What kinds of corvids can you find in Alberta?
Corvids, which include crows and jays, are a family of birds known to be some of the SMARTEST birds that have ever been studied. For example, certain corvid species have demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests and the ability to use tools while foraging for food. Both of these skills are INCREDIBLY rare in the wild kingdom.
And believe it or not, their brain-to-body mass ratio is about the same as great apes and whales and is only slightly lower than humans!
Today, you will learn about the types of corvids found in Alberta!
- If you’re interested, you may be able to see some of the species listed below at my bird-feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my feeders 24/7. 🙂
#1. American Crow
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- A large bird that is entirely black with an iridescent sheen.
- Long black bill, black legs, and black feet.
American Crows are adaptable birds and are common in Alberta in almost every habitat. The places they can be found include woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.
American Crow Range Map
While they don’t come to feeders as often as other birds, a few foods attract them consistently. The crows in my backyard LOVE peanuts, whether in the shell or out. Whole-kernel corn and suet also seem to be consumed readily.
These corvids are one of the smartest birds in Alberta.
For example, they can use tools, solve problems, and recognize human faces. It seems that crows even do things just for fun! Seriously, if you search the internet, it’s easy to find videos of them using round objects to sled down roofs.
American Crows have a large vocabulary. Listen for any number of caws, rattles, cackles, and clicks. The most common sound is a “caw-caw.” (Listen below)
#2. Blue Jay
- Cyanocitta cristata
- Backs are covered in beautiful blue feathers with black bars throughout. The underparts are white.
- Their head is surrounded by a black necklace and has a blue crest on top.
- Males and females look the same.
Some people dislike Blue Jays, but I love their bold personalities. Their high intelligence makes these corvids interesting to observe, not to mention their plumage is stunning.
Blue Jay Range Map
Blue Jays typically visit bird feeders noisily, fitting as much food as possible in their throat sacks, then leaving quickly to eat or store their bounty. My favorite foods to use are whole peanuts, as Blue Jays are one of the only birds that can crack open the shells to access the inside! You can also use sunflower seeds and corn to attract them.
Jays are one of the noisier birds you will hear in Alberta.
The most common vocalization that I hear is their alarm call, which sounds like it’s saying “jeer.”
These corvids are also excellent mimics and frequently imitate hawks. They are so good it’s hard to tell the difference between which bird is present. It’s thought that jays do this to deceive other birds into believing a hawk is present. Not a bad plan if you want to get a bird feeder all to yourself!
#3. Common Raven
- Corvus corax
- Large bird that is completely black, including its eyes and bill.
- The bill is hefty and thick.
- In flight, look for their wedge-shaped tail.
Ravens are one of the SMARTEST birds in Alberta!
For example, one study has shown that these corvids are drawn to gunshots during hunting season to investigate the carcass but ignore other loud noises that don’t lead to food, such as air horns or car alarms.
Their intelligence makes them efficient predators, and it’s common for ravens to team up to get food, such as stealing eggs from nests or attacking larger prey like newly born lambs.
Common Raven Range Map
Since they are so smart and adaptable, Common Ravens are found in many habitats in Alberta. Look for them living near the edges of towns, especially in landfills that supply an endless amount of food. But ravens also have no problem living far away from civilization.
Common Ravens are impressive vocalists that make many different types of calls, from harsh grating calls to shrill alarm sounds. But the most common sound you will hear in the wild is a gurgling croak that rises in pitch.
Interestingly, they can mimic the sounds of many other bird species and even humans if raised in captivity.
#4. Black-billed Magpie
- Pica hudsonia
- A large black and white bird with a long tail.
- In the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.
It’s hard to miss these bold corvids in Alberta!
Black-billed Magpies demand your attention. They are very social, noisy, and comfortable living amongst people and are commonly seen in smaller towns. Naturally, they live in open grasslands and plains and tend to avoid dense forests.
Black-billed Magpie Range Map
Being part of the Corvid family, Black-billed Magpies are incredibly intelligent. One interesting behavior is that they seem to have funerals when they discover a deceased magpie. Individual birds will begin calling loudly to attract more magpies, eventually having as many as 40 birds gathered for 10-15 minutes before flying away silently.
#5. Steller’s Jay
- Cyanocitta stelleri
- Larger bird with a black head, rounded wings, and a long tail.
- A tall black crest on the crown of the head helps identify them.
- Both sexes are half black and half blue on their wings, belly, and tail.
You will find this bold corvid in evergreen forests in Alberta. Steller’s Jays often visit parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
Steller’s Jay Range Map
This jay species is very intelligent, bold, and noisy. You can attract them to your feeders by providing peanuts, larger seeds, and suet.
Steller’s Jays are often nest robbers. They have even been known to attack or kill small adult birds like nuthatches or juncos.
Males and sometimes females have calls that sound like “shaack, shaack, shaack,” shooka, shooka.” Listen below.
#6. Canada Jay / Gray Jay
- Perisoreus canadensis
- Paler grey on the belly. Darker gray on the backs.
- White cheeks, throat, and forehead.
- Short beak and a long tail.
It’s hard to describe a Canada Jay other than “cute.” These grey birds are smart and adapt easily to their surroundings, which allows them to consume almost anything.
Seriously, they have been observed eating the following weird things: ticks off the back of a moose, baby bats, amphibians, and baby birds, in addition to more normal foods like invertebrates, seeds, and berries.
Canada Jay Range Map
Another fascinating fact about this corvid is that they raise their babies during late winter! And because they live so far north in the boreal forests, their chicks grow up in almost complete darkness. Interestingly, they don’t attempt to raise a second brood of babies in May or June, which is when most other bird species have babies, and conditions seem more favorable.
So do you call this bird a Canada Jay or a Gray Jay?
Well, the correct name is now Canada Jay, as the name was changed in 2018 by the American Ornithological Society from the Gray Jay. But old habits die hard, and many birders in Alberta still refer to this bold corvid as a Gray Jay.
#7. Clark’s Nutcracker
- Nucifraga columbiana
- Medium-sized grey bird with a long, dagger-like black bill and black wings.
- While in flight, you can see bright white tail feathers, along with white feathers at the end of their wings.
It’s fairly easy to spot one of these corvids in Alberta as long as you head to the correct habitat. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as Clark’s Nutcrackers live in coniferous forests in the mountains!
Their long beak is used to rip into pinecones to remove the seeds, which are mostly taken away to store and consume later. It’s estimated that Clark’s Nutcrackers stash away thousands of seeds each summer, which provides them food through winter. Amazingly, these intelligent birds remember where most pine seeds are hidden!
Clark’s Nutcracker Range Map
In fact, they hide so much food they are able to breed as early as January or February and rely ONLY on their cached food supply. As you can imagine, it is incredibly cold high up in the mountains during this time of year, so nothing is growing yet.
Which of these corvids have you seen before in Alberta?
Leave a comment below!