Welcome or not, here they come. Thousands of crows are starting to show up in downtown Portland ready to roost. By February it's predicted 15,000 of them will be calling it a night in the area bounded by the Willamette River and I-405 and Burnside Street and Portland State University.
As a 4-year-old will ask when faced with perplexing acts of nature, "Why?"
"I'm curious to know why in the world they come to the city. What's going on with the roost? What does it all mean?" asks Gary Granger, who gave a presentation on the now-annual Portland Crow Roost for 150 equally-curious people at the Multnomah Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 8, sponsored by the Collins View Neighborhood Association.
"Frankly, there's not a lot of science around crows. There's some great science on certain aspects but not much on why they roost together," said Granger, who's the Community Safety Director at Reed College when he's not counting crows with his partner, Rebecca Provorse.
Crows don't get the same respect as the swifts at Chapman School in Northwest Portland or the swallows that return to San Juan Capistrano. They can be noisy, have been known to dive bomb anyone threatening their offspring and leave behind lots of slime that binds when they defecate.
Still, Granger is constantly impressed by their presence in Portland.
"I got interested in 2017 when I walked under a tree at Southwest Fifth and Salmon and 20 feet overhead were 200 to 300 crows roosting. The sound was moving. I started to wonder why all those crows would sleep in one tree and I was hooked," he said.
He says the best place to see the daily crow roost is along the Willamette River at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
"There's an open view to the east and about 30 minutes before official sundown you will see crows coming in. Or you can go to the top floor of the parking lot at Crown Plaza at Southwest First and Clay. You can see thousands of crows coming into town in the early evening. They will 'pre-roost' in the tops of trees that are eye level from the top floor and they'll socialize for half an hour before they go roost and sleep for the night," he said.
At first light the next morning, all the crows will fly away from downtown Portland. "We don't know where they go as they fly off in all directions. Last year at the peak of the Portland crow roost in February, 15,000 crows would be leaving Portland at sunrise," Ganger said.
Not everyone is as enamored of the crow roost as Granger. The Portland Tribune reported last year that TriMet would spend $1.5 million trying to disperse the roost because of the damage done to the transit mall by crows defecating. Portland Clean & Safe, a program funded by downtown businesses to provide security and cleaning services in downtown Portland, has hired a hawk and his keeper to scatter the crows by harassing, but not hurting, them.
Granger has studied the effect the bird of prey approach has on the crow population and decided it not very effective.
By counting crows he realized that there were as many there after the hawk was let loose as there were before the hazing began.
"I'm comfortable asserting that the stated goal of the project to move crows and their droppings out of the project area has not been achieved," he said. "Too bad it doesn't work and just disadvantages the crowd during the highest stress time of the year."
For more information see www.pdxcrowroost.com.
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