Why do crows roost in large numbers? – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Why do crows roost in large numbers?

If you look around campus — or around town during this winter — the large numbers of crows are noticeable. The birds have become a topic of much debate in Geneva and surrounding cities, pitting conservationists against citizens who see the crows as a public health nuisance.

“This winter, the crows were roosting in the evening near the driving range on the corner of Hamilton Street and Pre-Emption Road,” said Mark Deutschlander, associate professor of biology. “Just in the last week, they have been coming to campus. The deafening caws, large numbers, and copious dropping are evidence of their presence.”

“A Discussion of Perspectives: Crow Roosting in the Finger Lakes Region,” will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 in the library’s Geneva Room. Panelists will examine the annual winter visitation of crows to the shoreline communities of the Finger Lakes and talk about how attitudes have changed in regard to the birds’ ecological and cultural value and offer some suggestions on management of crows.

Speakers will include Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Mary Hess, an instructor in the HWS English Department; Gordon Eddington, director of Public Works for the City of Geneva; and Rita Sarnicola, an animal rights activist and founder of Citizens Respectful of Wildlife.

“It’s going to be an insider’s look at something not unique to this area but a local issue, an in-depth discussion on local issues and opinions,” said Sarah Meyer, Finger Lakes Institute Community Outreach Coordinator.

The discussion will be primarily based on why the crows roost in high numbers and how communities can cope with the birds. McGowan will explain why the crows are prone to gathering in the area, and Eddington will discuss management techniques. Hess will contribute her expertise on the cultural representation of the birds and how it impacts this issue and Sarnicola will discuss ecotourism possibilities and how the crow issues have affected Auburn, N.Y. Deutschlander will moderate the discussion.

The topic has been explored on campus for the past few years. In Deutschlander’s 2007 first-year seminar “Bird Obsession: Beauty of the Beast,” event organizers Elizabeth Zinsser ’10 and Emily Runnells ’08 studied crows and ravens in biology and in Native American religion.

“The class chose to do their final projects on various aspects of crows and ravens. As part of their learning community, they were also taking a biology course on invasive species so this led many of them to consider the issue of invasive winter crows,” Deutschlander explained.

“One group conducted a campus and town survey about attitudes toward crows, which led to thinking about how we could better educate the HWS and Geneva communities about crows; hence, the idea of the panel discussion was hatched,” he continued.

Hobart Assistant Dean David Mapstone ’93 has been conducting a research project on first-year seminars and learning communities, and has taken a particular interest in “Bird Obsession” because it has fostered such successes as the Wildlife Conservation theme house and this panel discussion.

“Dean Mapstone’s work is at the foundation of the success of these particular students and bringing this particular topic to light on campus,” Runnells said.

“My hope is best represented by a quote from Roger Tory Peterson: ‘Awareness inevitably leads to concern.’ Awareness of at least some natural entities will hopefully help the students become more environmentally minded in their behaviors,” said Deutschlander. “Hopefully they will remember the lives of humans are intertwined with the other species that share our earth, and we have a responsibility to those other species.”

The event is free and open to all; registration is requested by calling (315) 781-4382 or e-mailing FLI.