A Murder of Crows?

For those not familiar with the term, a gathering of crows is called a “murder.” This is the more colorful name for them–other folks simply call them a flock or a gathering. But an internet search for the term came up with a movie and a band by the same name so clearly the catchy name holds some appeal to some folks.

Crows, and their larger bird cousins the ravens, play either a “good” or a “bad” role (if one must assign them those freighted terms) in different cultures. In the United States, many of our native peoples saw them as spirit guides. Yet farmers often see them as scavengers and destroyers. This brief article I found on the PBS web site gives some good information.

This reputation is not entirely undeserved since crows and their entire race, the corvids, are omnivorous, meaning they will eat almost anything: seeds, grain, nuts, berries and yes, flesh, including small animals and the babies of other birds.

Perhaps this is due to their size. My late father reminded me of an incident I had completely forgotten shortly before he passed away. I’m not sure how young I was but it was clearly the first time I’d seen a crow. He and I had walked outside and a crow was sitting on top of the neighbor’s garbage can. I do recall, as a child, that for awhile we had a problem with crows getting into all the garbage in our neighborhood. This must have been early in that problem.

Anyway, Dad said I turned to him and asked, wide-eyed, “What is that?!”

I can only imagine what would have happened if the crows had decided to make our neighborhood their winter home.

A gathering of crows in a winter home is what’s known as as the crows winter roost. It sounds kind of benign when put that way but I can assure you to the residents living in Hartford and West Hartford who have to endure this every year, it is anything but. Literally thousands of crows descend on everything in sight every evening–the photo of crows in the trees from Wednesday is a gathering of these crows before they fly to the winter roost.

It is usually somewhere on the Hartford/West Hartford line. I haven’t seen it for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t been talked about or publicized, as it was when it was on the grounds of the Aetna insurance building. They used noise cannons to try to scare the crows away, with little success, as I recall, at that time.

When it was on the Hartford/West Hartford line, I would see it if I were commuting westbound on I-84 near sunset. The sky would literally be black with crows–it was just like the Hitchcock movie, The Birds. From the highway you could often see trees, roofs, light poles, cars–every surface in the area covered in birds–and of course, presumably what birds leave behind.

Now when I drive near sunset I see the crows flying, but I never know were they end up. I do know that some group of homeowners somewhere must be very unhappy.

The theory about these winter roosts is that crows find safety in numbers. Why the numbers need to be in the thousands, no one quite knows. Other groups of birds also form winter flocks. I’ll discuss that on Monday.

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