Caw! Caw! Caw! Loud, raucous, and highly intelligent, you may not see many crows at your backyard bird feeder, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see crows in a group.
Why do crows gather and caw? Members of the Corvidae family, crows, are highly social birds with tight-knit family structures that gather, or roost, in large numbers (1).
There can be a number of other reasons that may cause crows to gather in large numbers, from social behaviors to protective measures, read on to learn why do crows gather and what it means when they do.
Why do crows gather and caw?
So why do crows gather and caw? There can be a number of different answers to this question, but the most common reason for a large gathering of crows is to form large communal roosts (2).
Flocks gather in fall and winter to these roosts that may contain anywhere from hundreds to thousands of birds (3). Smaller flocks congregate and join together to create one large roost for the night. As the morning comes, smaller groups break off from the flock to disperse for the day, returning to the roost later in the afternoon.
Although little research has been done on the communal roosting of crows, this behavior is thought to play an important social role for crows, helping them exchange information, look for mates, and generally socialize. There may be other reasons for crows to gather as well, including funeral behavior, feeding, and social gatherings.
Related: 12 Tips on How to Attract Crows to Your Backyard
One of the common names for a group of crows is known as a murder. The name seems especially fitting for the behavior crows to display when a death occurs amongst their number. Very few animals have what is known as a grieving ritual, other than humans, of course, so the behavior of “holding a funeral” that is sometimes observed in crows is particularly intriguing (4).
Crows flock to members of their own species after death and may interact with the dead bird in a variety of ways. Although the behavior may look like mourning, scientists believe it serves other purposes as well. Crows are incredibly intelligent and maybe trying to learn from the situation at hand, trying to ascertain both what may have befallen their comrade, and whether they need to be on the watch for new predators (5).
As the incredibly clever birds they are, crows also share information and use these funerals as a way to both gather information and redistribute it amongst the group allowing individuals to respond and adapt to environmental changes immediately (6). Their ability to categorize the information gleaned from a crow funeral, or griefing, is critical to their survival that depends on differentiating friend from foe.
Just before dark, you may start to see large swarms of crows gathering and descending on one common location. Flying back and forth, they seem to flit from branch to branch as more feathered friends arrive. You’ll hear crows squawking and maybe even fighting as individuals jostle for position in a large tree or urban structure.
This phenomenon, known as roosting, is when a large number of birds congregate into a single group to sleep (7). So where do crows sleep and what is a crow roost? Crows gather in large numbers to sleep for a variety of reasons. Experts believe that these large gatherings of crows may provide warmth, protection, social opportunities, and a chance to share knowledge about food sources. Before heading to the roost, smaller groups of crows gather in what’s known as staging areas, rather than flying directly to the roost.
During the day, these groups may be spread out over a much wider area, but come together for communal roosting at dark. Although little is known about the exact reasons for these communal roosts, they are often made up largely of younger, unmated birds without their own territory although all crows will join a roost, numbers peak in winter and decline as breeding season approaches.
Related: How to Befriend Crows? (Step-By-Step Guide)
Other possible reasons
Crows have been gathering in large swarms and roosts for as long as there have been crows. Roosts can range in size from several hundred birds to numbers in the hundreds of thousands and can be located almost anywhere – remaining stable for years if they are left undisturbed (8).
They will travel long distances to reach their nightly roosts and even though we don’t know exactly why crows congregate in such large groups, there are a number of hypotheses that have been presented. The most prevalent hypothesis is simply needs-based.
All members have the same needs (protection from predators and elements, suitable spot, etc.), so it makes sense for them to gather in a spot where all their needs can be met in the same place. Along this same line of thinking, there is safety in numbers, and large communal roosts offer individual members protection from predators they wouldn’t otherwise afford.
Most experts agree, however, that large communal roosts serve some sort of information center function (9). Crows are incredibly intelligent birds that are able to learn new information and adapt their behaviors accordingly. Communal roosts provide members an opportunity to share information about rich food sources as well as the people and places to avoid.
Related: 12 Tips on How to Get Rid of Crows if They Become a Problem
What attracts crows to an area?
Crows are opportunistic birds known for their intelligence and adaptability, so it’s little wonder that they can be found in a variety of habitats (10). Although American Crows prefer open areas such as agricultural land and grasslands with trees nearby, but they thrive in urban and suburban areas as well.
Crows are opportunistic birds that thrive in habitats we create, so as agriculture and urbanization spread throughout the world, so did crows. Given that crows are omnivores, they have a variety of food sources available to them and will be most likely drawn to stable and predictable food sources. Once thought to be a major pest to crops, crows can also prevent damage by eating injurious insects and pests in the area (11). Natural foragers crows also clean up dead animals and garbage, so securing trash and compost can be a natural deterrent.
Because of their omnivorous nature, crows often come for one food source, such as a crop or garden produce, and stay for another like the insects found near them. Due to their incredibly smart and intelligent ways, keeping crows away from areas they aren’t wanted can be a time consuming and aggressive activity. Once crows are settled in an area, it can be a daunting task to convince them to leave.
Crow behavior has been a source of scrutiny and curiosity for almost as long as there have been crows. They have long had an unfortunate association with death and the macabre, perhaps because their behavior was misunderstood for a long time or perhaps because they, as a group, they are known as a murder.
Originally cast aside in the animal intelligence world, crows rank amongst the most intelligent birds and have a number of highly intelligent behaviors like recognition, social learning, deceit, and language (12). They are now known for their problem-solving and communication skills and much research exists to highlight this fact. Most interesting to come from this research are some of the common behaviors of crows and why they exist. Although some crows are solitary, they come together in groups for feeding, roosting, and social interaction.
For instance, when one dies, the group will surround the deceased, circling, and cawing to both mourn the dead and find out what killed their feathered friend. In a behavior known as mobbing, they will even band together and chase predators away once they have determined the threat. Highly intelligent creatures crow not only recognize individual humans but learn from one another as to the safety of that interaction. Crow behavior continues to be a fascinating source of study for scientists.
17 thoughts on “Why Do Crows Gather? (Everything You Need to Know)”
I have a brass bell i ring every morning about 300 crows come from every direction. Feed them high-quality dog kibble.been doing it for years. several thousand roosting crows have flown in tonite and are kicking back in the trees behind my farm.❤️british columbia canada
Thanks for the intriguing read! I was prompted to look online for info after hearing the most annoying raucous from what sounded like 100 or more of the lovelies outside my window here in Durham yesterday. (I wondered whether the yard guy had earlier possibly unearthed something of interest to them.) Anyway, I was delighted to find your piece. Their ability to remember human faces and bad encounters with the same reminds me of a story NPR did some years ago. Thanks again.
I noticed and heard hundreds of crows this morning in my neighbor’s tree across the street. I usually notice them making noise when our neighborhood fox family is out and about. This morning around 7 am I had to walk across the street to see these birds fussing and crowing and making a lot of noise. Thought they were ready for a mating game and they would fly from one branch to another. All mornimg long and in to the afternoon. I thought it was pretty cool.
The issue I am interested in is whether crows follow a great circle flight path? When we quote the straight line distance between two points we say, “as the crow flies”. But, for example, the shortest distance between London and New York is not over Ireland as would seem on a map, but over Scotland because that is on the great circle.
Thanks for the info on these hard case, lovely birds.
A wonderful and informative piece, thank you very much. We are surrounded by farm land (in the UK), and have multiple roosts in our garden and nearby.
We have also noticed crows will land on our windowsills and peck the windows, as if attacking their reflection. Another problem we have is that they have pecked the paintwork on our two cars – on the driver door. We saw them doing this once, and have had to have the car door re-sprayed. It has happened again – the door is back to very lightly scratched in a 4 inch area.
Have you heard of this behaviour before, and do you know what might cause it?
Birds occasionally mistake their reflections for other birds. During the breeding season especially this can cause them to act territorial or aggressive towards windows or car mirrors. My partner had a towhee friend who was absolutely obsessed with his car mirrors for an entire season once. I suspect that this is what you’ve experienced. Obscuring reflective surfaces might help your crow friends move on.
I hope this helps!
— Hailey Brophy
Writer @ World Birds
Thank you for explaining this crow behaviour. For the past two nights hundreds upon hundreds of crows have been meeting in the tall trees behind my and my neighbours houses. This also happened a couple years ago on one occasion. It is amazing to experience this but took me a while to reach that opinion as it was quite disconcerting at first due to the incredible noise they make! It is currently very cold overnight so I’m thinking their gathering is due to keeping warm in numbers. However, it’s been even colder on other nights and they’ve not been around. So there might be another reason for it. I’m sure I’ll never know. Regardless, I respect them and would love to know more about them as they are fascinating due to their intelligence, ability to problem solve, communicate, and their ability to recognize faces. I wonder what they think of me and my dogs. My dogs seem to not care one iota despite the deafening noise they make.
I work in an industrial park every winter thousands of crows gather. I often wondered why. thank you for the informative article. Knowing they are so intelligent I may put them to work. Lord knows many humans sleep on the job
Thanks for the article! It was very informative, my husband and I had noticed the crow behavior at our residence and had questions and found your article. We had noticed early morning at daybreak a massive amount of crows in a certain area of the pine trees across the hwy. at the same time every morning at daybreak the crows would (hundreds) “gather” dip down and fly back up in a group then disperse. My husband and I observed the “5-minute preshift pep meeting” then the groups went in different directions.
We are late 50’s and just now actually paid attention to their behavior
That is so interesting! I know that most birds have poor night vision and are very sensitive to light. It’s typical for diurnal species to become active right at daybreak. Perhaps these crows are roosting nearby in the night? Also, the earth is often soft and wet in the early morning which cues a lot of birds to forage for insects. “The Early Bird Gets the Worm” as they say. I hope you enjoy watching their morning gatherings!
— Hailey Brophy
Writer @ World Birds
I just came back from a beautiful winter walk, where I often see a river of crows flying from NW to SE across farm fields. So I started counting them and got past 400! I’ve always wondered where they go, and now you’ve told me, Garth. Thank you!
Hi, Thanks for your article on why crows gather. I was quite alarmed when they swarmed me and my 7 week old puppies in our backyard. I assumed they were looking for prey. I took the pups in.
THankyou for your wisdom, we have hundreds of crows on our land they’d are very territorial and work using the lanes as boundaries even chasing off winged predators they are amazing to study
I also found your article absolutely wonderful. When I had my son I went outside the hospital at night and it was the first week of December. Hundreds and hundreds of crows gathered on all the trees surrounding the hospital. I was actually a little spooked! As your article said I to observed the fact that it’s not just for gathering. These crows were communicating. I felt like I was intruding on a huge family meeting. It’s was actually quite astonishing.
It’s a pleasure to meet you. I found your article fascinating and very informative. I have always loved crows since I was a little girl. I am now a senior citizen and my love for them continues. I have a large group of them where I live and put out unsalted peanuts in their shells and bird seed. I was considering putting out some sliced up apples for them. What would be healthy and appealing to them?
Again, thank you.
They don’t like apple very much.
They really like protein. So cheese and nuts they like a lot.