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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Counting Crows

Recently Pam and I have gotten interested in crows. In addition to the suet Pam puts out, we have started tossing bread, peanuts, and egg shells, and the birds come to feed in groups that can be as much as a couple of dozen.


Besides feeding them, we also are reading books about this intelligent species. Some of the well-documented stories are fascinating. One story concerns a husband and wife in Canada; she fed and spoke gently to the birds while he cursed them angrily. The crows were not only aware of the differing attitudes but also took note of the different cars each drove and bombed his car with their droppings while leaving hers untouched. Crows have been captured on film using sticks as tools to reach food and dropping nuts on highways so that the passing cars would run over them and break them open as the birds watched to retrieve the food when the car drove on.

One library book was not exclusively about crows but included information about local crows that we had known a little about. Thirty years ago I had an office that over-looked some trees along Montrose Road in Rockville. At sundown in winter an enormous number of crows gathered in these trees. It was a highly urbanized section of the suburbs then, and in subsequent years became even more so. Nevertheless, the crows continued to roost in that area to the dismay of many of the merchants in the nearby shopping centers. As part of her investigation, the author of this library book called an old man who grew up on a farm near Rockville, and he told her that he remembered the large massing of crows in that spot back in the 1930's when there was an airport there. The author was looking into the Montrose Road crows in the 1990's and raised the question that if the crows were behaving that same way 60 years ago can we speculate that they were also showing the same patterns hundreds of years ago?

Last Sunday, Pam and I set out a little before sundown to see for ourselves what was currently going on with the crows in that area. We spent a couple of minutes driving around near the intersection of Rockville Pike and Montrose Road without seeing any crows until we spotted a group just to our north. We parked in a shopping center lot directly under where they were flying, and to our delight we watched thousands of crows pass over us going west to east for the next 10 or 15 minutes.

Over the decades, the once agricultural fields gave way to office buildings, shopping centers, and high-rise apartments, but the crows continued to do what they had done before. The experience of this natural phenomena in this heavily commercialized area was both novel and exhilarating. Neither still nor moving pictures can truly capture this experience, but here is a video Pam took:

video


I don't like exaggeration, so I later worried about how to accurately describe the numbers we saw. The next day in the park I saw a group of migrating Canada Geese which were easy to count as they rested on the pond, and I counted 160 of them. I am confident that the evening before I saw 10, 20, or even 30 or more similar groups, so describing the total as thousands is justified.




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