Enjoy the video of an early morning roost dispersal in Auburn, NY!
With a little extra time off around MLK weekend, thought it might be a good time to make a winter crow roost road trip to Western Mass. and Upstate NY. My hope was to visit more winter crow roosts, connect and meet local crow roost watchers, and also to meet with researchers and faculty members at Cornell, Binghamton, and Hamilton. Thankfully, it all worked out for lunch at Cornell University with Kevin McGowan, along with Anne Clark from Binghamton University, and one her grad students, Connor Loomis. Kevin McGowan has spent 30 years studying crows in New York state. He has developed amazing insights about crow behavior including their intelligence, home and family life, flock life, creativity, and interactions with humans. Anne Clark is a Binghamton University behavioral ecologist and has spent the past 15+ years studying the complex social lives of crows, focusing on cooperative behavior. Connor is a grad student specializing in the study of Fish Crows. On my way driving in to meet for lunch, a Crow with a “ZY” tag was seen in flight and then landed on a gold course fairway. A very good sign at the start of my visits!
We covered a lot of Crow related topics over lunch. It was fascinating to learn more about all the past Crow adventures, as well as current Crow research projects among the three of them. They have also taken time to get out and see the local roosts! After wrapping at lunch, made my way over to Corson Hall on the Cornell campus. Corson Hall is the home of the Cornell Stable Isotope Lab. Had a very nice visit with Kim Sparks who manages the lab. The lab was established in 1997 through a National Science Foundation equipment grant, along with matching funds provided by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. COIL is located within the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. Here is an image of Kim in the lab.
There was just enough time after the meetings at Cornell to head north towards Auburn to possibly catch the late afternoon Crows streaming into and staging around Auburn, NY. A few miles out, had a chance to see Crows streaming in, and followed them to Fort Hill Cemetery. Discovered over two thousand Crows milling around being very vocal. Looking at the time, this was clearly a staging area, but not the final overnight roost. Headed NE towards downtown, and ended up finding a large number of Crows around between Seymour St and Seminary St. The numbers grew as darkness settled in. The image below shows the Crows in the midst of a snow squall that became overnight snow. This turned out to be one of many overnight roost groupings in a radius that measured about 3/10 of a mile in the downtown area. It was remarkable to keep hearing and finding new pockets of roosting Crows!
Continued to move around the downtown area a bit more and kept finding even more assemblies of roosting Crows. They were often times, grouped tightly together, and in the thousands. The Crows continued to vocalize well after dark. Found large groupings around the Hilton Garden Inn and over by the Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison with over 1800 inmates, and one of oldest prisons in the United States.
On Friday morning, had a chance to awaken early to see the early morning dispersal from the roost. The morning roost dispersal is always an amazing show. The image above shows the roosting Crows tightly packed together in a cluster of trees behind the Hilton Garden Inn. This image was captured about 40 minutes before sunset time and with light snow falling along with wind chill close to zero!
The Crows started to vocalize quite strongly about 30 minutes before sunrise time. The dispersal also action picked up quite a bit starting about 30 minutes before sunrise time. The Crows streamed out of the roost at times in small numbers, and at other times in these large burst outflows. It remains a mystery as to what causes the large burst groupings to launch into flight at the same time as so many others; always fun to watch!
Later Friday morning, departed Auburn, NY for a ride to Hamilton College for a visit with Andrea Townsend. Andrea is an assistant professor of biology at Hamilton College and the lead author of two recent published studies on american Crows. Her research is focused on understanding how land-use changes affect the behavior, health and populations of wild birds. In recent work, Townsend examined how urbanization promotes transmission of West Nile virus and food-borne pathogens in crows. She used satellite telemetry to examine how they might transport these diseases along migratory pathways. We spent time talking in her offices, a visit to the Townsend Lab, a visit to the crow aviary, and then off for lunch nearby. She shared many insights on her recent research! The image below shows Andrea in her lab making a quick check on her two year old aviary Crows through an online viewing portal!
This final image below shows the Winter Crow Roost in Springfield, MA. With special thanks to Patti Steinman, who serves as the Education Coordinator for Connecticut River Valley Wildlife Sanctuaries. She will be leading a Crow Walk on Feb. 2, 2020 from the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, MA. Participants will learn about the habits of the American crow, a common bird with uncommon intelligence. She ‘ll start with a presentation about crows, then head to Springfield in search of the nighttime roost. If the group is lucky, you’ll observe crows congregating by the thousands – a spectacular winter natural event. You’ll watch the skies “as the crows fly,” and follow them as they change location!