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Capitol Crows: Flocking By Thousands Abandoning Flatbush For More Regal Roost, Do Black Birds Bode Ill For Budget?


February 04, 2009

Those thousands of crows that roost in Hartford's West End trees on winter nights?

They've moved again almost downtown.

After spending several years roosting near Flatbush Avenue by I-84, a colony of crows that sometimes numbers 15,000 or more birds has moved east, spending some nights in trees on the grounds of the State Capitol and of the Supreme Court and State Library complex across the street.

"They've been bopping around to different locations in Hartford," said Sylvia L. Halkin, a biology professor at Central Connecticut State University. Other nights they have been seen near Trinity College or the Mark Twain House or Putnam Street.

Before the crows roosted in the area near Flatbush, they spent winter nights off Capital Avenue in the West End, and, in the mid-'90s, roosted for a time in the trees on the grounds of Aetna Inc. Why they suddenly choose a new nighttime roost is a mystery.

"We never know why they move," Halkin said. Moreover, she asked, "How do they decide where they are going for the night? What kind of consensus process is going on?"

Human harassment or predation by great horned owls are two possible reasons for the move, but it might be something else, too, she said.

Crows roost communally only during winter, probably at least in part as a kind of protection against predators, biologists believe. Roosting crows often number in the tens of thousands, often with hundreds in a single tree.

The scientific literature indicates that crows cannot see that well at night, Halkin said, which might explain why they seem to roost in comparatively well-lit areas. Because they will sometimes move from one cluster of trees to another during the night, the artificial light may make it easier for them to see, she said.

The latest move has another odd wrinkle. The birds roosting near downtown are far fewer than when the colony was near I-84 perhaps only 6,000 birds, down from 12,000 to 15,000 birds.

Halkin said it is possible that the roosting birds split up, and that a larger number may be roosting elsewhere, perhaps in a suburb. If so, "We'd love to hear about it," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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