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Why Do Crows Like To Gather in Large Roosts?
Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2012 by eNature
American Crow vocalizing
American Crow vocalizing
Range of American Crow
Range of American Crow

Steve Bailey is a bit of an exception.

Whereas most people in Danville, Illinois, wish the crows now in their midst would find themselves another winter home, he welcomes the visitors with open arms. He’s a bird lover, of course, and proud to live in the unofficial Winter Crow Capital of North America—despite the noise, the mess, and the smell that comes with that distinction.

Danville is home to roughly 35,000 people. Its crows, however,  number some 162,000 according to the recent Audubon Christmas Bird Count. There are so many crows in the 6- to 8-block area where they nightly roost that their weight sometimes snaps branches off trees.

And then there’s the endless supply of droppings and the incessant racket. No wonder some desperate residents have cut down healthy shade trees in order to force the birds to relocate. Others have tried scaring the birds away with plastic owls and sirens, even recordings of Barred Owl calls played throughout the night.

Still, the birds remain. The most obvious reason for their stubbornness is that Danville offers a perfect location for crows. It’s in a river valley surrounded by agricultural land in all directions. As for the crows’ communal tendencies, the birds know that there is strength in numbers. That is, roosting together helps them watch for predators and increases their chances of finding food.

Given these tendencies, it should come as no surprise that Danville’s is not the only large crow roost that takes shape in the United States from fall to spring. In Jasper County, Iowa, for example, thousands of crows settle down a little to the east of Newton. In Massachusetts, up to 20,000 descend on the center of Framingham every afternoon. Wichita, Kansas, has 100,000 crows spread among a few roosts. And in the 1940s and ‘50s, Stafford County, Kansas, hosted upwards of a million crows in winter, though that roost eventually disintegrated.

And perhaps the same fate will someday befall Danville’s crows. No doubt most of the town’s residents would welcome such a development. For bird lovers like Steve Bailey, though, Danville just wouldn’t be the same without its winter crows.

Good or bad, they’re certainly a spectacle!

Have you encountered a large roost of crows?  There’s one not far from our eNature office— and you’ll often hear it before you see the birds.  It’s always a fun visit.

Let us know what you’re seeing out there!

Story from Danville's local paper about the Xmas Bird Count of crows »

How to tell a crow from raven »



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Posted by lighting manufacturers on 1/26

To learn more about crows and their amazing abilities - watch the PBS’ episode “A Murder of Crows” - you can find it at the PBS/WNET/Nature website.

Posted by eileen on 1/27

I am a bird watcher and have enjoyed the Goldfinches this winter.  I thought it was great when there were so many that I started counting, then estimated 65 of those little jewels!  Then a few weeks later during an Artic cold spell, the whole yard was full of Goldfinches!  Again I counted and estimated at least 100!!  They really go through the thistle seed and sunflower seed!  But having them to watch and enjoy is worth it.

Posted by Sarah on 1/27

Just a few hundred yards below the fabrication shop I work at and around a railroad track several hundred crows gather this time of year. It is well within the city limits of Greensboro,NC just back from our most heavy travaled road. I enjoy this sight as I leave work and have wonder why the gathering. It is truely a sight!

Posted by Douglas Rudisill on 1/27

Great roost in Pensacola, FL.  Every cold snap brings a congregation of crows to the big Yellow Pines on the campus of Pensacola State College… Wonderful spectacle to see and hear!

Posted by Kelly on 1/27

What did birds do before Humans began making and providing Suet for them?

Posted by Keith Brown on 1/27

I often travel to Bangor, Maine with my daughter. Every afternoon, huge flocks of crows fly in a steady stream to the trees in Mt Pleasant Cemetery, and to the trees lining the banks of the nearby Kenduskeag Stream.

We sometimes see the crows mobbing an eagle or being mobbed by smaller birds with big attitudes.

It’s absolutely amazing to see this many birds in one place. I’ve always liked crows and ravens. They’re intelligent, curious and gregarious, and beautiful to watch.

Posted by Lill Hawkins on 1/27

There is a huge number of crows (a few hundred?) that roost on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, MI. I’ve definitely begun making sure I have a head covering when I walk under those splattering trees!

Posted by Melinda on 1/27

We only have 7 winter resident crows that watch our bird platform feeder each day, we put all our food scraps out there and within 5 minutes the crows are on it.  Our crows are not too noisy except in the spring when the fledglings are out of the nest and constantly begging for food.
I do see many crows on carrion alongside the roads though, they feast along with the bald eagles.

North central WI.

Posted by Nelly on 1/27


Posted by CLAUDE COVINGTON on 1/27

Ft. Cobb Oklahoma used to have what was called “world’s largest crow roost”, about 6 million birds as I recall.  To my knowledge that large number no longer is there . . . what happened?  West Nile Virus?

Posted by drdalequail on 1/27

We have a large roost of crows every year in Ann Arbor. I love them. They make the dreary winter much more interesting. I enjoy the noise they make and the way they look flying in large groups. I think they are beautiful.

Posted by Felicia on 1/27

I have a ranch in central texas where we do wildlife management and have a home here. We have a resident family of crows. They are the most wonderful birds. They are smart, social and resourceful. They eat almost anything they can find including what my horses and cattle spill from their feed bins, and any food the dogs leave in their bowls. They sometimes nest near our home but are never very trusting of humans - for good reason - Texans like guns.If I were reincarnated as a bird, I would want to be a crow.

Posted by allen on 1/27

Crows really are an amazing bird - little buggers, but smart little buggers.  I have a rescue pony who enjoys chasing them away from the birdfeeders.  They just think it’s a big game with her.

I put my feeders in large bird cages to keep the crows and pigeons from shaking the feeders. So far it’s working.

Posted by Dorothy Kehres on 1/27

For those interested in the locations of crow roosts there is a Winter Roost Location map on the crows(dot)net website. I’ll add those listed here, that we don’t already have, to the map. I’ve also just recently published a book, “The Language of Crows: The crows(dot)net Book of the American Crow” that provides a lot of information about crow roosts as well as many other aspects of crow life history, culture and language. You can check that out too on the crows(dot)net website or just google it.

Posted by Michael Westerfield on 1/27

I would love to have a raven in my back yard as we have plenty of snakes and black widow spiders.
I do however have want to ask…Is the black widow spider dangerous for the raven?
And….since my neighbor already has his yard set up for song birds, would the raven be a threat to the smaller birds?
Thank you for the sound of his voice. It may help me to hear him if he’s in the area.

Posted by Doodlebugs on 1/27

Eileen is right! That show on PBS is definitely worth searching for. The part where the crow uses a tool,in several ways, to get at food,was amazing!!

Posted by Michael on 1/27

Baltimore has a massive crow roost on Northern Parkway. Thousands of crows. I like them smile

Posted by ella on 1/27

Buffalo, NY’s Forest Lawn Cemetary gets a whole bunch.  It’s definitely and eerie sight to see!

Posted by sarah on 1/27

For the past few Winters,  Forest Lawn Cemetery in the center of Buffalo NY has had anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 (my estimate) crows at night. There are enough to make a couple dozen large trees look like they’re full of black leaves,  and if they gather on a road, the road appears to be gone after dark.  If disturbed late at night, an entire tree-load of birds will take off without a sound & settle on another tree.

Posted by Daniel on 1/27

We have hundreds of crows that roost in the trees surrounding our office buildings in Milwaukee, WI.  They leave a huge mess. They put out owls on the ledges but they don’t scare the crows.  I’ve even seen a crow sitting on one of the plastic owls!  At times I’ve counted upwards of 50 crows in the trees.  Just glad they aren’t congregating around my home!

Posted by Pam on 1/27

Crows have always annoyed me. I don’t trust ‘em.  They make too effective alarm clocks when you least want one.  I used to crow back at them and if you got the pitch right they’d fly away…

Posted by Tracy on 1/27

Hello there, I lived in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada and we have had lots and lots of crows coming to roost in our town for a while now. It is quite something to see. When we were up beside Walmart the last time which is at the other end of town from were we live they just kept coming and coming it was an awesome sight to see. We have also had them down where we live around centertown. The trees were packed. One thing I read about them they take care of each other and if one is sick a few of them stay with the sick and take care of them. Also I learned by reading up that Blue Jays and Crows come from the same family, check it out.

Posted by Lindy Fellober on 1/27

Out here in California we have a very large roost of crows in the Whittier Narrows Recreational Park in El Monte, CA - In the evening when they all come back to roost - it looks like a scene from the move “The Birds” - Gotta Love My Crows though.

Posted by Mama Crow on 1/27

Behind my house is a grove of huge pecan trees.  When the crows come to them, say over one hundred they perch early morning sending scouts out around the area looking for bird feeders, squirrel feeders, and pet food left outside.  The scouts land in bushes, look the target over carefully then seem to signal the rest of the murder to come on down to eat.  Once they are disturbed, off they go till the next morning.  This is in lower AL.

In WA state I found crows to be the most noticed bird outnumbering all others many times over.  These crows seem bigger than those in the southeast making me call them ravens.  Is a raven a kind of crow?  Many seem solitary while others can be seen flying high in groups as if migrating.

I have seen a captured crow that was too injured to fly, taught to talk as if it were a minor bird.

Posted by Ejb on 1/27

I guess Francine has crossed nature off her list when she crossed off the crow killing the robin chick.  Has she crossed off cats for killing birds, and lions for killing monkeys?  How about humans for killing all of the above?

Posted by Juli on 1/27

Here’s a little BirdNote show about “The Crows’ Night Roost”—

Posted by Ellen Blackstone on 1/27

When I was a boy some 50 years ago, and lived on my grandfathers farm, we had many crows in the orchard hedgerow quite a ways from the back door.
I would go to the back door with my 22 rifle, and they would raise an awful racket and fly off. The next time I used a broom stick like a rifle to point at them, and they ignored me.
Pretty smart critters!!!

Posted by john on 1/27

I live in an agriculture section in Florida and always find it amazing to see a loud gathering of crows.  If I watch long enough, sometimes I see a bobcat that the crows seem to be following and yelling at.

Posted by Elaine on 1/27

We are in Silicon Valley at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mtns. Our house is surrounded by redwoods and cypress where there may be over 70 to 80 or more crows roosting. We used to have songbirds and resident doves and resident quail. Now all we have are crows. I recently woke to flapping and a lot of noise from outside my window. When I went outside to look, there was a squawking crow with its head inside a birdhouse that the finches use. I scared it away and turned back to see egg yolk dripping out of the bottom of the birdhouse. I was heartbroken. Now I know why there isn’t any birdsong nor doves nor quail around us anymore.

Posted by Sylvia4 on 1/27

Minneapolis also has this daily migration of thousands of crows from the nighttime in the heart of the city to daytime in the inner and outer suburbs. I can hardly believe it is worth their while to fly so far, back and forth. Interestingly, the inner city roost spot moves around over the course of the year.

Posted by Lee Ann on 1/27

Just north of where I live in Conn thousands of crows gather to roost every night in Waterbury. It is the coolest thing to see as they start flocking to the trees there. Knowing this makes me smile when I look out my back yard as the day is ending and I see them flying in that direction

Posted by Thomas on 1/28

A friend and I used to think that the vocal small group of crows that would show up around our homes were having trials and finding individuals “guilty” or “not guilty” of some imagined offense. They were certainly gregarious and noisy!

Posted by Memmudbug on 1/28

For Tracy:
I watched that PBS show mentioned in the second or third comment.  The next morning I was telling a friend about it over coffee on the front porch.  I imitated the CAW CAW CAW of its call for ‘Danger! Something’s coming!” and after a few seconds an answer came!  I was so delighted to hear I’d gotten it right.  A single crow flew out of the woods and circled for a good long time, I guess trying to find the danger and/or the other crow.  What an exhilerating experience, to realize I had talked to a crow!

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 1/28

I was in southern Ontario last December and visited 2 separate crow roosts in Chatham and Woodstock. I guess each had about 50,000 crows. Quite an amazing sight, watching them assemble in the early afternoon as they move closer to the final roosting site. The ground and sky are covered with beautiful black bodies.
Other roosts in the 1980s were at Hamilton, Essex (now empty) and St Catharines near Niagara Falls.
In southern Ontario, the winters are mild, with little snow, and the amount of field corn and soybeans left after the harvest is staggering. For fresh insects, the crows peck open the bases of remaining corn stalks and remove larvae of the European Corn Borer, helping the farmer with free biological control of this insect.
I am writing and illustrating a book on the natural history of the American Crow which I hope to publish online as pdfs in late 2012.

Posted by Tom Reaume on 1/28

I love to hear crows in the woods.  If you look to see what the noise is all about sometimes you will see an owl, hawk or eagle being harassed.  Cool!  Many of wrote about the congregation, flock,or roost of crows,  use the real term of ‘Murder of Crows.”  Any time yo get a group of crows it is called a Murder of Crows….Interesting.

Posted by Matthew Porter on 1/28

We don’t have as many crows around here.  But one day as I parked my car to grocery shop I saw a crow with a styroform cup near a curb.  He’d knock the cup down, strut around it once or twice…..then straighten the cup upright. around he’d go again….knock it down and around again.  it had to be a game he was playing….I sat there for 10 minutes watching that crow.  They fascinate me!

Posted by Nancy Thurmond on 1/28

Friday night, shortly after sunset, I saw a few thousand crows gathering by Hardack in St Albans VT.

Posted by Gregg Gervais on 1/28

Springfield,Ohio has a large roost of around 40,000.They always come in town from the Northwest an move to the southeast with their roo sting. I’ve lived here since 1988 an they never miss coming. Noisy but fun to watch.

Posted by mORRIE SINCLAIR on 1/28

There is some other information I didn’t put on my last post of the crows. More than once we have seen crows, usually about two or three and they will bombard a hawk. We have seen it happen. They get above him and hassle him. We looked up in the tree because of the squawing they were making towards the hawk.  Another time we actually saw them protect a lone pigeon, on a wire, as a hawk was trying to get the pigeon and they wouldn’t let him do it. Every time he went after the pigeon they would hassle him, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing, it was awesome. So many people don’t take notice of things around them and nature is absolutely nature to watch.

Posted by Lindy Fellober on 1/29

I recently moved into a building that has 11 floors and I live on the ninth. There was a roost of crows that I could hear just before dawn, lots of clicking and cawing. I was not able to estimate their numbers cause they left when it got light. My question is what was the clicking that they made, and was it communication like the cawing? Love to see and watch the crows play with the falcons. The falcons just sit and watch until they bore of the crows dive bombing them.

Posted by Jodee on 1/29

Auburn, NY is also home to a roost of about 50,000 crows at its peak.

Posted by Jared on 1/29

I have to correct a word above in my e-mail to you. I wanted to write that nature is awesome to watch because that is how I feel. I had put nature is absolutely nature.

Posted by Lindy Fellober on 1/29

Many years ago we found an injured crow, broght it home and kept it in a large cage that we had.  It healed and was set free.  The first few days it just stayed near the cage, then would come to the kitchen porch and caw for us until we fed it.  We had several outside “barn” cats that we fed in a large pan.  The crow would get right in there with the cats who never bothered it.  It loved grapes and would take 2-3 in its beak and “hide” them in the yard, under leaves, in trees. Often, when we were outside, the crow would swoop down and land on our heads or shoulders and try very hard to “talk” to us.  It stayed all summer and fall then flew off.  We never knowingly saw it again, but many years later did find a spoon that we had fed it with high in the fork of a tree branch that broke in a storm. I still think of that crow everytime I see one.

Posted by Ann on 1/30

There’s a large roost in Springfield Ma too. I see them every morning on my way to work.

Posted by mike on 1/31

When I was a kid we would rob a crow’s nest and raise a young crow.  They made such great pets.  They would come to us whenever we went outside and follow us around in the garden. They would ride on our shoulders.  We never managed to teach one to talk, though we tried.  They would steal the cat food. Come fall they would disapper - I suppose they joined a “murder of crows!”

Posted by Peggy on 2/1

I live outside Glorieta, NM, and have several hundred crows who hang out here all year round.  I have several acres in a pretty much “natural” state but also have feeding areas for a variety of birds and a variety of four footed critters (squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, coyotes, rabbits etc. and (sigh) there are pocket gophers galore)
The crows move from the front to the back of the house and the smaller birds simply alternate with them.  The crows will eat just about anything - but they are not fond of pickles (from a forgotten picnic lunch plate) although a dozen or so did try them.

Posted by Joyce Horvath on 2/3

When I would visit the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY for various Expos, we’d park in the nearby lot next to the exit of the Bronx River Parkway.  In the evening, when we’d go into the parking lot, hundreds of crows would be assembling in the trees surrounding the lot.  Twilight was the time for them to roost.  Awesome sight!

Posted by Kay Martin on 2/6

I dont really like crows but one time I droped a french fry from Mcdonolds and a crow ATE IT!!

Posted by Nathan 9 on 2/6

A large gathering of crows happens near downtown Cincinnat every fall and winter. I have noticed that the all fly in in individual small groups from all directions like the spokes on a wheel all flying to the hub. I think there may also be a collective “heat cloud” formed when they are all together in the 100’s or 1000’s. And of course they just to want socialize and talk about what’s going on in the world.

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