LFP Rotary Club and a river of crows

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The UW Bothell loves its crows

By Cynthia Sheridan

“Crow Communication in Social Aggregations” presented by Asst Professor Doug Wacker

Asst. Prof Doug Wacker and crow
UW Bothell is home to Doug Wacker, Assistant Professor of Animal Behavior, and UW Bothell is also home to a large nocturnal crow roost on the adjacent North Creek Wetlands Restoration, likely consisting of ten to 15 thousand crows in the winter.

Recently Doug presented this fascinating crow story to the Lake Forest Park Rotarians via Zoom, including some amazing crow-crowded pictures. 

He discussed challenging his students, who operate in pairs, to look for the “predictable rivers of crows” as the birds form pre- and post-roost aggregations. 

Another challenge is to follow the crows and determine where they are coming from and how far they travel on their daily visits to the roost. 

Crows flying home to UW Bothell at sunset

Although Kenmore is a hot spot, these crows travel as much as 40 miles to roost at the UW Bothell campus. Students study how crows communicate on these aggregations and, more generally, how crows combine vocal and non-vocal behaviors to communicate in social groups.

Photo by Wayne Pridemore

Crows have dozens of distinct calls, with multiple variations in pitch and volume. It’s clear whether they’re scolding a predator or begging for food.

Undergraduate research assistants are recording audio and video of crows from a variety of contexts, and analyzing their data using audio analysis software.

In the future, they hope to incorporate the use of crow models and telemetry to further decipher whether and how crows might share information in social aggregations.

The returning ‘rivers” of crows are timed with sunset and leave the Bothell roost before sunrise. 

Sometimes ground roosting leads to occupation of the sports field on campus but the nearby North Creek Wetlands Reserve is the crows’ communal roost.

The crows will occasionally roost on the athletic fields but they normally roost in the wetlands on campus.

Winter is the best time to see the crows in action. According to the professor, incoming freshman are especially startled and impressed by UW Bothell’s unique aviary population.


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