[This content was migrated from my retired nature blog The Wild Beat]
This is what it looks (and feels) like when you’re standing under 10,000+ crows, coming home to roost. I shot the video well after dusk, so I had to crank exposure up in iMovie, causing pixel issues. Still … you’ll get the idea.
This occurs every dusk in Bothell, Washington, when crows from Seattle, Snohomish and other parts in between fly to their nightly roost.
I had never seen a roost of this magnitude, and I can’t say I was prepared for it. We were told to get a vantage point from a parking garage, top floor, which we did. We watched probably a thousand or so crows fly in from the south and head toward some trees north of us, which was spectacular enough.
The “River of Crows,” as some call it, fizzled out overhead, so we moved a bit farther north to where we saw them land. I couldn’t imagine what we would see next. Our river was but a trickle compared to the cacophony of crows landing, perching, flushing again and again … then meeting new crows flying in by the hundreds. Using The Birds as a clichéd comparison doesn’t even come close to describing how it feels to stand below an airborne nation of crows.
The fly-in rivaled, for me, the first time I watched a fleet of Tundra Swans fly over the Sacramento Delta. The crows’ sudden flushing from the trees was like a Snow Goose blast, as birds take to the air en masse.
We followed them to the road below where they now swarmed the rooftops.
From the rooftops, they descended at once to an adjacent soccer pitch (depicted in the video above).
By now, it was too dark for any photos of the field, although I wish I could have photographed this segment. I was shooting at ISO 10,000 and still getting pitch-black images.
The crows were packed body to body on the pitch. After a few minutes, they started walking — or rather, swaggering the way crows do — toward the far edge of the field. We presumed they were headed for the trees below where the field leveled off. It was too dark to see their final roosting spot and we didn’t want to venture in that direction and disturb their nightly ritual.
I found this video lecture by University of Washington crow expert, John Marzluff. I’ve mentioned Marzluff’s work previously in my blog posts when discussing crows. The video is long — an hour plus — but below, I’ve marked the times for various points in the discussion … just in case you want to skip through to the particular topics that interest you.
I love crows, that’s no secret — from the first crow we ever rescued and tried to rehabilitate, when I was just a schoolgirl. I love and appreciate these birds even more now, after being lucky enough to witness this phenomenon. There are no words nor lenses powerful enough to capture the visceral essence of these events when we experience them. I can only hope that my retention and memory is as sharp as a crow’s (see minute 48:30 in the video below for a discussion of crow brains and complexities).
- 0 to 10 minutes: The roosting behavior of crows at UW Bothell Campus
- 10:00 – Caledonian Crows’ complex problem solving and insight
- 12:30 – Risk-taking behavior of ravens and crows
- 13:40 – Delinquent behavior (beer drinking, opioid receptors, etc)
- 14:20 – Conflict/”warfare”
- 14:50 – Mischievous behavior
- 16:30 – “Hitchcock,” the windshield-wiper-stealing raven
- 18:20 – Corvid language and a corvid’s practical joke on dogs
- 20:25 – Crow funerals
- 22:08 – Intelligence and brain structure
- 30:00 – Cultural co-evolution of crows and other species
- 31:18 – Recognition by crows of human faces
- 35:10 – Mask studies (recognition) at UW campus
- 45:15 – PET scans of crow brains and emotional responses
- 48:30 – PET scan imagery
- 54:07 – Corvids and “gifting” to humans