Category Archives: Crows & Ravens

Any Day with a Crow in it is Full of Promise

Sunrise on 15 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

21 August 2021

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.

Sunrise with three crows heading east, 15 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

Crows congregating on Ascension Church towers (photo by Kate St. John)

Raven Kids at Play

Ravens wrestle (screenshot from @CrytzerFry)

18 June 2021

After young ravens fledge they hang out with their parents for one to six weeks and putter with their siblings. Sometimes they pick mock fights and wrestle like puppies.

@CrytzerFry’s camera trap caught them in the act.

Ravens just wanna have fun. 😉

p.s. How do we know these are young ravens? The gape (opening of their beaks) and mouth are pink — even pinker when they are younger.

Juvenile ravens at Veldhoven Zoo, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(screenshot from embedded Twitter video by Melissa Crytzer Fry @CrytzerFry, photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(*) “WWE” = World Wrestling Entertainment

Stay Away From My Baby

Raven strafes a coyote that got too close to her youngster (screenshot from tweeted video by @CrytzerFry)

8 June 2021

Ravens and coyotes can work together but not when a fledgling raven is involved. A motion detection camera captured this mother raven’s reaction when a coyote came too close to her fledgling.

Keep your distance! Stay away from my baby!

p.s. Sometimes ravens and coyotes work together. See these anecdotes from the Adirondacks (https://www.adirondackavianexpeditions.com/behavior/communication-between-common-ravens-and-eastern-coyotes-an-observation) and San Francisco (https://coyoteyipps.com/2010/06/11/crows-and-ravens/).

(screenshot from embedded Twitter video by Melissa Crytzer Fry @CrytzerFry)

Crow Steals Wallet

Carrion crow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

17 May 2021

Earlier this month author Wyl Menmuir went snorkeling at Flushing Beach in Falmouth, England to do research for his next book. Things took a turn when a crow(*) showed up.

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.

Falmouth Packet UK, Wyl Menmuir has wallet stolen by crow at Flushing beach, 13 May 2021

But it got worse. The crow opened the wallet, pulled out the contents and scattered them in the tree!

Click on the news link below to find out how Menmuir got most of his wallet back.

At least one carrion crow at Flushing Beach has a reputation.

(*) It was not an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). In England the crows are carrion crows (Corvus corone).

(carrion crow photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

For The Love Of Crows

American crow (photo by Mick Thompson via Flickr Creative Commons license)

15 February 2021

I love crows but I don’t see very many now that the winter flock moved away from my neighborhood. Last Saturday afternoon I was thrilled to see 70 flying low in the fog on their way to the North Shore where they’ve roosted since late January.

I miss the big flocks but I’ve found ways to see crows online. Here’s a three-session online course and some folks to follow on Twitter for the love of crows.

Anything but Common: The Hidden Life of the American Crow

Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy is offering …

This self-paced, online course is all about the remarkable lives of American Crows. Taught by world-renowned crow biologist Dr. Kevin McGowan, who has worked with a banded population for decades, you’ll get an inside look into what makes them so compelling—from their complex social lives to their impressive problem-solving skills.

— Click here to learn more about The Hidden Life of the American Crow.

On Twitter …

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London @ravenmaster1 tweets about the Tower of London ravens.

Corvid researcher Kaeli Swift, PhD @corvidresearch studies crows (and monarchs) and posts a weekly #CrowOrNo quiz. (Is it a crow? Or no?)

Crow Monthly @CrowMonthly posts photos and comments by and for crows. 😉

(photo at top by Mick Thompson and screenshot from Bird Academy; click on the captions/images to see the original)

Found The Crows!

Twilight over the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh. Crows swirl near Heinz chimneys, 6 Feb 2021, 5:50pm, taken at 25th St (photo by Kate St. John)

9 February 2021

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)

Thousands of crows fly past the Heinz chimneys to roost at the river’s edge, 6 Feb 2021, 5:50pm (photo by Kate St. John)

They began to roost in trees along the Allegheny River and on the hillside above Rt 28 at Troy Hill Road.

Crows flying past Troy Hill near Allegheny River roost, 6 Feb 2021 5:55pm (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

Crows roosting at Allegheny River near Heinz Lofts, 7 Feb 2021, 7:40pm (photo by Kate St. John)
Crows roosting at Allegheny River near Heinz Lofts, 7 Feb 2021, 7:38pm (photo by Kate St. John)

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!

p.s. Thanks to Mary Brush @jeepgrl18 for this tip: You can see the crows at dusk on this webcam: Earthcam.com — Pittsburgh.

(photos and audio by Kate St. John)

Where Did The Crows Go?

Crows at sunrise in Melton (photo by It’s No Game via Flickr Creative Commons license)

31 January 2021

We have a mystery here in Pittsburgh.

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)

Whispering Sweet Nothings?

American crow pair in Seattle, Dec 2019 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

26 January 2021

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.

Rattle call: Kaeli Swift, PhD @corvidresearch says the rattle call is made by female crows.

In the video below a pair vocalizes at a feeder. One bows and rattles (female), the other bobs and ‘welps.’ Then a crowd shows up.

And finally, this crow is making a strange sound. Is he barking?

Do crows whisper sweet nothings to each other? No human can say for sure.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, click on the caption to see the original; videos embedded from YouTube)

Ravens In Pittsburgh!

Raven in Schenley Park, 4 Jan 2021 (photos by Andrea Lavin Kossis)

13 January 2021

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.

Common raven flies by Western Penitentiary, 13 Oct 2007 (photo by Chuck Tague)

Ted Floyd, editor of the ABA’s Birding Magazine, sparked a discussion of city ravens in his blog post: How to Know the Birds: No. 51, The Impossible Raven.

Ted has Pittsburgh roots from the time when ravens were scarce, but now lives in Boulder, Colorado where ravens are common in town. His tweet prompted lots of feedback from Pittsburgh birders.

Michelle Kienholz contributed video of ravens at Forbes Ave in Frick Park including a second video of a raven “whispering” sweet nothings to his/her mate. (Michelle’s remark refers to a photo of the raven diorama at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History taken by Mike Fialkovich.)

[When the car noise abates briefly at 0:19 below you can almost hear what the raven is saying, a muted “whup … whup”.]

Watch and listen for ravens in the city. “Brock! Brock!”

(photos by Andrea Lavin Kossis and Chuck Tague plus embedded tweets)

Falconry Moves Portland’s Winter Crows

screenshot from OPB video: Urban Falconry in Portland Oregon

7 January 2021

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)