When There Are Too Many Crows at a Newspaper Office

From a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headlined “A ‘murder ‘of sorts at the newspaper office”:

A “murder” at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette?

Sort of.

A murder is the proper name for a group of crows, like the ones that roosted on the roof of the Post-Gazette on Pittsburgh’s North Shore on Saturday evening.

Shortly after 6 p.m., about a half hour after sunset, the building became ground zero, or roof zero, for hundreds of the black, cawing birds.

The three-story North Shore Place at 358 North Shore Drive houses eateries and nightspots on the ground floor and offices for the Steelers on the second. The third floor houses the Post-Gazette’s editorial offices.

Staffers at the newspaper Saturday evening heard the strange sound of tapping on the office’s thin metal roof. The noise was different from the patter of rain hitting the roof during a thunderstorm. It was more like the tapping of a hammer, accompanied by loud cawing.

The tapping grew louder and continued for more than an hour. PG staffers stepped outside to see what was making all the racket. On the sidewalk, customers and employees of the bars also had gathered to peer into the night sky.

There was no point in counting crows. They numbered in the hundreds, silhouetted against the cloud cover illuminated by street lights, swooping onto the rooftop.

Rachel Handel, spokeswoman for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, laughed when asked, tongue in cheek, if the dark murder was an omen of things to come.

“No, it’s just what crows do,” she said. “It’s winter, it’s cold and it’s probably warmer on the roof.”

American crows can be migratory, but some populations stay put when food is readily available. The North Shore birds were Yinzers that are able to find plenty of food throughout the city.

Crows are omnivores, chowing down on insects, seed and garden produce in spring, summer and fall. Pittsburgh winters provide trash, feeder seed, dead fish along the rivers and anything that dies before it crosses the road.

At night, crows generally roost safely off the ground in small groups.

“When it’s very cold, they roost in large groups, probably because it’s warmer to be pressed together,” Ms. Handel said. “There’s some safety in being in a large group, and they’ll have better access to food sources.”

The National Aviary is less than a half mile from North Shore Place — as the crow flies — but it’s unlikely that’s where the crows were going. The thin metal rooftop immediately above the Post-Gazette probably seemed like a warm, safe place to spend the night.

Speak Your Mind