A Murder of Crows

As of last night, Pittsburgh’s huge winter flock of crows had not arrived yet but I expect them any day now.  In the meantime I’ve been learning more about crows, and you can too.

Coming this Sunday, October 24, at 8:00pm on PBS’s Nature is an excellent program on crow intelligence called A Murder of Crows

Crows have been watching us for a very, very long time but it’s only recently that scientists have begun to watch back.  Here’s what they’ve found out.  Did you know that…

  • Crows watch us more than we watch them.
  • Crows can recognize the faces of people who’ve hurt them.
  • Crows teach each other which people are dangerous so the entire flock knows who to avoid.
  • Crows probably got a bad reputation because we know they’re a lot like us (intelligent and social), but crows will do the things that humans will do that we aren’t particularly proud of.

This is just a taste of what you’ll learn from A Murder of Crows this Sunday, October 24 at 8:00pm on PBS. 

In Pittsburgh, it’s on WQED.  Perhaps our crows will arrive in time to see it.

(photo from Shutterstock by Al Mueller)


p.s.  A “murder of crows” is a flock.  As the show opens there’s a very good black and white animation of a crow flock that is frankly rather scary.  Even I, who love crows, found it disturbing but it was the only disturbing image in an otherwise upbeat and fascinating program.

17 thoughts on “A Murder of Crows

  1. As of 8:15pm, Oct 19:
    I asked the 989 people who receive PABIRDS email if they’d seen big flocks of crows yet. Here’s the news from Pennsylvania.

    Peter Keyel, Pittsburgh area: Last evening I saw ~50 crows moving N over my apt in Squirrel Hill. Not thousands, but more than I was expecting.

    Tony Bledsoe, Pittsburgh area: There are building numbers in Forest Hills — about 200 now in the mornings and evenings, over our house. I expect more soon – probably very soon, and probably very many more!

    Cory DeStein, reporting from Cambria County: Saw a decent sized flock of a couple hundred in Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria county on the headache hill observation area.

    Lauren Conkle, Washington, PA: I found a flock of 50+ crows at Washington Park in Washington Co. this morning.

    Gigi, Washington County: I saw a flock of over 100 over my house last week!

    Bob Machesney, Pittsburgh area: I noticed at work last week in Wilkinsburg at 7:00 a.m. a rather large (200-300+) flock fly over. So I guess they are amassing in the usual spots just west of town.

    Ron Freed, Carlisle, PA: In response to your inquiry about Crows, we had a huge flock of around 100 pass by Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch this week. Also, I have around 30-40 taking up roost at a pine stand here at our home.

    Mike Fialkovich, Pittsburgh area: I saw some large flocks recently driving around Oakland. I guess it was last Monday evening on the way to the Botanical Society meeting. The flock size wasn’t huge but I didn’t know if I was only seeing part of it.

    Jack Christman, Greenville, PA: Tonight Tues a big flock started to roost in pines near Autozone. It seems a lot bigger than past years. This is in Greenville PA.

  2. Thanks for the heads up! I have a huge interest in crows and all corvids in general, I’ll definitely be tuning into this program. I would have missed out if it wasn’t for this post, thanks!

  3. Great piece, Kate. While driving from Vandergrift to Munhall today, I saw a small flock (30-40) of crows flying over the parkway around Wilkinsburg/Forest Hills exit. They looked like they were coming from the east and heading out over Ardmore Blvd./Route 30 area.
    We have about 6-7 crows that love the farmfield behind me and the river in front of me; one or two sit on garage or shed roof in the next yard and wake me up sometimes before my alarm’s ready to go off about 6 or 7…only problem is you can’t “shut them off” like an alarm clock~!

  4. Driving down Stanton to Negley (E. Liberty/Highland Park junction) Fri about 1:30 pm. I saw a murder-ette, about 40-50 crows. They were on house roof tops, so, like Mike, I’m not sure if I saw the whole “crew” of crows. Sorry! I can’t resist a bad play on words!

  5. Watched the program and loved it!!!! The opening credits were kinda eerie but in a very cool way. I’m always amazed at how intelligent these birds are and I could truly appreciate the “chimps of the bird world” reference. I found the “funeral gathering” particularly moving and surprising …. not something you think about in the bird world.

    All in all … if you can … order this DVD from WQED ….well worth it

    I keep watching for the morning and evening gatherings that I see to and from work … around the Strip District and Polish Hill but so far nothing. I have my camera on the ready

  6. Tonight at 6:00pm over Greenfield: over 200 crows flew north over Greenfield in a tight flock. Wonder where they were going…

  7. Maybe .. like you had the “peregrine watch” during the spring and summer, you should have a “crow watch” this fall …… I volunteer!!!!

  8. (post moved from “Quiz: What Tree?” to here)
    Hi Kate–I’m not sure if this should be posted elsewhere, but I too can confirm the crows are back in Sq. Hill! At about 5:15 today, I was in the back with the pup and the sky actually darkened with crows heading eastward! Then the wind started blowing; the leaves started flying; the rain started pounding; the pup decided it was time to come in, and the crows (some of them) flew back westwards. Better shelter somewhere else? In 10 minutes, all was calm and my ears had stopped ringing!


  9. I saw a huge amount of crows, on the buildings, and then settling into the trees, on Neville and Ellsworth last night just before dark. I was in Shadyside hospital, watching a long trail of them going by, heading west. When I left, they flew over me, while driving on Moorwood, so I decided to try and follow them, only having to go a couple of blocks. They were circling, and sitting all over the place. I had seen a similar scene, the trail of flying crows, last week, sunday, while walking in Frick park, just before dark. They were heading east. There seemed to be an endless line of them.

  10. >so I decided to try and follow them
    Carol, that’s exactly what I would have done! I once drove a mile in and out of side streets trying to follow them. It’s truly amazing when they gather at the roost. What a lot of noise and excitement!
    If you get out of the car to watch them, sometimes they get spooked and leave …and sometimes not.

  11. They did not get spooked, and eventually most of them moved into the oak trees, from the tops of the buildings, and seemed to be settling in for the night, for at this time it had become dark. But there is one particular church, next to the one one the corner there, that they liked sitting all along the ridge of the roof. I would guess at least a thousand in the vicinity, but I could not tell how spread out they were. Simply judging by the long trail flying to that location that I witnessed from the hospital. Yes, I was just lucky that my curiousity did not take me on a very long search. I live in the south hills, or I would be out there checking it out more.

  12. Sept 3 2010 Hannibal NY,Wow it was amazing but yet a little scary, first there was a gathering of small birds about 100 then when the small birds flew away then 1,000’s of crows appeared flying back and fourth and perching on trees and all over the ground. I would say there was at least over 100,000 crows, the neigbors was taking pictures it was more scary than the film, the birds. after I let me doggies out in the fenced area then the crows seemed to fly away after about 5 minutes.

  13. Christmas I was at my In-laws in East Liverpool, I started hearing a large amount of birds in the woods behind their house.. They kept coming, and coming.. there must have been thousands! It was an incredible sight I have never seen before. It was at dusk, they stayed for about a half hour, flew away in groups then they were gone! Weird…

  14. There have been a ridiculous of crow roosting here in California PA. There are so many that the university has started doing some things to keep them off the new roofs because of the guano.

  15. This is October 2019. I provided food for a broken wing fledgling 2 years ago throughout the summer. The parents would access the food I left and feed the injured fledgling. I had no idea if it would ever fly but at the end of the summer he finally was able to fly. I have continued to put food out year around and he comes to my yard daily. The parents both died his first year. This morning a murder of crows, probably a hundred circled my yard and roosted in trees. They ate the food I had out. Usually the crows don’t seem to breach our crow’s territory, so this seemed strange. I can recognize the fledgling with the broken wing because of the feather tuft where the wing was injured. He also is willing to stay outside with me when I put food out.

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