The city of Lawrence, MA lies in the heart of the Merrimack Valley near the border of southern New Hampshire. It is located in Essex County, along the Merrimack River, and is about twenty-five miles north of Boston. Lawrence enjoys a rich history as a city of immigrants, and has a large number of massive old brick textile mill buildings.

For decades, the city has hosted a significant winter crow roost. The winter crow roost consists of mostly American Crows, along with a much smaller number of Fish Crows. Typically, an hour before sunset, the crows gather in smaller pre-roost groupings. These pre-roost (staging) locations may change on any given night. The crows then converge after sunset time, into the final roost location. Some Crows may start as anchors in the final roost just before sunset, and then most other Crows join after sunset.  They will fly in over the following 60 minutes, until the roost quiets down completely for the night. For many years, the final roost location had been along the south side of the Merrimack River, by the New Balance building complex. Over the last three winter seasons, from October 2017 until spring 2020, the final roost location has changed many times. The size of the winter roost typically grows from an initial group of a couple of hundred Crows, as early as September, to over 10,000 crows by February.

The Crow Patrol was established during the 2017-2018 Winter Crow Roost season. Craig Gibson, along with Bob and Dana Fox got the ball rolling with an expanded fascination of the local Winter Crow Roost along the Merrimack River in Lawrence, MA. Over that first winter season, they spent over 160 combined observation nights. During the following three winters, they have had about the same number of combined observation nights observing, monitoring, documenting, and photographing the amazing crows. They are already ahead of this pace during the fall/early winter of 2021, with a constant eye on streaming, staging, and roosting behaviors and patterns. Many others have participated in small and large groups over the past four winters. The Crow Patrol is promoting wider community involvement among birding, conservation, environmental, and educational groups as well as expanding a series of citizen science projects with grade school, high school, and college students. The “2019 Recap” report (see link above to PDF) provides the most comprehensive overview of our activities and a look at future plans. All are welcome to join us and become members of the Crow Patrol! Don’t forget to subscribe to the new “Crow Patrol” podcast, and check back for very regular updates!

It is an amazing sight to see and you are invited to take a closer look, through this blog, to learn more and enjoy this awesome avian experience!

The 2020 Crow Patrol

Craig Gibson is a well known bird and conservation photographer. His current focus is on expanding awareness about the Winter Crow Roost in Lawrence, MA, the extended Merrimack Valley area, and Eastern Massachusetts. Craig designed and launched the blog and continues to oversee all editorial content. He has also been the lead on initiating and coordinating a range of activities and events with local arts, education, and community groups as well as working with a growing number of conservation and environmental organizations. He wrote and published a comprehensive 14 page report to recap the 2018-2019 winter season. Overall, his efforts have raised much greater awareness of the Winter Crow Roost, and he has been a catalyst for new community science initiatives.

In the fall 2017, Craig worked together in close collaboration with Bob Fox, and his wife, Dana, to form the Crow Patrol in the Lawrence area. Over the past four winter seasons, they have documented more than 300 observation nights, while monitoring, documenting, and photographing the overnight staging and roosting of American and Fish Crows. Craig has made almost 250 Crow Roost specific postings to eBird, an especially important data portal for open access citizen science projects around the globe.

Craig worked closely with Cathy McLaurin, Executive Director of the Essex Art Center in Lawrence, MA to establish the “Celebrating the Winter Crow Roost” art exhibit in 2019. The exhibit was a big success with record turnouts and a lot of media coverage. The EAC hosted the exhibit for a second year in 2020, with an expanded group of participating artists. He has worked closely with staff at El Taller Cafe and Bookstore in Lawrence, MA for a Crow-themed art exhibit that opened on February 18, 2020.

On the first weekend in November 2019, Hunt’s Photo and Video, hosted one of their photo walks. Hunt’s Photo Walks are hands-on workshops that immerse participants in different aspects of photography, both technically and aesthetically. This photography workshop, “The Crows of Lawrence” provided participants with background on this winter crow roost, and ways to capture unique and special images around sunset and civil twilight as the Crows converge into the overnight communal winter roost. The Sunday afternoon outing was a big success with Craig serving as one of the co-leaders for the workshop. In an effort to inspire other photographers, Craig recently authored, designed, and published the “Winter Crow Roost: Photography Guide” to help educate and mentor both beginner and advanced level photographers out in the field.

In order to gain a broader view of this avian spectacle, to better understand overall overnight roost dynamics, and to deepen a knowledge on counting and documenting methodologies, Craig has been visiting a growing number of Crow Roosts in the northeast as time allows. He has visited the following roosts: Lancaster, PA; Springfield, MA; Auburn, NY; Hartford, CT; Troy, NY; and Poughkeepsie, NY. As a result of these visits, he is completing interviews and research on a practical Crow counting guide.

Craig’s Crow photos and articles have appeared in the Essex Art Center exhibition; Bird Observer, the bi-monthly birding journal; a number of Mass Audubon Society publications, the local Eagle Tribune newspaper, the Cornell Lab Bird Academy’s new online course, “Anything but Common: the Hidden Life of the American Crow,” Muse an award winning magazine for students; a feature article in MassWildlife Magazine, a feature article in Bird Observer, as well as in a new Peterson’s Reference Guide book on bird behavior published in Sept. 2020 by well-known author and naturalist John Kricher. Craig was recently profiled in a major article in the Eagle Tribune, Newburyport News, on WBZ Radio, Canadian Wildlife Magazine, and in a front page story in the Boston Globe. He was recently interviewed by Ray Brown on the Talkin’ Birds radio show, and is also a frequent speaker and presenter on the Winter Crow Roost phenomenon.