Crows: Love in the City

Posted by on Feb 22, 2014 in birds, Unmowed Blog, wildlife, winter | 6 comments

There are many romantic things to do in the city of Amsterdam, NY, on Valentine’s Day. You could have dinner at a nice restaurant. Enjoy a hot fudge sundae at Fariello’s. Perhaps even stroll by the river to watch the full moon rising.

Or you could count crows.crows in amsterdam

Watching big black birds swirling eerily over the city may seem like a pastime better suited to Halloween than Valentine’s Day, but winter is when the crows are in town. On February 14, my husband and I did the dinner and the sundae, but first we shared our Valentine celebration with the crows.

We got to our observation point early, to get a good spot—we drove to the Riverfront Mall and parked in the parking garage, facing south with a good view of the river. Oddly, there were no other crow enthusiasts out—the fact that it was nineteen degrees with a tidy wind-chill might have had something to do with that. Shivering in the car (the heater isn’t working well) we had a front-row seat as we waited for the show to start.

The birds don’t start coming in till just as the sun is kissing the horizon. Then a few early birds flap by, heading for the line of trees bordering the river, where they’ll meet up with a few thousand friends and relatives. Then more and more crows fly in, till there’s a steady stream of black dots overhead.

Last year the crows came in from more or less all directions, but this year by far the most of them came from the west. They followed the Mohawk, flowing through the air like a river of birds above the river of frozen water. The severe cold and snow this winter has made it harder for the crows to find food, so perhaps the chance of gleaning some scraps from the cropfields to the west of Amsterdam lures them out that way—crows will range out about 5-20 miles from their roosting spot to feed during the day, then return to the communal roost at night.

You think you’ve got it bad this winter—at least you don’t have to sleep in a tree, huddling your feathers against the snow and wind. Crows often choose to roost in cities because the human-made buildings block the wind and radiate heat, making the city several degrees warmer than the countryside.

As the dark deepened, the crows became harder and harder to see, like flakes of ash against a gray sky. We kept counting, timing them in batches—approximately 20 crows a second flew overhead. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, two hundred. Twenty…and so forth.  At a very conservative estimate, twenty thousand crows flew by on that cold Valentine’s Night.

Then it was time for dinner and a hot fudge sundae.



  1. Crows are amazing. Around here you will see them wandering about. Doing crow things. Crows here seem to like to congregate in 3’s. You will see 3 crows standing in a field, facing each other, sometimes squawking. Watching, you’d swear they are having a chat about the days events. And yes, you will see many more crows in the field usually, but they just seem to get together in these little groups.

    • Yes, crows are endlessly fascinating, aren’t they? I love the way they hang out in family groups.

  2. Anita (and George) – Great tradition and great account of the evening. Dr. Carl George from Union College recently took me out to the very spot you described to witness the crow roosting event. What a spectacle it was! Your description of ash against a gray sky was perfect. I found it especially amazing to stand outside the car near the cemetery and listen to the wing beats of 10s of thousands of crows just over the treetops – not a one of them cawing. A whirring in my ears is how I would describe it. Thanks for the great story!

    • Nice to hear from you! Yes, the crows are an amazing sight.

  3. Love crows! Happy to have them around. A few years back there was a big crow die-of–from West Nile virus, I believe. We were in LA. at the time. Not sure whether the numbers ever came back or what. They are, however, a very hardy species, I think. Thanks for sharing this story!

    • Yes, they do seem to be staging a comeback, fortunately. Thanks!

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