Pittsburgh’s crows have finished breeding so the local families now gather in a communal roost. Last week I counted 100 of them, mostly fish crows, congregating at dusk on Ascension Church’s knobby towers (left) and the Cathedral Mansions roof (right). While the sky still glows after sunset they fly west to roost beyond the VA Hospital.
Last month they congregated long before sunset near the Cathedral of Learning but they’ve been warned not to do that. On 29 July a peregrine chased the pre-roost flock out of Oakland. I watched her repeatedly dive-bomb them, harass an individual low-flying crow, and push the flock east into the trees in Shadyside. As soon as they had settled far away, Morela flew back to the Cathedral of Learning.
The crows still fly west into the sunset and east into the sunrise but now they give the Cathedral of Learning peregrines a wide berth.
Any day with a crow in it is full of promise.
— Candace Savage
(photos by Kate St. John)
A few days later: Here’s a fuzzy picture of them on Ascension Church towers.
I went snorkeling and came back an hour later. As I was getting out of the sea I saw the crow pull my trousers out of my bag which were rolled up. It pulled the trousers out and then went into the pocket and got my wallet out. I had my fins on, there was no way I could get to it. … The crow just looked at me with my wallet in its mouth and took it up to the top of the tree.
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Every night, from late October 2020 through mid January 2021, Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock staged or roosted in Oakland. 20,000 to 24,000 crows came through Oakland during the Christmas Bird Count, then suddenly around 21 January they were gone. They didn’t even fly over. They hadn’t left town yet … so where did they go?
On 31 January I posted Where Did the Crows Go? and everyone pitched in with news. Diana, David and Dah mentioned huge numbers at Heinz Lofts. Riley Baker’s video from Spring Hill City View showed crows staging nearby at sunset. On Saturday I scouted for a place to stand with a sunset view of Heinz Lofts and thanks to you I …
Found the crows!
From my vantage point at 25th Street on 6 February it looks like all 20,000 flew over the North Shore and Troy Hill. At top and below thousands are silhouetted against the sky near the Heinz chimneys. (Click on the photo below for a larger version)
They began to roost in trees along the Allegheny River and on the hillside above Rt 28 at Troy Hill Road.
On Sunday night, after they’d settled in, I observed them from the Heinz Lofts sidewalk at River Road. Thousands of crows look like black leaves in the trees.
Even in the dark they cawed and murmured and whined. There are no human voices in my recording. Except for the electrical hum, it’s all the sound of crows.
Yesterday I stopped by one more time to count the roost trees, estimating that 8,000 crows sleep by the river from Heinz Lofts to the old boat launch.
This is the perfect place to roost. No one has to clean up after them.
The crows are gone from Oakland but not forgotten. 🙂
p.s. Crows are also roosting nearby on the hillside above Rt 28 but I’m not going to count there… too dangerous!
Since last fall a winter flock of 10,000 to 20,000 crows has staged and roosted in or near Oakland. On 16 January I counted 4,000 flying over Schenley Park golf course on their way to the roost. Nine days later, on 25 January, I saw only two crows.
Only 2! The crows are not staging in Oakland and they no longer fly over Schenley Park. I know they’re here somewhere because it’s too early for them to leave town. Where they heck are they?
I tried to find out without driving all over town. On Friday evening I watched from the roof deck at sunset. The only crows in the sky were very far away, flying down the Monongahela River toward town, probably visible from Hazelwood and Greenfield.
Where were those crows going? Where are the rest of them? Where are they sleeping?
If you know the answer please leave a message. Believe it or not I miss them.
(photo by It’s No Game on Flickr via Creative Commons license; click on the caption to see the original)
As the days get longer, members of the winter crow flock start to think of spring. In only six weeks the flock will start dispersing for their breeding territories so those without a mate need to find one soon. Crows mate for life but they don’t pair up until sexually mature at age two. Time is of the essence for young unattached crows.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed new behavior as Pittsburgh’s crows fly to the roost. More aggressive chases and playful tumbling in the sky appear to be interpersonal jousting and perhaps courtship.
Their vocal repertoire is expanding, too. Beyond their raucous caws, crows are making quiet noises when they perch. Here are a few examples.
The smartest bird in the western hemisphere, the common raven (Corvus corax), has come to town and is claiming nest sites in the City of Pittsburgh. Ravens have been seen in Schenley Park, above, and are regularly found at Forbes Avenue in Frick Park. This is a big deal because…
Common ravens were extirpated from eastern North America by 1900. After 1950 they slowly recolonized remote areas of the north and Appalachians but were rarely seen in eastern cities. We were very surprised when a pair showed up at Brunot’s Island in October 2007 and eventually nested there. Since then, very slowly, ravens have become more visible in Pittsburgh.
[When the car noise abates briefly at 0:19 below you can almost hear what the raven is saying, a muted “whup … whup”.]
Yes – just down the road apiece from your boyhood diorama … here he is trying to convey his passion for another raven in the trees below the bridge but being drowned out by traffic. A cyclist saw me videoing and said, wow – that’s a really big crow! pic.twitter.com/3AC4IzaIHR
Huge flocks of crows roost in Portland, Oregon in the winter just as they do Pittsburgh. By 2017 the city realized that the crows’ huge sanitation problem could not be solved with cleanup crews and pyrotechnics so they turned to a team of falconers.
This 9-minute video from Oregon Public Broadcasting, published in November 2018, shows how trained Harris hawks — which normally operate during the day — move the crows at night. Awesome!
(screenshot from OPB video; click on the caption to see the original)