10 December 2023
When 20,000 crows come to Pittsburgh for the winter, they have to sleep somewhere and they inevitably make a mess. Why do they roost near us where the mess will get on our nerves? Why don’t they sleep in the woods? Let’s take a look the reasons crows choose one location over another when it’s time to sleep.
Crows have a few simple requirements for a roost and they all have to come together at the same place. Safety is a big one. Crows want:
- Tall trees for roosting
- Warmth when it’s cold
- No great horned owls!
- Safety in numbers
- Night lights. Lots of them.
- White noise at the roost
- No harassment from humans
1. Tall trees for roosting: Crows prefer to roost at the very top of mature trees. They perch on the highest twigs that support their weight.
2. Warmth when it’s cold: When the weather is well below freezing trees are too exposed for a good night’s sleep so crows may choose rooftops instead. Cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside due to the urban heat island effect.
3. No great horned owls! Crows are terrified of great horned owls who can hunt them in the dark. They prefer places that great horned owls avoid.
4. Safety in numbers: Crows sleep in a crowd so that someone’s always awake to watch for owls. It also lowers the odds of an individual being eaten.
5. Night lights. Lots of them: Crows like to sleep with the lights on. It’s easier to watch for owls when you can see them coming. There are no nightlights in the woods.
6. White noise at the roost: In addition to night lights, crows want white noise at the roost(*), the sound of running water or traffic. This location along Fifth Avenue at the University of Pittsburgh combines all their requirements in one place. Except that the mess bothers humans.
7. No harassment from humans: The perfect roost is usually near humans but crows make an enormous mess that people have to clean up. When the crows wear out their welcome, people figure out ways to get them to leave. This includes loud abrupt noises such as clappers and bangers, flashing lights, and harassment by falconers’ birds.
Now that we know what crows want at a roost we can figure out where they’re likely to be. Convincing them to leave is much easier to do before they land. 😉
(*) p.s. Why do crows want white noise when they sleep? No one has explained it but I have a theory that great horned owls avoid white noise. Owls need to hear their prey when they’re hunting and white noise makes that impossible.