Countless crows

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It may not be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it’s as close as you get in Orange County. From late November through much of the winter, great numbers of crows, beginning in the hundreds, then growing to many thousands, collect each late afternoon to sleep near each other in a grove of tall trees. It is a crow roost, noisy, messy and amazing, and it tends to happen in more urban and well-lit areas of the county. There’s still a bit of mystery to all the whys and hows of it, but it’s likely there’s greater safety and comfort of massing and sleeping together during the colder winter months. Crows will cross the Hudson and may travel up to 20 miles each day to join their overnight roost and leave again in the morning.

Most large cities have their crow roosts. Auburn, NY has been a site for at least 125 years. In the Hudson Valley, Route 9 just south of Poughkeepsie is a major roost area, where for a quarter-mile along the highway, evening finds every tree standing more than head-high stock full of crows.

Middletown and malls of Wallkill seem to be favored in Orange County. Middletown even has an expert, John Degnan, who’s been trained in techniques of “humane harassment” to encourage the crows to leave the downtown and residential areas and roost in less public areas. In late afternoon and early evening, near crow roosts on West Main or James and Fulton streets, the city plays sounds of menacing falcons and distressed crows. This seems to work, and the crows find other areas out near the high school, the fairgrounds, sewage treatment plant, Dolsontown Road or mall parking lots (particularly that abandoned Caldor lot on Route 211).

But each year it’s a bit different. So take a twilight winter drive to Middletown. Keep your eyes and ears open for a sky or trees filled with noisy black birds. It’s really more of an aerial ballet. They swoop, settle, squawk, flutter, start again, and finally, after a noisy while, settle quietly for the night. It’s an experience of awe, dread and wonder. Please let Dirt know what you’ve seen.

Daniel Mack

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