Springfield officials haven’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat for the crows that descend upon the city each night during the winter months. Over the years, the birds have been met with balloons meant to look like owls, recordings of crows in distress, noise cannons, firecrackers, and a host of other scare tactics.
When those methods succeeded only in moving the roost around the city rather than evicting the birds outright, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took the drastic step of spreading toxicants at local landfills where crows feed.
“What happens is when some of the birds in a roost die, either by being shot or other methods, like toxicants, it frightens the other birds and they will move. We took this step because other methods that were tried over the last few years were not effective,” Laura Henze, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Damage Control unit, told The Republican newspaper in January, 1996.
About 200 crows were killed in the poisoning, and the roost eventually relocated to Monastery Avenue in West Springfield.
By the winter of 2000, though, the crows returned to the City of Homes, roosting at the Quadrangle and along Maple Street and in the Hungry Hill neighborhood.
Over a decade later, they’re still here — a welcome fact for those who attended Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary’s “Winter Crows” program Sunday afternoon. The program — hosted by Patti Steinman, education coordinator for Mass Audubon’s Connecticut River Valley sanctuaries, and Arcadia volunteer James Sullivan — brought participants into the field to observe the daily spectacle that unfolds as thousands of birds trickle into the city in “streams,” stage near St. James Avenue, and finally decide on a location for the evening roost.
By Steinman’s estimate, Springfield’s current roost comprises some 3-4,000 birds. Newspaper reports from the late 1990s put the roosts population as low as 5,000 and as high as 12,000.
And while the birds follow a general routine, the exact location of the roost often shifts from night to night.
In the days leading up to Sunday’s program, Steinman and Sullivan observed the birds bedding down for the night in the Oak Grove Cemetery near the intersection of St. James Avenue and Tapley Street. During the program, though, participants watched under a nearly full moon as the crows staged in the cemetery and then moved like oil spilling across the sky to the tall trees that line a ravine along Albany Street.
But the birds weren’t ready to settle in yet. Just as the murder seemed to reach a critical mass and the calls filling the air reached a crescendo, the birds gave heed to their own imperceptible signals and flew further west, disappearing into the last colors of the sunset.
Below, a slideshow of images I shot during the program.