Crows Can Be Flexible

Crows flying to the roost (photo by Kate St. John)

19 October 2021

Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock is back in town with thousands gathering at dusk in Oakland. A week ago I counted 3,000 but more have arrived since then.

Crows hanging out at a staging location (photo by Kate St. John)

As their numbers grow to 10,000 or 20,000, the crows change their staging locations and move or split the roost. They’re looking for the perfect spot with mature trees, ambient light, and white noise where they’ll be safe from predators and not annoyed by humans.

Crows think of roosting at Schenley Farms, Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Unfortunately the “perfect” spot is usually above sidewalks where hundreds (or thousands!) of crows create a stinky, slippery mess and lots of noise. The crows keep doing it night after night unless the site becomes unappealing to them. The best way to change the appeal is to annoy the crows with blinking lights or noise — for instance, the sound of wooden clappers.

Clappers used to disperse crows (photo courtesy Alex Toner, Univ of Pittsburgh)

I suspect “crow annoying” has already begun at Pitt and Schenley Farms because every evening the flock pattern is different. I’ve seen them head for Oakland, then return and circle over North Craig Street as they think about where to roost. When it’s very dark many of them go back to Pitt.

Last night they roosted near the Barco Law Building and made a ruckus outside Kim Getz’s window when they woke up to leave this morning. Notice that they’re on the tips of branches in her photo.

Crows wake up on Tuesday morning outside Barco Law Bldg, 19 Sep 2021 (photo by Kim Getz)

Pittsburgh’s winter crows are still picking roosts that annoy humans but that will change. Eventually they’ll figure out how to coexist with city humans.

“We’d love to stay overnight,” say the crows, “but we can be flexible.”

Flying to the roost, 16 October 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(crow photos by Kate St. John, clapper photo courtesy of Alex Toner at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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