Crow Update, Nov 15

Crows gather in Schenley Park, Jan 2017 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

15 November 2020

This was a big week for crows.

Early November is the time when Pittsburgh’s huge winter flock decides where to sleep for the next three months but no site is large enough to house 20,000 crows. Right now the roost is in flux as the sub-flocks collect and break apart, testing their options.

On Sunday 8 November they came to Oakland from all directions — eastern suburbs, north+west suburbs, and Allegheny Valley — raising the overnight total to 17,000 to 20,000 crows! The next night fewer groups arrived so Oakland’s overnight population dropped to 9,000.

On Thursday the 12th I saw the flocks prepare to roost in Schenley Farms so I called my contacts below and told them to start smacking their “crow clappers.”

Crow clappers for making loud clapping noise (photo courtesy Alex Toner, Univ of Pittsburgh)

It worked. Thousands of crows levitated over the neighborhood then wheeled south to perch on Webster Hall, eventually moving elsewhere. They didn’t roost in Schenley Farms that night.

Some of them are sleeping in the trees at Pitt but even that location is in flux. I’ve seen sidewalk evidence near the closed section of Bigelow Boulevard …

… but they were avoiding the trees at the corner of Bellefield and Fifth after a predator — peregrine? — ate a crow after yanking off the head and wings. The crows stayed away from that warning for weeks. (If you’re curious about the head, click here.)

Eventually the flock will pick a winter roost. I hope it’s one that doesn’t bother people so we can coexist in peace.

(photos by Mike Fialkovich, Alex Toner, Kate St. John)

5 thoughts on “Crow Update, Nov 15

  1. Last week, a small murder settled in and around Hazelwood for the winter. Not real spooky, and they roam from the Glenwood bridge, up to the cemetary during the day.

  2. Any update on the crow roost fir 2020? A friend wants to see them for a thanksgiving tradition if she can.

    1. Jennifer, the roost is slightly in flux but she will certainly see crows if she comes to the corner of Fifth Ave and South Bouquet Street at sunset. Many of them roost nearby. There is a parking lot there. There’s a possibility they will poot as they fly by … so watch out!

  3. Kate – How do the crows communicate about where the place they should gather is located? I’m always amazed to see crows flying in from different directions to join in mass gatherings.

    1. Mary Anne, I’m not expert but from watching, here’s my best guess. Within the flocks there are older birds who remember the roosting locations in prior years and can show the younger ones where they are. There are also dominant birds that the others watch and follow. Each subflock has its own leader(s). At dusk the subflocks gather into one huge flock that becomes a steady stream of crows going to the roost. The crows at the back follow the ones at the front. The stream that passes over my apartment heads west so they can see the silhouettes of the ones in front. … For about a month after the winter crows first arrive in Pittsburgh they change their roosting location a lot. By now (early December) they’ve settled on the place they want to roost for the rest of the winter.

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