22 October 2010

Murder in Kenmore

I live in Kenmore, a suburb of Seattle at the north end of Lake Washington. About 6:30 the other evening I was sitting in the car while Scarecrow went in to Safeway to pick up a prescription. I was just sitting, not thinking about anything much, when after a while I noticed that crows had been flying overhead for kind of a long time. As I watched, they continued to fly overhead. Sometimes I could see 10 crows, sometimes maybe 50, sometimes only one or two, but for as long as I sat there I could see crows flying northward over the parking lot to their evening roost. I'd say I was there for about 15 minutes. When we left to drive home, they were still flying overhead.

That's a lot of crows. A murder of crows.

Their winter roost is a mile or so from our house. Every evening this time of year American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) congregate in this area in large numbers. Really large numbers. Tens of thousands. John Marzluff, a guy at UW who studies them, says the local crow population began to expand during '70s and since then has "increased 30-fold."

"It wasn't really a comeback," he says, "it was an invasion."

Crows are not your rare, exotic, or retiring bird. Even I can watch them. You don't have to creep up on them, stealthily, in inaccessible places, using a long-range spotting scope, at the crack of dawn, hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse. If you want to watch crows, toss a couple of Cheetos out there and you'll have more of them than you can keep track of. (Marzluff used Cheetos as bait when he was netting birds for his study. He says they're like crack to crows.)

Nothing bashful about crows. They are raucous and noisy and disputatious. They're smart and social and amazingly adaptable. They can figure out a way to live pretty much anywhere.

I really like them.

I admit, though, that watching them, I can't tell one from another. They have the advantage of me in that regard.

Is That a Caveman or Dick Cheney? Crows Know the Difference


  1. I feel like a wimp -- but I have to admit -- I'm afraid of crows. I usually see them in flocks [murders], not just alone. They look so big and frightening. I leave my scarecrow decorations on the front porch for a long time! Maybe East Coast Crows are more intimidating than West Coast ones!

  2. Crows, and ravens, are amazing creatures. They have quite a place in the folklore of native societies and with a commonality of some of the stories between groups that had no contact (plains vs alaska).

    I used to be pretty amazed at the temperatures they would tolerate when I lived in Alaska. They made a gurgling, tinkling sound there that I don't hear in moderate climates.

    And, yeah, they're a pain. I had two crows head-buzz and follow me for about eight blocks in Seattle one spring. I must have come close to a nest. It was freaky. Maybe they mistook me for the caveman!

  3. This post was worthy of a zoologist!

  4. I too, living in your area, have noticed many crow murders. (?) There is a large evergreen where they gather, in a certain order---then all leave at one. This repeats itself 4 or 5 times abour 2x a week. Fascinating. They are large, fast, and always in thought.