Video from Eagle Tribune!

The following front page feature article in the Eagle Tribune, a daily newspaper covering the Merrimack Valley, Essex County, and Southern New Hampshire; highlights Craig’s fascination with observing and documenting the nightly winter crow roost spectacle in Lawrence, MA. Craig, a retired Roman Catholic hospital chaplain at Lawrence General Hospital, has been studying the American Crows and Fish Crows for years, starting and leading a group called the Crow Patrol and documenting his sightings, findings, and images on his Winter Crow Roost blog. He observes the staggering numbers of crows that arrive at the multiple roosting locations in Lawrence, discussing their migration patterns, feeding habits, and the mystery surrounding their behavior. Despite extensive research, questions remain unanswered about why crows gather in large numbers and how they navigate to the same spot each night. The article also delves into cultural symbolism associated with crows and Gibson’s personal journey from an earlier career in finance to bird watching and becoming a local leader in avian conservation outreach.

Here is the full text from the 1480 word article which appeared as the feature article on the front page and page 2 on Wed. Feb. 14, 2024:

LAWRENCE – The crow show is coming, bound for Prospect Hill trees after sunset.

They’re flying from downriver and bearing mystery, part of which is their staggering numbers.

Also, their staging, the coordinated manner in which the black-beaked birds arrive at the appointed time, twilight, to roost overnight in the chosen location.

For now, at least, it’s this grove above Marston Street.

The birds are all black, even their eyes and legs, and highly intelligent, social, family centered and fascinating, says Craig Gibson, retired Roman Catholic chaplain at Lawrence General Hospital.

He stands, Thursday at sundown, across from the hospital, at 1 Marston St., the edge of the Vecina Beauty Supplies parking lot.

Traffic whirs past, occasional horns piercing the cold air. The city’s white and blue water tower rises on the hilltop above the grove.

Gibson, in a quilted jacket, has his mirrorless camera for low-light conditions and a tripod on which to mount his video recorder.

He is part citizen-scientist and part seeker, documenting and marveling at the nightly winter crow spectacle.

He has been observing, photographing, video recording and giving crow talks and walks for the past seven years, some 450 nights.

Lately, the roost has been here by Lawrence General Hospital and Prospect Hill, but the crows change their destination.

In winter, Gibson leads fellow observers, the Crow Patrol, to these roosting places and chronicles his findings on a blog at his Winter Crow Roost website.

The object of his bird fascination has changed over the decades. From dramatic high flyers to resourceful hustlers. From osprey then peregrine falcon, and, now, to the common crow, a lunchpail scrapper with smarts and no field markings.

Tonight’s a solo venture for Gibson. The crow watcher is out to survey the roost and court surprise.

He feeds his scientific leanings by gathering audio footage of the roost over time and sending the information to sound engineer William Bicks.

Also by refining his crow counting techniques and collecting assiduous notes on temperature, time, location and behavior.

He uses drones to video and photograph the birds and publishes his images and writings in journals, wildlife and conservation magazines and newspapers among other outlets.

In 2023 he visited the five largest winter crow roosts in North America, located in Quebec and Ontario, Canada.

Meanwhile, a man in a black shirt and Boston Celtics cap walks over and greets Gibson.

I’ve got a question for you, says Yonatan Quezada, of the beauty supply company, a family-owned business.

The question comes from his son, Schawn, 9, who wants to know how many birds come here.

We are at about 15,000, Gibson says.

We are right at the peak. The roost grows and then later in February they start to go back.

About 80 percent of these birds are American Crows, migrants from anywhere from 100 to 500 or 600 miles away, coming from their native grounds northeast of Lawrence.

A few early birds set up shop at the roost in September or October, but their numbers grow thereafter, peaking in February before they depart at month’s end or early March.

During their winter stay, each morning they leave and each night they return to the roost.

Quezada, originally from Lawrence, but now living in Haverhill, looks delighted.

He looks forward to telling the crow facts to Schawn.

Gibson says, on average, every day, the crows leave Lawrence after sunrise and forage for food 10, 20, maybe 40 miles away, and then at day’s end, work their way back.

The homers in the roost are Fish Crows, a minority who live year round in the area.

Quezada wonders how the crows know to go to the same spot?

It’s just an amazing thing, just amazing, Quezada says. I’ve got a bigger brain, but I don’t know how to get back to some different places myself.

Gibson says researchers have yet to answer that and other questions, including why the birds winter in huge numbers in select cities, why they stage their returns each night, stopping and growing in increasingly larger numbers as they get nearer to the roost.

Early in the roost season the birds bed down in the river birches and other trees below the New Balance Factory on the Merrimack River’s south side, Gibson says.

As the season and their numbers grow, they typically find a final roosting spot. For the last few years this hillside along Marston has been the hotspot, where all the cool crows chill.

Ornithologists do not know what they vocalize to each other as they settle in their roost, but, after darkness falls, the birds go silent, Gibson says, twisting his forefinger and thumb at his mouth, as if he is locking it.

It is intriguing, the enforced silence. Even when spooked by a predator, an owl and the crows lift from their branches by the thousands, a phenomenon called bursting” you hear only the whooshing beats of their wings. No vocalizations as they flutter aloft and seek new branches on which to perch.

This is part of the mystery of nature, Gibson says. Study has been done. Research has been done. They can make guesses but they can’t say why.

Some people suggest the crows come together for protection from predators or to share information about food spots.

Some folks call the gathering a crow pajama party or an extended family reunion.

On a recent rainy afternoon about 100 crows jumped around the park outside the Lawrence High School stadium.

They seemed to be acting both as a group and individuals. Some hopped along the ground where a few wrappers and bags from a nearby Dunkin and Taco Bell lay.

Other crows flew from pine to maple to oak trees.

Crows are opportunistic feeders. Gibson collected pellets coughed up by crows, undigestible items such as stones, and gave them, for analysis, to Thomas French, former assistant director of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

French’s investigation indicated a crow diet that included seeds, nuts, animals, insects and other invertebrates. Asian bittersweet berry seeds and what appeared to be sumac seeds were prominent.

At the stadium the crows swooped, circled and sounded a variety of calls including the caw associated with the American Crow and the awk with the Fish Crow.

Crows have or had a powerful place in numerous cultures myths and folklore.

They symbolize everything from death to rebirth, danger to intelligence.

Gibson’s interest in birds goes back to the mid-1980s when he and his wife-to-be were dating, They went to Revere Beach with his brother David, an avid birder, to spy sea ducks through a high-powered scope.

Gibson, 66, who grew up in Winchester, one of six children, graduated from Babson College with a finance degree.

He and his wife, together for 39 years, have three grown children.

Gibson made a living among the chaos and craziness of the stock exchange floor.

Later, in 2010, he became a Roman Catholic chaplain at Lawrence General Hospital where he sat with people facing the end and those left to live without them.

When he started his work at the hospital he got interested in the peregrine falcons in Lawrence, a nest in the Ayer Mill clock tower.

Gibson retired last spring.

He is well known in crow circles and among groups and organizations that have hosted crow-related activities.

They include his presentations at local schools, a program at the Greater Lawrence Boys and Girls Club and a crow-related art exhibit at the Essex Art Center.

Donna Cooper, president of the Merrimack Valley Bird Club, runs the Andover region of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and relies on Gibson, exclusively, for the crow count.

Cooper says she sees crows on their daily travels in her neighborhood, grocery store parking lots as well as the Harold Parker National Forest.

Along Marston Street, Gibson sees the crows arriving.

He cuts among the bare ornamental trees, leaned over and camera in hand.

Soon a river of crows are streaming from the distant fading light near two smokestacks.

The birds look like they are emerging from nothingness.

They come from the river, over the Marston Medical Center roof and fly overhead, gradually filling the trees upper reaches.

Hundreds maybe thousands of birds fly back and forth, in opposite directions, cawing as darkness falls before they claim their roosting seats.

It’s a frenzy, a frenzy, Gibson says.

The clear skies and the activity, at peak winter roost time, make this a spectacular showing, Gibson says.

Look, look, oh my goodness, Gibson says. There are still more coming in. This is remarkable.

The crow watcher knows what is going to happen and when it is going to happen.

But every night, how it happens is a little different, he says.

The crows roost for the night, and, in the morning, will get up, have a caw and go about their business.

Always hustling.