The Crow Show

They start moving as the sun begins to go down.crows 006

The first birds are so far away they look like grains of pepper against the gray sky. crows 012

The crows are heading into Amsterdam for their nightly jamboree.

Amsterdam, NY, like many cities and towns, is used by crows–mobs of crows–for their nightly roosting spot. And I’ve been wondering, just exactly how many crows are there?

The other day my husband and I decided to find out. Just before sunset, we drove to the Riverfront Mall and parked in the parking garage, facing south with a good view of the river. We had a front row seat for the spectacle of the crows coming in.

And what a spectacle it was! Honestly, the city should sell tickets.

It’s a magnificent sight. First the crows converge from all points of the compass, returning from the fields and roadsides where they’ve been feeding during the day. By ones and twos, they trickle in, and stage up in the trees across the river. More and more come, squawking as they get ready for the last lap, flapping and bouncing from branch to branch.

Then, all together, a cloud of birds lifts up out of the trees. They cross the river towards the city. It’s like a thunderstorm approaching—a storm of birds.

My husband, George Steele, is an enthusiastic birder with decades of experience, who often works with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Audubon Society on bird censuses. We used binoculars to do rough counts and estimate the number of birds passing a given point, recording every group of approximately a hundred individuals.

Mob after mob flew overhead. Some of the flocks had two to three thousand birds. As the sky darkened, more and more birds flew north over the rooftops, hundreds of crows swirling overhead in an insanely ominous way, like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. I expected to see SURRENDER DOROTHY scrawled in smoky letters over the skies of Amsterdam any minute.crows 023

They settled into small clusters of trees at the top of the Rte. 30 hill, squawking and arguing. It’s amazing how many birds can pack themselves into one tree—hundreds per branch.

It took about an hour and a half for all the birds to arrive. As it grew too dark to see, the last stragglers flew overhead and we counted up our totals.

We estimate that, give or take a few, approximately 24,000 birds had arrived in Amsterdam for their nightly visit.

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About unmowed

I'm a writer and a botanist who loves the weirdly weedy places of the world.
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5 Responses to The Crow Show

  1. Gage Evans says:

    Worse than SURRENDER DOROTHY, I think about The Birds! My #1 scary movie!

  2. Sally says:

    The flying monkeys terrified me when I was little, but I’ve always liked crows! I’m near Guilderland Elementary and we get something that gathers in a few neighboring trees every night around 5/6pm in spring, summer and fall. They tweet a while and then swoop to different trees all at the same time, then swoop on out of sight. Kind of like bird leapfrog with trees. I’m no birder, but I think they are too small to be crows. They do make a great noise – but I wouldn’t call it a caw… Don’t have binoculars – but do have camera zoom lens…. Any ideas on what birds it could be?

    • unmowed says:

      Yes, they’re all around my trees too–aren’t they amazing? I would guess starlings, though red-winged blackbirds and grackles might do it too, though mostly in spring.

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