Category Archives: Crows & Ravens

Moving The Crows

Thousands of crows roosting at the University of Pittsburgh this month have finally worn out their welcome. Their slippery "fallout" on the sidewalks, especially near Heinz Chapel, tipped the scales against them. This week Pitt began using crow scare tactics to make them move.

Scaring crows is a noisy process that takes days or weeks to be effective. Pitt's first step is to play a very loud recording of screeching birds in distress and kakking peregrine falcons (click here to hear). The tape was playing yesterday at 4:30pm near Clapp Hall, so loud you could hardly think!

If the recording doesn't work the next steps are even noisier. The video above shows how Penn State uses pyrotechnics to convince their crows to leave, but it can take a while. Crow expert Margaret Brittingham explains how the crows learned to circumvent the deterrents with amusing results.

So now I'm curious. How long will it take to convince the Pitt crows to leave? And where will they go?

Time will tell.


p.s. This is the first year that Pitt's "new" peregrines, Hope and Terzo, have experienced the scare-crow recording. I don't know what Terzo's reaction is but Hope has been visiting her old site at Tarentum a lot lately. She was there yesterday afternoon.

(p.p.s. On the audio track the single crow sounds like a raven to me.)

(video from Penn State University)


Evidence that crows roosted here (photo by Kate St.John)
Evidence that the crows roosted here (photo by Kate St.John)

As I mentioned on Monday, thousands of crows are back in Oakland roosting near the University of Pittsburgh.  Though the flock is spectacular they'll soon be unwelcome.

If your neighborhood hosts a crow roost you know about the unpleasant debris left behind by these overnight visitors.  Everything is dotted with bird poop.  The sidewalks are slippery in the morning and the air smells "bird-y."  This fallout is the #1 reason why crow roosts aren't welcome near us.

When people have had enough, the crows must go.  The best way to move them is by persistent audio harassment.

In November 2013 the crows caused trouble night after night near the University of Pittsburgh Student Union so Maintenance set up a loud speaker that played bird distress calls and peregrine attack sounds over and over.  In five nights the crows were gone.

I have a theory that my favorite bird helped move them.  Read why at:

The Crows Moved


p.s. If the crows persist near Pitt, my hunch is that crow-scare tactics will begin by November 15.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Thousands Of Crows In Oakland

Crows burst off a building as they prepare to roost in Oakland, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)
Crows burst off a building as they prepare to roost in Oakland, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Ever since the winter crows came back to Oakland I've wanted to watch them arrive at the roost so last Friday evening, November 4, I stopped by Schenley Farms and Pitt's campus.  What a spectacle!

Half an hour before sunset a steady stream of silent crows flew in from the southwest to the hill above Bigelow Boulevard near Centre Avenue.  I assumed they would spend the night up there, but no!

Crows are afraid of great horned owls -- for good reason -- so they want a good view from the roost. They prefer the tops of tall well lit trees or rooftops five to ten stories high. And they want no owls nearby.  Perhaps that's why they like cities.

The sky was clear on Friday evening and the light lingered long after sunset at 6:13pm so my camera could "see" them against the sky.  Before it was dark nearly 40 crows chose this bare tree. The tree isn't full yet.

Crows assemble in the treetops (photo by Kate St.John)
Crows assemble in the treetops, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

As darkness fell they left the hilltop for the area bounded by Fifth, Bayard, Bellefield and Tennyson.  And now they were loud!  Hundreds flew above me on Bayard Street.

Hundreds of crows above Bayard (photo by Kate St. John)
Hundreds of crows above Bayard (photo by Kate St. John)


They assembled at the roof edges of tall apartment buildings and then burst off to choose another site (photo at top).  They landed on Alumni Hall and packed in tightly on the Wyndham Hotel roof.

As night falls some crows choose Alumni Hall rooftop for their roost (photo by Kate St. John)
As night falls, some crows choose Alumni Hall's roof (photo by Kate St. John)

... and they settled in the treetops on campus, 100 to 200 per tree.

Crows settle on the treetops on Pitt's campus, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Others settle in the treetops on Pitt's campus at Fifth Ave, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)


I calculated 4,000 crows in that four block area, but they were still arriving after it was too dark to see.  I have no idea how many spent the night there.

Until today most people didn't notice the crows because rush hour was over by 6:00pm.  But today we've changed the clocks back and rush hour will be at sunset, 5:09pm.

People will be surprised by the spectacle -- and some will be repulsed -- that there are thousands of crows in Oakland.


(photos by Kate St. John)

They’re Back!!

American crows saunter on the driveway (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
American crows saunter on the driveway (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

The crows are back in town! On Halloween evening they made such a huge scene in Oakland that I've preempted my scheduled blog for this breaking news.

Christina Schmidlapp reports,

Oh, they are back!  They've been massing around trees in Schenley Farms for about a week, though I think they only settled here for a night or two along Bigelow Blvd. between Schenley High School and Bayard.  They make stops on the tops of the Madison Apartments on Bellefield and also an apartment building on Dithridge en route to even higher ground.  I can watch their flight trajectory at the end of the day from the east into the Hill district. Almost nonstop for quite awhile.

And Dr. Tony Bledsoe wrote:

A student sent me a video of American crows assembling to roost around the Clapp/Langley/Crawford complex earlier tonight [Halloween].  I estimate, inferring from some in the background, at least 1,000.  That's probably conservative.

Crows love to spend the winter in Pittsburgh because it's 5-10 degrees warmer than the countryside, our night sky glows with light, and food is everywhere if you aren't picky (garbage dumps in the suburbs and dumpsters in town).

The flock is settling in and retaking the streets.  Here's their South Side Story to the tune of When You’re A Jet, a throwback to November 2009:

South Side Story


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Ravens Dance?

Lots of birds puff their head feathers and stand erect to show their dominance.  Common ravens do it, too.

When Zachary Cava filmed three ravens interacting in the Mojave Desert he thought they might be courting.  Was this courtship or was something very different going on?

Cornell's Birds of North America explains that among common ravens,

The highest level of dominance is displayed by slowly walking highly erect with bill pointed upward, fluffing out throat hackles and [fluffing] feather tracts above legs to create “pant”-like appearance, elevating “ear” tufts, and flashing white nictitating membranes. Wings are spread slightly at the shoulders. Both males and females engage in this behavior, but it is more pronounced in males.  (credit: Bernd Heinrich)

Yes, these two ravens are working out who's in charge.  So why is the third one bowing low with his head puffed up?

His actions resemble the male's pair bond display to the female(*) but he's got his back to the other two and they aren't paying much attention.

Ravens don't dance ... or do they?


(video from YouTube by Zachary Cava)

(*) "In direct display to female, also fluffs out head, bows to female while spreading wings and tail, flashes white nictitating membranes, makes gurgling or choking sounds, and snaps bill."  -- credit Cornell Birds of North America

Peregrines Claim The Bridge … Maybe

Ravens & Peregrine Falcons 1

Peregrine falcons and common ravens have a long history of nesting near each other. Both favor cliff ledges with similar qualities and will nest 100-200 meters apart (1-2 football fields).  They'll even take over each others' unused nest sites, but they don't get along.

Peregrines harass ravens though they rarely hurt them.  Ravens are big and powerful and very acrobatic in flight.

Since 2007 a peregrine pair has nested over the Ohio River on one of two bridges: the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge (Rt. 51), or the enormous Monaca-Beaver railroad bridge.  In 2015 they nested on the east tower of the railroad bridge (Monaca side) and fledged two young.

Ravens are rare in Pennsylvania's urban areas but they do nest on railroad bridges, laying their eggs in late February a month before the peregrines nest.

Last Friday, February 12, Gina Rubino was watching a raven build a nest on the west arch (Beaver side) of the Monaca-Beaver railroad bridge when two peregrines showed up.  She recorded three videos.  Above, a raven builds the nest on the near arch, then perches on top of the arch and takes shelter when a peregrine zooms past.

Below, two peregrines harass the raven who again takes shelter in the bridge structure. This double-teaming is typical of peregrine-raven interactions.

Ravens & Peregrine Falcons 2


Eventually, the raven pair gets the message and flies off together while a peregrine perches on the far (east) end of the bridge.

Ravens & Peregrine Falcons 3

Do the peregrines want the railroad bridge for their own nest this year? Or are they just annoyed by the ravens, as peregrines often are?

Gina wrote on PABIRDS, "I'm hoping the two groups can settle their differences (I would love to see both successfully nest), but I have my doubts..."

Me, too.


(videos by Gina M. Rubino)