This gallery contains 19 photos.

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 …

Read More

Crows gather in Springfield's Brightwood neighborhood, February 2011. (c) Greg Saulmon

Crows like Terre Haute, Indiana, but the feeling isn’t mutual.

In winter the crow-to-human ratio approaches 1:1, with about 50,0001 of the loud, smart birds descending upon on the city. Last year, The New York Times reported Wednesday, the city formed a “crow committee” — which in term created a “Crow Patrol” whose members were trained to shoot fireworks and flares near common roosting areas.

“The intent was not to kill the birds but to launch a varied disruption so sustained that the they would move to dedicated zones: an empty field, say, at city’s edge,” Dan Barry writes, noting: “All last winter, the boom of evening fireworks echoed through Terre Haute, with modest results. It turns out that crows don’t believe in zoning.”

The Terre Haute Crow Response Committee officially released its winter 2010-2011 crow control plan [PDF] in August, 2010. The plan — converted to the PDF format from a PowerPoint presentation — runs 19 pages and calls for a first-year budget of $15,000. Two staff members, a planning director and a field director, received salaries of $6,000 each. The remainder went to supplies, equipment, mileage and postage.

The crux of the plan, as mentioned in the Times article, involved designating zero-, moderate-, and full-tolerance zones, with volunteer patrol members working with the planning and field directors to “encourage” the birds to congregate in full-tolerance areas. “Believe it or not, Vigo County contains plenty of places that crows can roost in large numbers without bothering anyone,” the plan reads. “The trick is getting them to go there when they don’t choose those spots on their own.” The plan also argues the necessity of the full-tolerance zones: “Otherwise, you’re not giving the crows you move out of zero tolerance zones anywhere to go.”

A call for volunteers issued shortly after the rollout of the plan identified two primary positions: “Observer/Data Collector” and “Pyrotechnics Launcher”. The latter position was charged with using fireworks to keep crows out of the zero-tolerance zone.

Terre Haute based its plan heavily on strategies developed by Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County Crow Coalition. The Lancaster coalition advocates for a “humane, non-lethal, and environmentally sound approach” to the crow issue, and uses CafePress to sell hoodies, tote bags and coffee mugs bearing the organization’s logo. Slogan: “Crows are Cool.”

While the coalition champions its success in moving most of the roosts out of the city, the group’s website reminds residents that “[c]rows aren’t pests” and offers a somewhat resigned take on the effort: “Crow management will continue, each year, probably forever.”

This year, Terre Haute held a Crow Committee volunteer training session on October 11. Volunteers met for an hour in the City Hall court room to review the plan and receive hands-on training for the upcoming crow season.

But like Lancaster County, Terre Haute, too, encourages its citizens to exercise tolerance for their sometimes noisy neighbors. In its crow-management plan, the first bulleted item on the slide titled “The Public’s Role” reads: “Accept that there will always be crows here.”

– – – – – – –

1The New York Times cites a winter crow population of 100,000, but Terre Haute’s crow control plan offers the 50,000-crow figure. The city’s population, according to the 2010 Census, is 60,785.

An American Crow walks along a bench in Veterans' Park, October 19. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

It’s easy to ignore the crows.

They seem to be everywhere, all the time. Their call can be grating and their wardrobe is utterly minimalist.

But in terms of watching — real, close observation — it’s hard to find a bird that exudes more personality.

Soon we’ll see their fall and winter roosting behavior. At dusk, thousands will blacken the sky over I-91 near the AAA offices in West Springfield. In the early mornings they’ll gather in the trees of Springfield’s Brightwood neighborhood.

During the darkest days of the year it’d be easy to wish for a brighter bird, but it’s worth learning to appreciate a bird that’s truly brilliant.