Where Do 10,000 – 20,000 Crows Go During The Day?

Crows burst off a building as they prepare to roost in Oakland, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)
Crows preparing to roost in Oakland, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

19 November 2023

As I wrote in Trying To Move The Crows last Thursday, Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock now numbers 6,000 to 10,000 and will build to 20,000 by the end of December. Their final flight to the roost every evening is so impressive that I included a video taken from my apartment window. Annie commented, “Your video is incredible! But where do the crows go during the day? And does morning look the same as they leave?”

In the morning crows leave the roost before sunrise but not nearly in the numbers I see at dusk, probably because most of them leave when it’s too dark to see Black Birds in a Black Sky. They are tiny silhouettes in this sunrise photo.

Sunrise with crows (tiny dots) heading east, 2 Nov 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The crows fan out in all directions and travel 6 to 50 miles one way — in stages — to find food. Flocks of 10 to 50 go to neighborhoods on trash day.

A crow on Garbage Day (photo by Joe Loong via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Photographer Sue Thompson said these crows were a day too early. It wasn’t Garbage Day yet.

Crows a day too early for Garbage Day (photo by Sue Thompson via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Some groups visit restaurants and shopping centers to explore the dumpsters.

Crows at a dumpster (photo by Edna Winti via Flickr Creative Commons license)

But for a really big feast crows go to landfills. There are at least seven large landfills within 30 miles of Pittsburgh’s crow roost. The nearest are 8-15 miles “as the crow flies.”

Landfills within 25 miles of Pittsburgh, PA (annotated Google map)

In mid-afternoon they start to head back in stages. At first there are just a few crows per flock.

Crows (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They pause along the way in ever greater numbers as they combine into boisterous, noisy flocks. At the staging areas they meet new friends, greet neighbors, and exchange information about their day. It’s “The Bar Scene For Crows.”

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

The last stage is a only few blocks from the roost. Often they fly in after dark.

(video by Claire Staples)

And the next morning they start all over again. If people rousted them from the prior night’s roost they’ll pick a new one and change the final staging area close to the new location. Crows can be flexible.

p.s. If you did not see the video taken from my apartment window at Trying To Move The Crows, check it out here:

2 thoughts on “Where Do 10,000 – 20,000 Crows Go During The Day?

  1. Hi, Kate. Thanks for the update and videos. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it looks like footage from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. A bit frightening and ominous. Also quite messy from all the garbage they eat. Hope your car is parked in a garage!

  2. Kate,
    Thanks for the answer to my question about the ‘daytime’ crows. Those were very interesting articles that you wrote about them (But all of your articles are!). I certainly wouldn’t want to live in the crows’ flyway…or by any of the landfills! I have two crows that frequent my yard, and I’ll by happy with that.

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