Crows Were a No Show at the Christmas Count

Trees at dusk and NO CROWS (photo by Kate St. John in 2017)

6 January 2022

Year after year we’ve counted thousands of crows — up to 20,058! — during Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count so we were stunned when the annual count on 1 January 2022 yielded zero (0!) at the South Oakland roost and only seven crows nearby at dusk. Roosting crows were a No Show at the CBC. Where were they? And why?

The best way to count Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock is to find a good vantage point and count them as they stream into the roost. Before Christmas they roosted in South Oakland, confirmed by my count of at least 5,200 crows near Magee Hospital on 8 December. However on Count Day a number of things went wrong.

Crow counters usually work as a team but my teammate Claire Staples was injured in mid-December and is still recuperating. I tried to recruit others but no one jumped at the chance because …

The weather was warm but extremely rainy and foggy. All the high vantage points were enshrouded in fog so I went to Dan Marino Field in South Oakland where the crows fly by. It poured! I was soaked by relentless rain for an hour while I counted five crows overhead and two cawing in the neighborhood. Yet 220 American robins pulled worms from the mud and sang in the rain. As I drove home I checked the roosting trees near Magee Hospital. No crows anywhere!

Apparently crows change their roosting habits in heavy rain.

Were they still flying to South Oakland? As a partial answer I counted from the roof of my building on 2 January for 20 minutes. In the distance 1,140 crows flew toward South Oakland. Less than I expected. Have they split the roost into several locations?

The crows are here somewhere. Have you seen them? Where?

UPDATE: Gerry Devinney filmed a huge flock of crows near the Petersen Events center on 18 December. See his video here.

On Throw Back Thursday here’s a look back at the Good Old Days of 2012 when it was possible to count 20,000 crows.

9 thoughts on “Crows Were a No Show at the Christmas Count

  1. Dec28, hundreds of crows in the trees behind my house on Winterburn in Greenfield. At dusk, they all took off toward Hammer Field.

    1. Yup. They were present on the days before and after the count but went missing on Count Day. How dare they! 😉

  2. Hi Kate. The P.M. flight of American Crows returning to roost on Jan.1st was on a more northwesterly heading than usual as they passed over Penn Hills. We observed approx. 500 in and out of the fog as we wrapped-up our CBC. In local terms, they were headed toward Etna, as opposed to the usual Oakland.

  3. For the past several weeks, when I’m driving home via Second Avnue around 4:45-5pm, I see huge numbers of crows in the trees on the steep hillside that separates the Parkway East from South Oakland. Often they are just east of Bates Street, sometimes both east and west of Bates Street. Occasionally they are far to the east of Bates Street, still on the hillside above the Parkway but almost to Swinburne Street. Yesterday (Weds Jan 5) I was surprised to see them further to the west, around Brady Street – practically in The Bluff instead of South Oakland. This is always before sunset, so I don’t know if they stay in those trees overnights.

    1. Sara, this matches what I expected at Dan Marino Field which is at the top of the hillside above the Parkway just east of Bates Street.

  4. I was at the Aspinwall River Park this past Sunday and spotted a big old murder seemingly staging in some trees on the peak of the hill on the other side of the river. There were maybe a hundred or so of them and they were so noisy that I could hear them clearly from where I was despite it being a petty sizable distance! In any case, they milled about in the trees for a while before leaving the trees in stages. It seemed like a group of 20 or so would break off and fly away and then a couple of minutes would go by before another group broke off and so on. Each group headed the same direction: west towards Highland Park and the zoo. Where they went after that I do not know.

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