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American Crow
credit: Mdf/CCSA

A Stubborn Roost

Steve Bailey is a bit of an exception. Whereas most people in Danville, Illinois, wish the crows now in their midst would find themselves another winter home, he welcomes the visitors with open arms. He's a bird lover, of course, and proud to live in the unofficial Winter Crow Capital of North America despite the noise, the mess, and the smell that comes with that distinction.

Danville is home to roughly 35,000 people. Its crows, however, currently number some 267,000. There are so many crows in the 6- to 8-block area where they nightly roost that their weight sometimes snaps branches off trees. And then there's the endless supply of droppings and the incessant racket. No wonder some desperate residents have cut down healthy shade trees in order to force the birds to relocate. Others have tried scaring the birds away with plastic owls and sirens, even recordings of Barred Owl calls played throughout the night.

Still, the birds remain. The most obvious reason for their stubbornness is that Danville offers a perfect location for crows. It's in a river valley surrounded by agricultural land in all directions. As for the crows' communal tendencies, the birds know that there is strength in numbers. That is, roosting together helps them watch for predators and increases their chances of finding food.

Given these tendencies, it should come as no surprise that Danville's is not the only large crow roost that takes shape in the United States from fall to spring. In Jasper County, Iowa, for example, thousands of crows settle down a little to the east of Newton. In Massachusetts, up to 20,000 descend on the center of Framingham every afternoon. Wichita, Kansas, has 100,000 crows spread among a few roosts. And in the 1940s and '50s, Stafford County, Kansas, hosted upwards of a million crows in winter, though that roost eventually disintegrated.

And perhaps the same fate will someday befall Danville's crows. No doubt most of the town's residents would welcome such a development. For bird lovers like Steve Bailey, though, Danville just wouldn't be the same without its winter crows. Good or bad, they're certainly a spectacle.

 

 

 

 

 

2007 eNature.com