It is the season for the Crow Murders to flock to large roosts at dusk. This behavior is happening where ever Crows exist. I have the pleasure of observing this every fall in Renton right outside my office window.
This is a fall and winter behavior primarily. During the spring and summer breeding season they will remain in their personal territories but as the young get more independent they go to the large roosts. There are several theories on why they do this. I personally like to give my crows more personality and think they do this to share information, find mates, catch up with family they don’t see regularly and of course sleep together for protection from their enemies.
There is a good article on the University of Cornell’s web site ( http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/crowfaq.htm ) In their FAQ section they lay out what researchers think crows are doing. Their key points are:
- They gather together in a favorable spot for protection. Kind of like humans in a hotel where they are together but really don’t interact very much.
- The next comparison is “the wagon train” theory. By their being all in one place they are gaining safety in numbers. Like the Oregon trail wagon trains forming a circle at night for protection.
- Then there is the Information scenario. Kind along my assumption above where they do exchange info on where good food is. Or they follow better fed crows to their food source to gain some of the goodness.
- The next idea is around food too. They gather where a good source is so they can eat before dispersing. This would be agriculture areas or garbage dumps.
What i find most interesting in the Renton flock is they are going to the same place year after year. As I am driving towards I-405 northbound each evening, I see them flying to the area of 16th and Lind. They come in small and large groups. Some stopping along the way but in the end they gather in this several block area pecking in the leaf clutter and grass inside and outside of the parking lots there. When it gets more dark they will head to their final roost.
This phenomenon has brought me to research what was there before the current office buildings and parking lots. I do not believe the why they gather theres is the parking lot. They are using their hereditary memory passed from crow to crow to come back to this spot for some reason.
In my quest this last week or so I started drilling into the intranet for maps and history of the Renton area. I found the Renton Museum and read through their information on-line. Nothing really jumped out to me so I sent them an email explaining my research project.
From that inquiry I received the most wonderful reply the next day from their Museum Director Elizabeth Stewart. http://rentonwa.gov/rentonhistorymuseum/ She sent me the following clues. As in any research they are not the final answer but leads to follow and even raise more questions.
“Your target intersection at SW 16th and Lind Ave SW was platted sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century by Clarence D. Hillman as part of his Earlington Gardens development. (Hillman also platted and developed Kennydale and other neighborhoods in the Seattle area.) I cannot find any information that he actually built houses in Earlington Gardens; it’s possible he ran into difficulty because of its distance from Seattle or the fact that it’s so close to wetland or the fact that it had two railroads running through it and was thus less desirable property. Before Hillman, it does not appear that this land was farmland, which I thought might explain the birds returning. For the most part surrounding parcels were industrial in nature, owned by Puget Sound Power & Light, Seattle Electric, and Renton Cooperative Coal.”
I want to personally thank Liz for taking her time to send me this information. Her encouraging words made my day. In the next couple of weeks I will continue my research on the 16th & Lind property. Some areas I am working are to follow the tips she sent me, look for the Duwamish Tribe’s villages in the area, drill more into the internet for old maps and ask the building owners on the intersection, PSE, Seattle City Light & Renton Coal (not sure they still exist) for any historical info they have.
So, be sure to come back and see what I find. Oh and yes I got your attention by calling the Crow Flock a Murder in my subject line. A fun play on words.