billed Magpie
Black-billed Magpies are spotted in Montana all year but their numbers increase in winter from September to April. They are recorded in 29% of summer checklists and 50% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Black-billed Magpies, usually just called Magpies, are black and white birds that are noisy. They have long tails and blue-green iridescent flashes in the wing and tail. Males are up to 25% heavier than females.
- Pica hudsonia
- Length: 17.7-23.6 in (45-60 cm)
- Weight: 5.1-7.4 oz (145-210 g)
- Wingspan: 22.1-24.0 in (56-61 cm)
Black-billed Magpies live in northwestern US states and western Canada, and the coast of Alaska. They do not migrate.
You can find them walking on the ground in meadow and grasslands or other open areas feeding on fruit and grain, beetles, and grasshoppers. They have also been known to kill small mammals such as squirrels and voles and raid bird nests for eggs or nestlings and even carrion.
Black-billed Magpie sounds: A series of harsh calls and also a scream.
Nests of Black-billed Magpies are a messy ball-shaped collection of twigs with a neat cup of mud and soft material on the inside. They lay 6 – 7 eggs, and these take around three weeks to hatch and fledge a further 3 – 4 weeks.
You can attract Black-billed Magpies to your backyard with platform and suet feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, fruit, suet, millet, and milo.
Fun Fact: A gathering of magpies calling around one of their dead is called a funeral.
2. Common Raven
Common Ravens do not migrate and are residents of Montana all year. They are spotted in 23% of summer checklists and 33% of winter checklists.
Common Ravens are thought to be one of the smartest and definitely one of the largest species in the songbird family. They have shaggy throat feathers, large black beaks, and wedge-shaped tails.
- Corvus corax
- Length: 22.1-27.2 in (56-69 cm)
- Weight: 24.3-57.3 oz (689-1625 g)
- Wingspan: 45.7-46.5 in (116-118 cm)
Common Ravens are resident in Canada, western US states, northeastern US states, Mexico, and northern Central America. They are not found in the Great Plains or eastern US states.
You can find Common Ravens in most places, and they especially follow humans. Forests, beaches, fields, grasslands are all places to find them and rural human areas. They are not common in towns and cities as American Crows take over.
Not known as picky eaters, Common Ravens will eat most things, including any small animals, eggs and nestlings, plus insects and fish. Human rubbish and pet food
Common Raven sounds: Mostly croaks and harsh calls
Nests of Common Ravens are usually relatively high up on cliffs, trees, bridges, and towers. Their nests are made from long sticks and are large, up to 5 feet across and 2 feet high. The inside of the nest will be lined with mud and softer material, such as grass and wool.
Common Ravens lay up to seven eggs, and they take around three weeks to hatch and about five weeks to fledge.
Fun Fact: Common Ravens in Canada weigh up to 60% more than those in California.
3. American Crow
American Crows can be spotted all year in Montana but are most common from mid-March to April. They appear in up to 15% of summer and winter checklists.
American crows are large all-black birds, including their legs and bills. They have slightly glossy feathers.
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Length: 15.8-20.9 in (40-53 cm)
- Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz (316-620 g)
- Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 in (85-100 cm)
American Crows are residents all year in the lower 48 and the Pacific Coast of Canada and Alaska. Those that breed in Canada and the northern Midwest migrate south for winter.
They are common birds that can be found in most habitats, including treetops, woods, fields, beaches, or towns.
They eat most things and usually feed on the ground, eating earthworms, insects, seeds, and fruit. They also eat fish, young turtles, mussels, and clams and will even eat eggs and nestlings of many species of birds.
American Crow Sounds: They make a hoarse, cawing sound
Nests of American Crows are usually high up in conifers and oak and are made from sticks. They lay 3 – 6 eggs, and these take just under three weeks to hatch and a further five weeks to fledge.
Attract American Crows to your backyard by scattering peanuts, but they can become a nuisance as attracted by garbage or pet food if left out.
Fun Fact: American Crows gather in large numbers of up to two million crows in winter to sleep in communal roosts.
4. Clark’s Nutcracker
Clark’s Nutcrackers are found in Montana all year, mainly in the west of the state. They occur in 4% of summer checklists and 6% of winter checklists.
Clark’s Nutcrackers are similar in appearance to Canada Jays, with the gray coloring. They have shorter tails than jays and lack the crest. Clark’s Nutcrackers are light gray with black wings and tails with white patches.
- Nucifraga columbiana
- Length: 10.6-11.8 in (27-30 cm)
- Weight: 3.7-5.7 oz (106-161 g)
Clark’s Nutcrackers can be found all year in the pine forests of the mountainous west. They do not migrate but do move up to higher altitudes in the summer, and if pine crops are poor, they will move large distances.
Clark’s Nutcrackers mainly eat pine seeds fresh from the tree or those they have hidden away previously. They will occasionally eat insects, spiders, or small mammals if they get a chance.
Clark’s Nutcracker sounds:
Nests of Clark’s Nutcrackers are made in conifer trees and are made from sticks and twigs and lined with wood pulp, followed by soft dry grass and moss.
They lay 2 – 6 eggs, and these take around two and a half weeks to hatch and a further three weeks to fledge.
Attract Clark’s Nutcrackers to your backyard with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.
Fun Fact: Clark’s Nutcrackers have been recorded as far as Northeastern US states, when cone crops are poor, a distance of up to 2000 miles!
5. Blue Jay
Blue Jays are spotted in the east of Montana all year but their numbers increase in winter from October to March. They spend winter in the west of the state and are recorded in 2% of summer checklists and 5% of winter checklists.
Blue Jays are common large songbirds with a blue upright crest, blue and black backs, and white undersides.
- Cyanocitta cristata
- Length: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
- Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
Blue Jays live in eastern US states and Southern Canada all year. Some birds will migrate west for winter but not very frequently.
They are noisy birds that travel in family groups eating acorns when available. They can be found in forests, especially near oak, as they eat acorns. They can also be found in backyards near feeders.
As well as acorns, they eat insects, nuts and seeds, and grain. They may also take eggs from nests or take nestlings.
Blue Jay sounds: They usually make a variety of quite harsh calls using clicks, peeps, ‘caws’, and whistles. Blue Jays also have a gentle fluted song during courtship.
Blue Jays are large birds and prefer to fly in, grab a peanut or sunflower seed and take it away to feed. They prefer platform or tray feeders to make it easy to make a quick exit.
Attract Blue Jays to your backyard with peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet on tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post. They will also enjoy a birdbath.
Fun fact: Blue Jays will play with shiny objects such as aluminum or bottle caps, and they will carry them around, dropping them and picking them up.
6. Steller’s Jay
Steller’s Jays are spotted in the west of Montana all year. They appear in 2% of summer checklists and 4% of winter checklists.
Steller’s Jays are large songbirds with black triangular crests that stick up from their heads. The rest of their heads and onto their chests and back are black, with the rest of their bodies being blue.
- Cyanocitta stelleri
- Length: 11.8-13.4 in (30-34 cm)
- Weight: 3.5-4.9 oz (100-140 g)
- Wingspan: 17.3 in (44 cm)
Steller’s Jays are resident in western US states, western Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
You can find Steller’s Jays in evergreen forests in the mountains, and they will also be found around picnic tables, campgrounds, and backyard feeders.
Steller’s Jays eat most things they can forage for, including insects, seeds, nuts, berries, eggs, and nestlings, but also making a nuisance of themselves around garbage and your unguarded picnic!
Steller’s Jay sounds: They make ‘kaw’ sounds as well as fast two-toned calls, peeps, and harsh guttural sounds. Steller’s Jays can also mimic other noises such as other bird species and even sprinklers and alarms.
Nests of Stellar’s Jays are usually near the top of conifer trees and are built from leaves and plant material held together with mud and lined with soft pine needles.
Attract Steller’s Jays to your backyard with peanuts and suet.
Fun fact: Stellar’s Jays make nests out of the mud.
7. Canada Jay
Canada Jays occur in 1% of summer and winter checklists. They are found in the west of Montana all year.
Canada Jays are dark gray on the back and a soft pale gray below. They have white heads and throats, with a black band running around the back of the head.
They are sometimes known as Grey Jays. Females look the same as males, but juveniles are darker gray all over.
- Length: 9.8-11.4 in (25-29 cm)
- Weight: 2.0-3.0 oz (58-84 g)
Canada Jays are resident in Canada, Alaska, and the high mountains of the northwest US. Some color differences occur with Canada Jays from different areas. With those in the Rockies being paler than those in Canada.
You can find Canada Jays in boreal forests where spruce trees are common. They are not as loud as other Jays and are opportunity feeders, eating a wide variety of food, including insects, berries, and dead animals. They will also come close looking for food dropped by hikers.
Although they look sweet, Canada Jays have a deadly side, and they will kill baby birds for food and even hunt smaller species such as chickadees and warblers.
Canada Jay sounds: They have a gentle whispered song but often make harsher calls and clatters. Canada Jays can also imitate other species.
Nests of Canada Jays are built early in conifers when there is still snow around. The nest is made from dead twigs and is lined with feathers and built on the south side of the tree for warmth.
Attract Canada Jays to your backyard with most kinds of bird food, such as seeds and suet, and they will readily eat from tube or platform feeders.
Fun fact: Canada Jays produce special saliva, which they use to mold food into a sticky blob, and then they stick it in a hiding place like gum under a desk.
8. Pinyon Jay
Pinyon Jays are vulnerable species in Montana but they are spotted in the south of the state all year.
Pinyon Jays are blue all over, with darker backs and paler bellies. They also have white throats, shorter tails, and do not have crests like other Jays, like Stellar’s Jays. Males and females look the same, but juveniles can look more grayish-blue.
- Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
- Length: 10.2-11.4 in (26-29 cm)
- Weight: 3.2-4.2 oz (90-120 g)
- Wingspan: 18.1 in (46 cm)
Pinyon Jays are residents inland in western US states in pinyon-pine forests.
As well as seeds from pinyon-pine, Pinyon Jays will eat juniper berries, acorns, and other animals such as lizards, baby birds, and insects. They are opportunity feeders who will take most things and forage in large, noisy groups.
Pinyon Jay sounds: They make 3 ‘kaw’ like calls close together that rise and then fall and sometimes shake or tremble.
Nests of Pinyon Jays are built of sticks and grass in pine trees and lined with feathers and animal hair.
Fun fact: Pinyon Jays do not have feathers over their nostrils to prevent the sticky pine pitch from making them dirty.
9. California Scrub-Jay
California Scrub-Jays are accidental species in Montana. They are extremely rare in the state and have only been spotted around Thompson Falls in 2010 and 2011.
California Scrub-Jays are large songbirds with long tails, whitish undersides and rich blue and gray backs, and a bright blue breast band. They are larger than a robin but smaller than a crow. They look visually similar to the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay but with more vivid colors.
- Aphelocoma californica
- Length: 11.0-11.8 in (28-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
- Wingspan: 15.3 in (39 cm)
California Scrub-Jays are resident all year on the Pacific Coast from British Columbia down to Baja California.
You can find California Scrub-Jay in scrub, oak woodlands, and in suburban yards and parks. They eat insects and fruit during spring and summer and then seeds and nuts, especially acorns, in fall and winter.
California Scrub-Jay sounds: Their call is high-pitched and repetitive. They also sing a courtship song of soft whistles.
Nests of California Scrub-Jay are usually hidden in oak trees and can take up to 10 days to construct the nest made of twigs and a soft lining. They lay 1 – 5 eggs, and the eggs take around 17 – 19 days to hatch.
Attract California Scrub-Jays to your backyard with sunflower seeds and peanuts in your feeders.
Fun fact: California Scrub-Jay will screech over the body of a dead jay and invite others to do the same, and this can last up to half an hour, according to the University of California – Davis