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The Crows of Cayuga County-Nuisance or Character?

Beginning in early November until about the end of February, the evening skyline in Auburn, NY takes on an eerie look, some even say it reminds the of a scene from the classic Alfred Hitchcock horror film “The Birds”.

During this period, thousands upon thousands, (I am not exaggerating in 2005, 63,800 crows were counted ) of crows gather and inhabit the tree tops from early evening till dawn.  They and soar and swoop over the streets of Auburn in such numbers that the sky darkens, (it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it) it gives you an unsettling feeling that something ominous is about to happen. 

Auburn’s crows don’t follow any particular path into the city. You can find them filling out the branches of trees along the Owasco River near the prison, adding an eerie presence at Fort Hill Cemetery and generally  just about everywhere in the downtown Auburn area. There are so many that the trees no longer appear to be bare, but filled with black leaves!  All evening long and into the early morning hours they roost on the branches and socialize (it’s been proven that crows are very social) with each other. Some researchers believe that roosting is also a form of socialization. Crows gather in large numbers to communicate food sources and to establish breeding partners for the spring.  For example: Two caws = “Where are you?” (a distant reply of two caws, as in, “I’m over here.”) Three caws = “Danger!” (They’ll do it whenever they see a dog or a person they don’t know, or a person they know to be of a danger to them)

Experts say crows are drawn to Auburn because of the abundance of fields for them to forage in and large tall trees perfect for roosting. The city is a central place for them to gather at night as they are drawn to the heat and the tall trees.  During the day they fly out into the fields to feed. Crows’ penchant for crop thieving  has been well documented and has made them enemies of the farmers for a very long time. Scarecrows were specially created to frighten the crop-destroying birds, this practice has been in use for centuries!

While crows in folklore and fiction are often associated with trickery and death (a group of crows is, after all, called a “murder”), recent research has shed new light on just how intelligent and family-oriented these birds can be. Their intelligence is on par with that of chimpanzees. Because they fly, crows need to be lightweight; however, a crow’s brain accounts for almost 2 percent of its body mass, similar to that of humans. They are able to use complicated group tactics when in combat with other animals like flanking maneuvers. Crows, have an impressive memory, it has been known to memorize garbage routes and schedules to more effectively steal a quick bite to eat from the trucks- the animal world’s Food Truck!

A few fun facts about crows:

A hallmark of gothic imagery, the black bird has been speculated to herald good as well as evil, life as well as death. In Russia they believe they bring good luck while in India they believe the presence of a crow indicates calamity is on its way. I have spoke to many city residents and the subject of crows always elicits an animated response, whether they love ’em, or hate them there is no lack of opinion on the subject. I personally think the crows give Auburn character. They are extremely charismatic birds, they are playful, complex, vocal , smart and most of all loyal. Many local business have embraced this iconic bird’s presence, Crow City Roasters, named their business after them and uses them as their logo, a mural of crows is located on Exchange Street and many local artists have incorporated them in their art work.  I have even decorated my office with them!

Office Wall!

   Love ‘em or hate have to agree that they are a very a charismatic bird!