Archive for the 'Crows, Ravens' Category

Nov 15 2013

The Crows Moved

Since late October, Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock has been big and brash in Oakland.  At dusk they flood the sky, gathering on roofs and treetops to choose a place to sleep.  Last week they roosted in the trees around Pitt’s Student Union and the Cathedral of Learning.  This got them into big trouble!

Every night pedestrians dodged the “rain” from trees filled with crows and every morning the sidewalks were a slippery crow-poop mess.  The crows had to go.  But how to convince them?

Last weekend Pitt positioned a loudspeaker on the low roof of the Student Union and played very loud bird distress calls over and over all night. They ran it for five nights, Friday through Tuesday, Nov 8-12.

Most people didn’t know it was a recording.  In the dark it sounded like birds fighting and dying:  a robin in awful distress, an unidentified bird screaming and a peregrine kakking.

Late Saturday night Jason Carson recorded the video above and tweeted me with the question: “What is this? Are the peregrines fighting?”

Initially I was fooled and thought it was real, though it didn’t make sense.  Any bird suffering that much would have died after the first assault and the noise would not repeat.  Then Pat Szczepanski told me she heard it Sunday night at 6pm and it dawned on me.  Duh! It’s a recording.

Usually crows are not impressed by bird distress recordings.  They are way too smart to be fooled for long.  Sometimes the only thing that will move them are bird-scare firecrackers like the ones they use at Penn State (click here for videos of Penn State’s “crow wars”).

Why were a few nights of noise enough to move Pittsburgh’s crows away from the Cathedral of Learning?  I have a theory and I think it’s pretty good.

Crows are afraid of peregrines but they’re more afraid of great horned owls.  They know Dorothy and E2 live at the Cathedral of Learning and they know peregrines hate great horned owls so they probably figured “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and they chose to roost at Pitt.

But last weekend there was an awful ruckus and the sound of peregrines defending their home.  “Oh my gosh!” thought the crows, “The owl must be here!  I hear the peregrines attacking it!”

In the dark Dorothy and E2 swooped low to investigate the noise.   “Oh no!” said the crows, “The peregrines are here!  Fly away!”

The crows didn’t move far but they moved far enough.  By Monday evening they were avoiding the trees on campus and roosting instead on the roof of Soldiers and Sailors Hall.   Just far enough to avoid the owl and the peregrines.  Just far enough that Pitt is happy.  Just far enough that the noise has ceased and Dorothy and E2 can get a good night’s sleep.

Without real live peregrines at Pitt, the crows would not have been fooled.

 

(video from Jason Carson on YouTube)

10 responses so far

Nov 09 2013

Now We Are Six!

Six Crows, six cupcakes, six years (animaiton by Joan Guerin)

As of today I’ve been writing Outside My Window for six years.   The crows are crowing, “Yow!”

Every year I provide statistics, but since this is a Saturday I’ll keep it brief so we can get back to our errands or play time. (In my case, errands.)  Here we go:

Did you know you’re one of 574 visitors per day (this year’s average) who generate 21% of all traffic to WQED.org?

Some days are more popular than others.  Sadly the most visited blog entry was the news of Silver Boy’s death on June 14.  More than 3,000 people read about him that day, 79 commented here, and many more commented via Facebook and at the news websites.

Falcon or Hawk? from 2011 continues to win the top prize from Google search.

My favorite photos this year are those that tell stories:  Dramatic peregrines stooping to conquer, turkeys strutting their stuff, and a robin mistaking his reflection for a rival.

Three of the many blogs that taught me new things were:  Juvenile peregrines have special gear to help them fly, modern cornfields are wastelands, and the Border Wall affects birds, too.

Thanks to you, my readers, we have something to crow about.

 

Now we are six!    :)

 

(animation by Joan Guerin)

11 responses so far

Nov 01 2013

Crows Adapt

Published by under Crows, Ravens

American crows gather in a tree in Pittsburgh (photo by Sharon Leadbitter)

Since the first big flock returned ten days ago Pittsburgh’s winter crows have been gathering at dusk in Oakland.

During Wednesday evening rush hour I saw a flock of 100 wheel high over Flagstaff Hill, circle twice and split in two.  Half the crows dropped into Junction Hollow.  The other half flew past CMU.   The flock was so high and quiet that I was the only one to notice…

…until they landed.  In the trees they have a lot to say and keep saying it until dark when they silently leave for the roost.
American crows gather in Lawrenceville (photo by Sharon Leadbitter)

 

Their roost location is still evolving.  In October and early November they favor the trees near Soldiers and Sailors Hall but typically move to Polish Hill by Thanksgiving.  I can tell where they spent the night by the marks on the sidewalk.

Bird poop below the crow roost (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The crows have favorite trees they return to each evening. On Monday a lot of them returned to a surprise.

While they were away, eight of their roosting trees disappeared from Ruskin Avenue.  Literally disappeared!  Here’s what’s left of one of the London plane trees.  Click on the photo to see the row of stumps.  One of six London plane trees cut down on Ruskin Ave, 28 Oct 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

A couple of Novembers ago I counted crows roosting in those very trees and estimated 40 crows per tree that night.  Multiplied by eight my guess is that 320 crows had to find a new place to roost on Monday.  This was significant.  I wish I’d been there to see their reaction.

What did they do?  They probably shook their heads (“Those humans were at it again!”) and moved on.  After all they’re transient.  They sorted it out.  It was no big deal.

Crows adapt.

 

(photos of crows by Sharon Leadbitter. photos of trees and sidewalk by Kate St. John)

p.s. I predict that non-birders will first notice the crows this coming Monday evening.  Some of you know why. ;)

5 responses so far

Oct 23 2013

The Crows Are Back In Town!

Published by under Crows, Ravens

Two American crows ook intently at... (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Guess who’s back?

Their numbers grew quietly this month, gathering at the edges especially near Wilkinsburg.  Last night it was official.  The crows are here.

Peter Bell and Anne Marie Bosnyak emailed reports from Oakland.  My husband called from Squirrel Hill.

Anne Marie said, “Saw a murder of crows at the playground across the street from the Church Brew Works last night and a coworker saw them this morning in Schenley!   Borrowed from Thin Lizzy (source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/)

The crows are back in town! The crows are back in town!

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed crows that had been away
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy.”

Silence isn’t their strong suit.  The crows will have lots to say in the days ahead.

Let me know when you see them.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

9 responses so far

Jan 21 2013

Doing The Wave

If you love huge bird events you’re going to love what Sharon Leadbitter saw last Saturday evening.

Sharon went to the Strip District and filmed the crows coming into the roost.

Thousands upon thousands gathered in the trees.  As night approached they began to do The Wave, just like a crowd in a football stadium.

And they cheered as they rose from their seats.  (Turn up your speakers!)

Check out time code 0:59 to 1:15.

Woo hoo!

(video by Sharon Leadbitter)

 

p.s. Sharon adds, “If anyone wants to join me sometime, the crows start showing up at about 4:55pm and keep coming until around 6:30 or so.”  She posted additional pictures at her Facebook media site here.

6 responses so far

Jan 17 2013

Ravens Have Another Idea

Published by under Crows, Ravens

 

Just like the fighting gulls in Monday’s post, ravens will steal food but they have other ideas on how to go about it.

Watch this video from PBS NATURE’s Ravens.  You’ll be amazed.

(video on YouTube by PBS NATURE)

 

(p.s. The show is not this “Sunday at 8/7″ but it’s available online. Click on the Ravens link above to watch the full episode.)

4 responses so far

Dec 31 2012

20,058 Crows!

Published by under Crows, Ravens

It was cold and very snowy on Saturday when more than 80 people braved the weather to count birds for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count.  We learned the preliminary results last night at the annual CBC Dinner.

Like all counts, Pittsburgh’s circle has a diverse landscape within its 15 mile diameter.  Over the years the circle has seen a lot of residential and commercial development but something made this year special.  Even though all the data wasn’t in yet, we tallied 76 species including tundra swans, common goldeneyes, ravens, red-breasted nuthatches, white-winged crossbills, pine siskins and a short-eared owl (an unusual owl for the Pittsburgh circle).

For sheer numbers, though, the crows won hands down.  Sue Solomon, Claire Staples, Joellen Popma and Jana Oster stationed themselves near the Strip District roost before sunset and counted crows until it was too dark to see.  By then they’d counted more than 18,000 and more were still flying in.  Added to those seen in the rest of the city, the total number of crows counted in the City of Pittsburgh on December 29 was 20,058.  And that doesn’t include crows in other parts of the circle!

To get an idea of what the counters saw last Saturday, here’s a video from Sharon Leadbitter taken in the Strip District exactly two years ago today.  Yes, the crows have been coming here for years.

 

Robins or starlings might outnumber crows in the city right now, but who wants to count them?  We’re busy counting crows!  ;)

(photo by Sharon Leadbitter of crows flying when it’s almost too dark to see; video by Sharon Leadbitter)

3 responses so far

Nov 16 2012

About Rooks

When five rooks came to celebrate my blog’s anniversary last week they piqued my interest because we never see them in North America.

Rooks are Eurasian relatives of crows, found from Ireland to Japan.  At a distance they look like American crows with very long beaks but this is an illusion.  Their beaks look long because the skin on their faces is naked and matches the beak color.

Close up the skin is obvious and a bit disturbing if you’re not used to it.  When they perch with wings hunched and feathers puffed they resemble the Grim Reaper.  Actually, artists probably chose rooks as their model for the Grim Reaper and not the other way around.

Like blue jays, rooks can store food in their throat bags, then carry it elsewhere.  The throat becomes distended as you can see briefly in the video above.

Rooks are more social than their American relatives.  They nest communally in the treetops in collections called rookeries.  In North America we have no rooks but our herons use the same nesting technique so we call their groupings heron rookeries.

Like crows, rooks are curious and really smart but this can make them annoying.  To a rook, it’s normal to make holes to hide food but this is a liability if you keep one indoors.  Fortunately, few people do.

Early this year I enjoyed reading Corvus: A Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson in which she tells the story of her rook named Chicken, a very smart and engaging bird, but I agree with the Daily Mail which said, “Yet perhaps the best measure of Woolfson’s candidacy for sainthood is the permission she has given Chicken to dismantle the plaster and lath on her hallway wall so that the rook has its own food storage space.”

…You see what I mean…?

Smart… but not good pets.

(video by Goldfinch Garden on YouTube)

One response so far

Nov 09 2012

They Say It’s Your Bird-thday!

Look who showed up this morning!  It’s a British Invasion and they’re singing their own version of the Beatles Birthday song,

They say it’s your Bird-thday
We’re gonna have a good time…
Yes we’re going to a party party.
Yes we’re going to a party party.

Hello, Rooks! Thanks for coming all the way from Britain to celebrate Outside My Window’s 5th birthday.  Do you have any requests?

“Yes, we’ve been reading your blog and learning a lot of useful stuff about birds, weather, plants, flowers, and interstellar space.  Now we have 5 questions.”

1.  What numbers describe Outside My Window?
That’s easy.  The blog averages 577 visitors a day and creates 22% of all traffic to WQED.org.   (A big THANK YOU to my readers!)

2.  Which posts had the most readers in the past year?
Dorothy wins the prize. Top readership goes to Peter Bell’s amazing pictures of Dorothy attacking a bald eagle over Schenley Plaza.  Last year’s Falcon or Hawk? continues to win the top prize from Google search.

3. What spawned the most comments?
When National Audubon posted Have You Seen Any Blue Jays Lately? on their Facebook page it generated 63 comments, but the stand-alone prize goes to Mouse In The House with 26.  The mouse struck a cord, eh?

4.  What were your favorite photos in the past year?
Wow, that’s hard!  Here are three: Peter Bell’s Peregrine versus Bald Eagle (of course Dorothy’s always a favorite), Steve Gosser’s Chick at Tarentum and Chuck Tague’s Walking On Air.

5.  Which posts were your personal favorites?
Morning Glory clouds and Move-In Day taught me the most, but I have to say that my favorite was the coming home story of Beauty, the peregrine queen of Rochester, New York in Whose Egg Is This???.

“Oooooooo. Peregrines?!?  We do not like peregrines!”

Sorry, guys.  In compensation I’m letting you eat the entire cake.   (Now that they’re standing on it, it’s theirs!)

(party rooks by Joan Guerin)

p.s.  Do you have a favorite post?  A suggestion for new topics?  Leave a comment and let me know.

12 responses so far

Nov 02 2012

Prediction

Published by under Crows, Ravens

 

I predict that the first time most people notice that big flocks of crows are back in town will be during evening rush hour on Monday November 5.

Can you guess why?

 

(video of the flock in December 2010 by Sharon Leadbitter)

6 responses so far

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