Category Archives: Crows & Ravens

Crows Recognize Their Friends

American crow at Laval University, Quebec City (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

28 November 2021

Smart crows are naturally wary around humans. Though most people don’t even notice birds, crows know that some humans are malicious.

Crows notice us noticing them. They watch us back while they assess whether we’re dangerous or beneficial. They learn the faces of enemies so they can recognize them later. They also remember their friends.

A friendship with crows can run both ways when the crows bring gifts.

An “enemy” can become a friend if he’s consistently kind and trustworthy, as was this mailman in Vancouver, BC.

Peanuts were the treat that turned an “enemy” into a friend.

Crow with peanuts in Newfoundland (photo by Felip1 via Flickr Creative Commons license)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Felip1 via Flickr Creative commons license. Embedded videos from YouTube. Click on the captions to see the originals)

Appreciating Crows

American crow in Castle Shannon, Pittsburgh (photo by Christopher Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

21 November 2021

Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock has been avoiding my North Oakland neighborhood for three weeks now and I miss them. When I see them in the late afternoon, if I see them at all, they are flying very high in a steady stream. Where are going? Does anyone know?

The only crows I see are too few or too high for me to appreciate their raucous calls and aerial antics so I enjoyed them this recent video from #LesleytheBirdNerd. Listen to a crow Meow!

Like the video? Subscribe to Lesley’s channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/LesleytheBirdNerd/

If you know where Pittsburgh’s crows are roosting (spending the night), please leave a comment below. I’d love to find them.

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

A Warm Week of Crows and Insects

As the waxing moon rises, crows swirl above the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain at Frick Fine Arts, 8 November 2021

13 November 2021

It’s been a warm week in November for crows and insects with lows above freezing and highs in the mid to upper 60s.

Since I last reported on Pittsburgh’s winter crows they’ve changed their flight path and staging areas. Prior to 2 November they staged near the border of North Oakland and Shadyside but that evening they refused to fly over my neighborhood and haven’t done so since. I imagine they wore out their welcome and were encouraged to leave.

Frustrated that I could not see them from home I searched by car late Monday afternoon. There were no crows staging in the Upper Hill, Polish Hill, the Strip District, or near Trees Hall though I found a few hundred at Oak Hill west of Carlow. As I drove back from the Strip District I found a steady stream of crows flying toward the Cathedral of Learning — from where? — carefully avoiding the airspace above North Oakland and west Shadyside.

I chased them down to Frick Fine Arts where thousands were pouring in from every direction. They swirled in the trees near the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain and perched on the roof of Posvar Hall. In the top photo the fountain’s female statue appears to be holding up her arm to ward off the crows but in fact she is plucking a lyre and singing A Song to Nature for Pan, the reclining male figure, frozen in bronze since 1918.

Of course the crows would love to roost near the fountain. It has everything they’re looking for. Mature trees, night lights and the white noise of splashing water. But there are too many of them. Those who can’t find a spot fly over Central Oakland in the dark, scrambling for a place to sleep.

Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain at dusk, 8 November 2021

Meanwhile the week’s warmth brought out a last hurrah of insects including a Virginian tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica) or yellow woolly bear in Volant, PA …

Yellow woolly bear caterpillar, Volant, PA, 10 November 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and a leaf-footed bug outside my window, probably a magnolia leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus fulvicornis). Last year’s leaf-footed visitor was eight days earlier in November. I think I know why they show up.

Leaf-footed bug outside my window, 11 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaf-footed bugs overwinter in leaf litter and are undoubtedly rousted out of their haven when the leaf blowers show up. Shortly before this bug appeared on our window, the 4-man leaf-blower crew at Ascension Church was in the final noisy throes of blowing and vacuuming a huge pile of leaves. I imagine the bug took refuge on our window while he figured out a new safe place to sleep away the winter.

He has something in common with the crows.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Thousands of Crows in Oakland and Shadyside

Crows flying to the roost, October 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 November 2021

It’s that time of year again when thousands of crows come to Pittsburgh to spend the winter. In late October and early November they stage in pre-roost areas in Shadyside and Oakland before flying to the roost after dark.

Lately the crows have been changing their staging location every evening from Shadyside near Devonshire, to the highrise roofs near Neville and Fifth, to Baum at the busway, and on and on.

The staging area is easy to find because, beginning around 3pm, the crows make a beeline for it and they are loud. This KDKA video from 2018 shows what its like to be on the receiving end.

Counting crows and finding their roost is much more difficult. To count them I need a wide view of crows flying against the backdrop of a glowing sky, or I need to know where the roost is and count the evidence on the ground (count trees with excrement beneath).

Since the crows fly silently in the dark from the staging area to the roost, I can’t find the roost by sight or sound so I rely on reports from those of you who have crows rustling, murmuring and pooping on the sidewalks overnight. If crows are spending the night in your neighborhood, let me know!

For me, crows are the only reason to end Daylight Saving Time. Counting them and finding their roost will be easier after we change the clocks on Sunday November 7 and sunset is at 5pm.

(photo by Kate St. John, video from CBS Pittsburgh in 2018)

Three Bird Masks

29 October 2021

Three kinds of bird masks just in time for Halloween.

Wear a festive bird mask that you make at home. It helps to be as skilled as the person in this video. (I am not.)

Wear a mask to attract attention and inspire others to wear masks. (August 2020 at UNC Chapel Hill.)

Or wear a mask to disguise yourself so that crows don’t recognize your face. The video in this vintage article — Wear A Mask — explains why crows react to the full head mask John Marzluff is putting on below.

John Marzluff dons a mask for the crows (screenshots from YouTube)

(screenshots are from the embedded videos)

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)

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)