Crows are intelligent, cooperative birds who thrive in almost any environment. But if you’re a homeowner who deals with these birds, you may describe them as quite noisy! So, why are crows always cawing, and how can you get them to stop?
Crows will caw for several reasons including alarm calls, territorial defense calls, call-to-arms calls, and mobbing calls. Crows that know each other may sing together, rattle, or coo at each other. The most immediate effective way to stop them is to scare them away with loud noises when they caw.
There is a surprisingly long list of reasons why crows always caw. Below, we’ll take a look at each reason and go over what you can do to stop these noisy birds. Let’s get to it!
Crows Caw To Alert Other Crows
Unlike most songbirds, crows are social creatures. They often congregate in large numbers in open grassy fields or agricultural fields, sometimes even on the tops of trees.
These social birds tend to get rowdy when a large number are together. But all that cooing and cawing is happening for a reason. One of the reasons may be an alarm call to other nearby crows.
Snakes, cats, raccoons, red-tailed hawks, and great horned owls are some of the most prevalent crow predators. Depending on which predator it is and how close it is, crows will elicit different alarm calls.
Alarm calls, as the name suggests, are meant to alert nearby crows of possible danger. It can help crows escape before the predator gets too close and it can also ready the crows to mob the predator.
Yep, crows will mob predators! We’ll talk more about that later…
Alarm calls sound short and sharp, which makes them easily distinguishable from a crow’s casual caw.
If you’d like to weigh the differences for if you should or shouldn’t try to get rid of crows on your property, take a peak at our guide on the good and bad to having crows around!
Crows Caw To Defend Their Territory
For most songbirds, fledglings are kicked out of the nest ASAP and typically never see their parents again. Crows are significantly different in that regard.
Young crows may stay with their parents for years after being born, helping to raise each year’s new brood. These family bonds don’t always last, with some leaving to form their breeding pair.
Crows that leave the nest may travel some 40 miles away to make a new nest, but most times they stick very close to their parents, within a few hundred feet. When crows leave their native nest and form new breeding pairs, territories and boundaries are set for certain crows.
Cornell University took a look at these territories and found that they related mostly to the gender of the bird. Males are dominant over females.
When males leave the nest, they are typically welcomed back and can interact with their old families with little problem. However, if a female leaves and then attempts to come back, they are not welcomed and may be driven off by the breeding male.
Males can be driven off by other males as well if they are not related to the breeding pair of crows in that territory. However, males of the same family typically accept each other in their territories without a problem.
Neighboring crows that are being cawed at will often mimic the noise of the territorial call, giving their feisty neighbors a dose of their own medicine!
Territorial calls are similar to alarm calls but are a little longer than the short, sharp alarm call that signals a predator is nearby.
Crows Will Call-To-Arms By Cawing
Shortly after their sharp alarm call, you may hear short “caw-caw, caw-caw’s”. These will sound different than alarm calls and may be repeated by dozens of other nearby crows.
This double-caw is a call-to-arms that signals to the other crows that a predator is not leaving and they need to do something about it.
Call-to-arm caws are typically done by crows that are gathered in numbers but can be expressed by just one or a couple of crows grouped together.
It may seem wild to think that crows can ‘say’ so many different things with just their caws! A 2019 article in the Journal of PLOS Biology found that crows can, in fact, control their vocalizations and release them only after cognitive thoughts.
This means, surprisingly, crows don’t just caw to caw.
But, if you’re a bit fed up with their cawing – take a look at our guide on the ways to get crows to shut up!
Crows Caw To Form A Mob
Crows are not messing around when there’s a predator nearby. They have their alert call, their call-to-arms call, and as a last resort, they’ll perform a mobbing call.
So, what exactly is a mobbing call? Surely crows aren’t recruiting a hitman to defend their mafia, right?
Mob calls are done when a predator enters a crow’s breeding territory. This activity is done by many types of songbirds. If you’ve ever seen a few tiny birds harassing a larger bird, you’re witnessing a mobbing.
A 2009 study done in The Condor Journal took a look at the differences, if any, between mob calls for aerial predators (such as an owl) versus terrestrial predators (such as a raccoon).
In the study, crows emitted the same type of mob call for each predator. However, the longer and higher-pitched the call, the more dangerous the predator.
Mob calls are emitted by multiple crows and sound harsher than any other caw we’ve discussed so far. The calls may vary slightly depending on the level of danger.
Crows Caw To Say Hello
As you can tell, crows have a lot to say. So far we’ve mainly discussed how crows react to predators or intruders in their territory.
But not all crow language is about danger. Sometimes, they’re just saying hello to each other! According to the University of Michigan, crows will ‘coo’ at each other when greeting friends and family.
Their coos may also be accompanied by a bowing posture, which is another form of greeting. What’s interesting about this ‘greeting’ call is that it’s different for every territory or group of crows.
This has to do with a crow’s ability to mimic the sounds of other crows (and animals and people, too!) Once a group of crows is together for an extended period, their greeting calls tend to all blend together and sound alike.
However, if you move to a different group of crows or a different territory, their greeting caw will be slightly different than the other group.
Crows Caw When They’re Annoyed At Their Chicks
Whether you’re a human parent or a pet parent, we can all relate to getting a little annoyed at our kids from time to time.
Crows can relate, too, and have their own caw to let their chicks know they’re annoyed. A thesis paper from the Ohio State University found that crows being harassed by juveniles for food will make a ‘rough’ caw.
This noise is meant to deter the juveniles and get them to stop begging for food. Although this noise sometimes works, more often than not the juvenile went off to harass another adult crow.
Crows Caw When Looking For And Finding Food
Crows can be as destructive as raccoons when it comes to your garbage. They’ll pick through trash and knock over lightweight cans by landing on them.
Agricultural fields are another large food source for crows. You’ve probably seen tens or even hundreds of crows hopping around harvested cornfields. They eat at least 12 ounces of food per day!
Crows are omnivores. Their diet consists of pretty much anything they can find that’s suitable to eat which includes:
- Songbird eggs
- Young bunnies
While they are more akin to raccoons in their diet, they are more similar to squirrels when it comes to storage. Crows will store food caches all over the place for later use.
One thing that crows do around food that isn’t really normal for an animal is to make noise. Typically, animals that find food will not want to alert anything nearby that there’s food, so they will remain silent.
Crows do things a little differently.
When crows are foraging for food, they make calls and do their regular crow things. However, when they find food, they cry out a short ‘caw.’
An article in the Journal of Animal Behavior focused on the caws crows make before finding food and the caws they make after. They also gauged the reaction of nearby crows to see how the caws affected them.
What they found was that before finding food, crows did regular territorial calls and caws. But after finding food, they sent out shorter calls. These elicited a milder reaction from nearby crows instead of an aggressive territorial reaction.
This might be a crow’s way of letting other crows know there is food, or it may be a way to escape notice from other crows so they can have all the food to themselves.
Sometimes, crows also may be near your other birds and scare them away as well. You can check out our guide on keeping crows away from bird nests specifically if you’d like!
How To Stop Crows From Cawing
As you can tell, crows have a lot to say about the world around them. That doesn’t mean we humans want to listen to it, though!
Crows can be pesky when they wake us up in the morning with their cawing or when they gather in large numbers and caw incessantly. But don’t worry, there are ways to deter these noisy birds and get them to shush.
Before you decide to deter crows, keep in mind that they can be beneficial to have around. Crows consume large amounts of pest insects that are bad for your homes and gardens.
If you have a few crows here and there, it’s not really necessary to deter them unless they are very destructive. However, if you have particularly chatty crows, below are some steps to quiet them down.
Note: You’ll want to switch up your tactics often since crows are highly intelligent and can become habituated to certain situations and tactics.
You can find additional information in our article on how to get crows to stop cawing here if you’d like to learn more!
Make Lots Of Noise
Like any animal, crows are just trying to survive by eating, drinking, and finding shelter the best way they can.
Their caws and other communication noises are another way they survive by alerting each other to dangers. However, if you make enough noise, no alert or call-to-arms caw is going to be effective, and the crows are likely to scatter.
Loud noises can be as simple as you yelling at the crows, playing loud music, using firecrackers, banging on pots and pans, and putting pennies in a soup can and shaking it.
The noise needs to be loud enough to startle the crows into taking flight. This will encourage them to find a different pecking ground.
Using loud noises will not work all the time. Crows that are nesting nearby will not abandon their nests so easily and will keep returning.
Crows that are habituated to the noise will eventually lose their fear of it and keep returning as well. It is best practice to combine a few different tactics to scare these chatty birds off for good.
You can read our full guide on the 5 different noises that crows hate if you’d like to get more into the nitty gritty!
Use Motion-Activated Sprinklers
Getting a crow to stop cawing isn’t as simple as getting ‘rid’ of the crows. You want to create an environment that they will not be attracted to or an environment that they consider dangerous.
Water may not seem very scary to us, but a sudden burst from a sprinkler can go a long way to scaring the heck out of a crow and making it think twice about returning!
Motion-activated sprinklers like the Havahart Critter Ridder Motion Activated Animal Repellent and Sprinkler are specifically designed to deter and discourage critter visitors like crows. It activates when it senses the body heat of the animals and will squirt them with harmless water. The sprinkler comes with multiple settings that you can change depending on how much water you want to use.
The Havahart Critter Ridder also comes equipped with a spike to easily install it into the ground around problem areas. Just hook your hose up, adjust your settings, and watch your problem crows fly away!
Use Bioacoustics And Crow Predator Noises
Bioacoustics is just a fancy word for wildlife noises. Using bioacoustics to scare crows away and get them to stop cawing requires a little tech knowledge, but can be incredibly effective.
According to Utah State University, crow distress noises, such as a recording of a crow trying to escape a predator, can be used to scare crows off and make them think a predator is nearby.
You can record this on your phone and play it through a speaker or simply play it through your phone if it’s loud enough!
You can also use the noises of a crow’s natural predators to scare them off of your property and therefore prevent any early-morning wake-up caws. The hoot of a great-horned owl or the squall of a red-tailed hawk is enough to get crows moving in the opposite direction.
Use Scare Tactics To Stop Crows From Cawing
Some of the tactics we mentioned above like making noise and using sprinklers are considered scare tactics, but there are a ton of other scare tactics to keep crows away.
The BEST way to keep crows from cawing is to make your yard unattractive to crows. No crows = no cawing. You can do this by making your yard less attractive or by making your yard appear troublesome for crows.
Scare tactics hit that second category for crows – danger. When you make noise, use sprinklers, or play noises of predators, this is appealing to a crow’s sense of danger and survival, making them want to get away as fast as they can.
Some of the best scare tactics to use against crows are listed below. We’ll go over each one in a little more detail. Overall, the best scare tactics are:
- Cord/wire placed 6-8 feet above the ground
- SpotlIghts on nests
Using Cord To Scare Crows
Scientists are pretty baffled about why this type of scare tactic works. They hypothesize that it may make the birds nervous about taking flight quickly if a predator suddenly appears.
According to the University of California, you can string wire or cord across your yard at a height of about 6-8 feet to scare crows.
Attach cloth or aluminum strips to the cord for extra scariness.
Somehow, this works at deterring crows from landing in your yard. The fewer crows in your yard, the less screeching caws you’ll hear! Just note that crows are incredibly intelligent and may get habituated to the cord and cloth.
Using Effigies To Scare Crows
This scare tactic does not harm crows, but it is a little gruesome. Effigies are basically just models of something. For this scare tactic, we need a non so lively crow effigy.
Etistta’s Realistic Hanging Crow Decoy gets excellent ratings and is a realistic size to represent a crow. It comes with strings for easy attachment to a tree or other hanging device.
The idea behind this scare tactic is pretty basic. If a crow sees another non-moving crow, it’s going to be wary of coming near it.
A study published by Northwestern Naturalist was done to figure out just how effective dead crow effigies were. They found that the effigies were effective up to 50 meters (about 164 feet) away.
The study was done on Snowy Plover breeding grounds and the scientists did note that many crows were not deterred during certain times of high prize, such as when Plover eggs or chicks were available.
This suggests that effigies are effective as long as they work in tandem with making your yard less attractive. Aka, don’t expect your effigies to work if you have garbage or other food sources available for crows.
Using Spotlights To Scare Crows
Crows aren’t necessarily afraid of lights. They are mostly diurnal creatures, meaning they are active during the day. At night, they spend their time in roosts with other crows.
Like most birds, crows do not sleep in nests unless they are raising chicks. At all other times, they simply find convenient places to roost for the night, sometimes forming large groups of crows in a single location.
If you happen to know where crows roost at night around your yard, you can focus some spotlights on that location.
This will discourage crows from roosting near your yard and encourage them to find a different location to spend their free time.
You can find more information on ways to scare crows away here in our other popular piece!
Why Crows Always Caw – Our Final Thoughts
Crows can certainly be an annoyingly noisy bird to have around. They caw constantly, sometimes for apparently no reason. But surprisingly, all crow caws have a purpose.
Some of the reasons why crows caw include:
- Alerting other crows of danger
- Defending their territory
- Making a call-to-arms
- Forming a mob
- Saying hello
- Letting juveniles know they are annoyed
- Looking for and finding food
Crows can be beneficial to have around when their numbers aren’t too large. They eat a variety of pest insects that can harm your garden and porch plants.
Crows aren’t great to have around during chick season as they will prey on eggs and fledglings of smaller songbirds. They’ll also eat from your garbage cans if they have access.
To keep crows from constantly cawing, you can use a variety of techniques and scare tactics. Loud noises, motion-activated sprinklers, and scare tactics are a sure way to get crows to stop cawing and find a new place to hang out.
Just be sure to switch up your tactics often as crows are pretty smart and will eventually get used to repetitive sounds, noises, and objects.
If you can’t seem to get crows to leave or you’d rather have a professional handle the situation, consider using our nationwide pest control finder to get in contact with a professional near you.
Brecht, K. F., Hage, S. R., Gavrilov, N., & Nieder, A. (2019). Volitional control of vocalizations in corvid songbirds. PLOS Biology, 17(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000375
Pendergraft, L. T., & Marzluff, J. M. (2019, April). Fussing over food: factors affecting the vocalizations American crows utter around food. Animal Behavior, 150, 39-57. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003347219300363
Peterson, S. A., & Colwell, M. A. (2014). Experimental Evidence That Scare Tactics and Effigies Reduce Corvid Occurrence. Northwestern Naturalist, 95(2), 103-112.Yorzinski, J. L., & Vehrencamp, S. L. (2009, February 01). The Effect of Predator Type and Danger Level on the Mob Calls of the American Crow. The Condor, 111(1), 159-168. https://academic.oup.com/condor/article/111/1/159/5152484?login=true
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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