Congress of Crows

Here come the crows! Every morning and evening, large numbers of crows fly over our home. I have seen more than a hundred on occasion, flapping in groups or long bands. They are moving to or from the nearest major town, Waterville, where they spend the night.  We are situated seven miles from town, and apparently, along a main crow flyway.

As predictable as clockwork, the morning exodus from town brings the birds over us just about sunrise, or one-half hour after the skies lighten.  So, it takes a crow approximately a half-hour to go seven miles–as the crow flies.  In the evening their numbers fill the air above us perhaps an hour before full dark.  This phenomenon occurs every day, no matter the season.

Researchers have found that crows tend to congregate in roosting areas mostly during the fall and winter.  The rest of the year they break off into smaller breeding and family groups.  It is mostly the younger crows that gather in large quantities to spend the nights together, in congresses, as big raucous groups of these birds are called.  (Can’t imagine why something making high levels of noise with little accomplishment would be called a congress.)

Our crows’ routines seem to vary from what researchers have discovered.  The season makes little difference to their behavior.  They fly to the warmer, lighted city to spend the night and spread out each morning to hunt and scavenge.  I have seen their loud nightly urban gatherings in the tops of leafless oak trees in fall and dead tall trees during other seasons.  Pity the poor home owners living near these congresses, they must get a rude awakening every pre-dawn.  The crow’s call is one of the most piercing and far-carrying of birds.

Among all animals, the crow’s intelligence stands out.  Parts of their brains are as large, by body volume comparison, as our own.  Corvus brachyrhynchos, the American crow, has the same smarts as any of its many relatives around the world.  These crows have learned that intown is warmer than the country for sleeping purposes and the bright lighting used in cities provides a chance to spot the owls that prey on crows.  Many towns have mature trees evenly spaced in large clearings (parking lots, lawns and parks,) providing great vantage points for vulnerable roosting crows to spot predators.

Their brilliance and ability to survive on the foulest of carrion gives crows a distinct advantage. I suspect their species will continue to flourish long after we humans have brought about our extinction. Finding a new safe sleeping place will be a puzzle for them once the cities go dark. As they observe our destructive behavior from on high, I imagine the crows have already set their avian brains to the problem.



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