Category Archives: Crows & Ravens

Crow Update, Dec 14

Crows in winter (photo by Oliver via Flickr Creative Commons license)

14 December 2020

Now that it’s mid December Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock has chosen favorite roosts but continues to adjust the location in subtle ways, especially when it’s cold.

In October they switched sites abruptly — here today, gone tomorrow. In November they focused in Oakland and tried for Schenley Farms. On the 18th I watched the flock hover from four blocks away, then heard a distant BANG! a single banger firework. The crows made a U turn in the sky and didn’t come back.

This month the flock has split into several roosts including rooftops and trees at Bouquet and Sennott, at Fifth and Thackeray, and perhaps at University Prep in the Hill District. On 11 December I followed them to the Hill where I found them staging at Rampart Street, Herron near Milwaukee, and University Prep.

But I don’t know where they sleep. I plan to count them on 26 December for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count so if you see them sleeping somewhere let me know!

Meanwhile, the flock’s incursion into Oakland prompted this tongue-in-check tourism video by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy interns, posted on 20 November.

The crows and I recognize a lot of places in the video. 😉

(photo by Oliver via Flickr Creative Commons license)

p.s. Last evening I found 3,000 crows staging at the back of Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park but it’s not where they sleep. I saw them leave.

Can Crows Learn To Pick Up Coins?

Carrion crows living up to their name, Annecy, 2011

4 December 2020

In the late 1990’s technologist and inventor Joshua Klein began thinking about crows and how they thrive in the human landscape. Crows pick up food we’ve left behind but can they learn to do useful things? What about picking up coins? By 2008 he’d invented the crow vending machine.

Klein’s 10-minute TED Talk in February 2008 set the world ablaze. Crows will pick up coins for peanuts!

You may be wondering: Can I have one of these for my backyard?

Klein’s latest Official Crowbox (August 2018) is the size of a backyard feeder. But don’t get too excited. It looks like you need a soldering iron to put it together. Watch how it works here on YouTube.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. video embedded from TED Talks)

Love Those Fries

Crow with a French fry (screenshot from rattyvonratkins24 video)

17 November 2020

When thousands of crows come to town for the winter what do they find to eat?

Every morning they wake up in the city and spread out during the day to find food near and far. Some travel 10-20 miles to glean from fields and landfills. Others raid dumpsters, prowl parking lots, or poke holes in garbage bags waiting for neighborhood collection.

Up to 65% of an urban crow’s diet is made up of human food and we sure make a lot of it available. Nothing is faster than fast food, especially fries.

Some crows like to dunk their fries.

They are not daunted by paper bags. In this video by Quiscalus a flock of fish crows fights over a bag of fries until the herring gulls take over. I’ve seen this happen in Virginia Beach.

There’s even a 12-foot statue honoring their preference. Crow With Fries by Peter Reiquam was installed in Auburn, Washington on 31 May 2019. (See more at Reiquam’s website.)

Junk food raises crows’ cholesterol but doesn’t seem to have an adverse health effect, at least during the two years of this study.

Love those fries!

(screenshot from YouTube video, statue photo from Reddit; click on the captions to see the originals)

Crow Update, Nov 15

Crows gather in Schenley Park, Jan 2017 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

15 November 2020

This was a big week for crows.

Early November is the time when Pittsburgh’s huge winter flock decides where to sleep for the next three months but no site is large enough to house 20,000 crows. Right now the roost is in flux as the sub-flocks collect and break apart, testing their options.

On Sunday 8 November they came to Oakland from all directions — eastern suburbs, north+west suburbs, and Allegheny Valley — raising the overnight total to 17,000 to 20,000 crows! The next night fewer groups arrived so Oakland’s overnight population dropped to 9,000.

On Thursday the 12th I saw the flocks prepare to roost in Schenley Farms so I called my contacts below and told them to start smacking their “crow clappers.”

Crow clappers for making loud clapping noise (photo courtesy Alex Toner, Univ of Pittsburgh)

It worked. Thousands of crows levitated over the neighborhood then wheeled south to perch on Webster Hall, eventually moving elsewhere. They didn’t roost in Schenley Farms that night.

Some of them are sleeping in the trees at Pitt but even that location is in flux. I’ve seen sidewalk evidence near the closed section of Bigelow Boulevard …

… but they were avoiding the trees at the corner of Bellefield and Fifth after a predator — peregrine? — ate a crow after yanking off the head and wings. The crows stayed away from that warning for weeks. (If you’re curious about the head, click here.)

Eventually the flock will pick a winter roost. I hope it’s one that doesn’t bother people so we can coexist in peace.

(photos by Mike Fialkovich, Alex Toner, Kate St. John)

Counting to Thirteen

Crows flying over Soldiers and Sailors Hall, 24 Oct 2020. 13 in the circle (photo by Kate St. John)

9 November 2020

For the past three months I’ve been trying to count Pittsburgh’s crows but it’s incredibly hard to do. Last night I tried again as they flew from a staging area in Shadyside to a roost somewhere west of Bellefield Avenue. After 20 minutes I suddenly realized I’d missed a steady stream flying in from the Allegheny Valley. How many thousands had I missed? Aaarrg!

My sister-in-law suggested I use photos to count them so here are four photos with 13 crows circled in each one.

Crows roosting near Heinz Chapel, 1 Dec 2017. 13 in the circle (photo by Kate St. John)
Crows flying past Chevron Hall, 24 Oct 2020. 13 in the circle (photo by Kate St. John)
Crows flying at sunset over Wilkins Ave. 13 in the circle (photo by Joanne Tyzenhouse)

Why 13?

Today is Outside My Window‘s 13th anniversary. Since my first blog post on 9 November 2007 I’ve written nearly 5,000 articles, uploaded more than 10,600 photos, and moderated more than 20,000 comments.

In its 13th year the blog has …

Thanks to all of you, my readers, who have kept me blogging about birds, nature and peregrine falcons.  Your enthusiasm keeps me going. And a big thank you to all the great photographers who let me use their photos.  See who they are here.

Woo Hoo!  Happy 13th!

p.s. This is my blog’s birthday (my own is in May). And on the subject of birthdays, this Friday the 13th is King Friday the XII’s birthday. Happy 13th!

(sunset photo by Joanne Tyzenhouse, remaining photos by Kate St. John)

There Will Be No Shortage of Crows

American crow in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

6 November 2020

This week the Pittsburgh winter crow flock changed their habits. Last week they staged above Oakland at Sugar Top but this week they moved to the edge of Shadyside where they hang out on trees and rooftops before flying to the roost. Their evening flight is right outside my window.

On November 2 and 4 I recorded just a fraction of the 10,000 crows flying past my window.

Their abundance reminded me of my favorite quote from David Quammen in Planet of Weeds, Harper’s Magazine, October 1998. In it he describes what Earth will be like after the current great extinction. We won’t have many species and those that survive will be weedy ones that thrive in a broad range of habitats, especially human-altered ecosystems. He writes:

Earth will be a different sort of place—soon, in just five or six human generations.  My label for that place, that time, that apparently unavoidable prospect, is the Planet of Weeds.  Its main consoling felicity, as far as I can imagine, is that there will be no shortage of crows.

David Quammen, Planet of Weeds, Harper’s Magazine, October 1988

Fortunately, I love crows.

p.s. A week ago I estimated 10,000 crows in the winter flock but I need to recount. Last night (5 November) it seemed like a lot more than that!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; video by Kate St. John)

Where Will The Crows Sleep This Winter?

Winter crow flock flies over Soldiers and Sailors, 24 Oct 2020, 18:30 (photo by Kate St. John)

28 October 2020

Since moving to Oakland three months ago I’ve had a front row seat on the crow population. From a family group of six crows in late July the numbers grew to 200 in mid-August, 1000 in late September, 5000 in mid-October and now in late October 10,000 crows come to Oakland every night. The question that worries everyone who has trees is this: Where will the crows sleep?

Crows roost in mature trees or on flat roofs where there’s ambient light, white noise and no disturbance. They want the lights on so they can see danger coming, especially owls. They like white noise — the sound of traffic, rushing water, or humming fans — but they don’t like sudden loud noises.

About 10 years ago the crows chose Pitt’s campus (photo below, December 2017).

Hundreds of crows roost in a tree at Univ of Pittsburgh, moon and Heinz Chapel in background, 1 Dec 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Two winters ago they moved one block north to Schenley Farms, a small neighborhood of mature trees and historic homes where their noise and slippery feces are overwhelming. This year Schenley Farms is going to encourage the crows to sleep elsewhere by making sudden loud noises before the crows settle for the night.

The first step, however, is to find out what the crows are doing. I volunteered for that job and I love it.

I’ve learned that crows move into Oakland almost exactly at sunset, land in final staging areas 1-3 blocks from the roost, and swirl around for 30-45 minutes until they settle.

Crows heading for Oakland at sunset (photo by Joanne Tyzenhouse)

Last Saturday the crows didn’t choose Schenley Farms but I couldn’t see their final roost west of Soldiers and Sailors because of intervening buildings. On Monday evening at 8pm Michelle Kienholz photographed them roosting on trees and buildings near the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH).

Crows roosting on the treetops across from GSPH, 26 Oct 2020 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

They’re hard to see in her photo below …

Crows roost near Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, 26 Oct 2020, 8pm (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

… so I removed the brown and circled them in red. They line the roof edge and the treetops. One is flying in the dark!

Crows roost on 26 Oct 2020 at 8pm near GSPH (photo by Michelle Kienholz with markup)

So far so good. The crows aren’t sleeping near the Cathedral of Learning. They’re not at Schenley Farms.

There’s still a possibility they could choose Schenley Farms but if they do the residents will use “clappers” like those Pitt has found effective for dispersing crows — simply two boards connected by a hinge that can make a loud clapping sound.

Crow “clappers” used at Pitt (photo supplied by Alex Toner)

If clappers don’t work Schenley Farms will warn the crows before they roost by making really loud noises — pyrotechnic “screamers and bangers.” So far it hasn’t come to that.

Where will the crows sleep this winter? Perhaps far away.

Let me know if you find them.

(photos by Kate St. John, Joanne Tyzenhouse and Michelle Kienholz. Clappers photo via Alex Toner at Univ of Pittsburgh)


Fish crow (photo by Chuck Tague)

3 September 2020

Usually “CORVID-19” with an “R” is a typo. This time it’s not.

Crows, ravens and jays are all members of the Corvid (Crow) family. Twenty species occur in the continental U.S. This T-shirt designed by my friend Steve Valasek has nineteen of them. Who’s missing? See below(*).

Steve tweeted this shirt and three related designs with many sizes and colors at Patos Locos Shirts on August 18 but I forgot to order one. This morning I did –> at Patos Locos Shirts. (See Steve’s comment below about availability.)

Does auto-correct change “COVID-19” into “CORVID-19″ for you?

Fine. Let’s make this about crows. 🙂

p.s. The shirt was a collaborative effort. Steve and his birding friend Adam Stein (PhD in ornithology from Syracuse) must have been musing about the disruption of COVID-19 when he came up with this idea. Adam’s wife did the bird art. There’s a story behind the name Patos Locos. Read more here.

(*) Who’s the 20th Corvid who’s not on the shirt? The Tamaulipas Crow (Corvus imparatus). By the way, the northwestern crow was lumped with American crow in June 2020 so it’s no longer a separate species.

(photo by Chuck Tague. T-shirt designed by Steve Valasek is available at Patos Locos Shirts)

p.s. My shirt came! Here’s what it looks like.

Two Crows Save The Day

Two American crows look intently at… (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 July 2020

Crows remember the faces of people who pay attention to them and are kind to those they know(*) so it’s not too surprising that …

Last Sunday two crows saved a toddler in Vancouver, BC from running into traffic.

The toddler’s mother, Arley Cruthers of Vancouver, BC writes:

I usually am in peak helicopter mom mode but today she went from “trying to turn on a water fountain while I sat on a bench” to “running towards traffic” in 1 second flat.

I am not fast so I was chasing after her as she ran towards the road. Suddenly two crows swooped down to the fence and started yelling at her. She stopped, went over to the fence and talked to them. The crows kept up yelling at her and she just stood there, chatting with them.

I caught up, and stood between her and the road, and watched their interaction. After a few minutes, the crows gave me a sharp caw and flew away. Everyone in the playground was like “those crows came over to save your kid.” I made sure to thank them!

— tweets by Arley Cruthers (McNeney)

Crows save the day!

Click here for the complete thread.

p.s. The Twitter thread includes this heartwarming story by June Hunter of how crows helped rescue a lost dog: A Christmas Miracle — with Crows!

(*) p.p.s. Crows also remember the faces those who are mean to them; they shout and harass them.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original; embedded tweet from Arley McNeney Cruthers)

Winter Crows Will Soon Be Gone

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

There’s one thing we can count on with the coming of spring. Pittsburgh’s winter crows will soon be gone.

Every year thousands of crows come to town in November, build to a crescendo by the end of the year and disperse in late February through March.

Residents near the corner of Bellefield and Bayard Avenues in Oakland can hardly wait. This winter a nightly flock of 3,000 to 4,000 crows plagued their area, roosting in trees near the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. The scene in North Oakland looked a lot like this 2013 video from Minneapolis.

The video’s author, Chuck Smith, points out that the crows usually don’t spend the night in his neighborhood but when they do they leave their calling cards behind.

I like watching crows but I don’t have to live with them.

(video by Chuck Smith on YouTube)