The crows have eyes for Downtown Akron ❘ Average Joe

I’ve seen sea lions swarming the docks at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Back in 2000, before feeding the birds was prohibited, I propped myself up as a perch for pesky pigeons near Piccadilly Circus at London's Trafalgar Square.

And I’ve cringed at the cacophony of countless carp clumsily clogging a popular spillway on the Pennsylvania side of Pymatuning Reservoir.

But I’ve never experienced an encounter with wild beasts quite like my recent run-ins with the crows that make their winter roost in Downtown Akron.

It began on a dreary late afternoon in December with a tizzy of cawing sounds approaching the Beacon Journal offices from who knows where. Just some passing birds, I figured. I was all by my lonesome at workday’s end, and dusk was at hand. As I hit the light and turned to exit, I jumped at the sudden sound of loud tapping against the skylight above.

I looked up to see dozens and dozens of crows flying overhead in formations that resembled wartime newsreels. Soon, others joined in pecking their beaks on the glass. The sights and sounds were so eerie that I took out my phone and recorded a short video to send to my kids.

“They demand a sacrifice,” one daughter texted in response.

Another tap at the skylight was followed by an ominously loud “CAW!”

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The spectacle grew exponentially as I walked out to my car. By the glow of streetlights, I could see the busy movement of countless avian silhouettes overwhelming the tall, bare trees hugging the banks of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Not a single inch of a single branch appeared unoccupied. Those birds that could not squeeze into a spot on the trees fanned out across the parking lot and crisscrossed the air all around. The chorus of thousands sounded otherworldly. I was trapped inside a snow globe that had replaced the snowflakes with crows.

Wings, touching wings. Reaching out. Touching…


Weird times never felt so weird, and I was inclined to dash to my car in case some sinister plan was afoot.

But aside from making the roof of my car look like a Jackson Pollock practice canvas, the crows didn’t seem interested in me.

Still, I drove away with my heart racing a little faster than usual.

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What's even scarier? Reading a field guide

Though I like to think of myself as an amateur bird watcher, I realized that I clearly had a lot to learn about the behavior of crows. How long, I wondered, had this downtown rendezvous been going on?

Would they be back again the next day? Indeed, they returned. And the day after that. And so on. The fascination deepened. Where were they coming from each day? Where were they going as they scrambled apart at dawn? Paranoia struck deep. I'd swear I'd hear the cawing following me everywhere I went. It'd be the last noise I heard before falling asleep and the first to greet me when I awoke. Then I became nervous that my colleagues were whispering to each other about my clear preoccupation after I'd race into the office and ask: "Are they still following me?"

“Crows are actually very smart,” one co-worker helpfully piped up. “They are attracted to shiny objects. If you offer them one, they will remember you and reward you with their friendship and loyalty.”

This provided some comfort, but was he just making this up?

I turned to the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds” for insight. “Intelligent, wary, virtually omnivorous and with a high reproductive capacity, the American Crow is undoubtedly much more numerous than it was before the arrival of settlers.”

Wow. There are a lot of different ways you could unpack that observation. Read on: “Crows may gather in roosts of over half a million birds and are so abundant that even an ardent defender of birds might not deny that they are destructive to crops and should be controlled.” Hey, equivocate much?

“Crows make interesting pets if obtained while quite young; some learn to mimic the human voice. They often carry off and hide bright objects.” Why does this sound like it was written by Hannibal Lecter?

The result of that exercise is that I am now more afraid of field guide writers than I am of crows. And further research on the topic through various websites brought me to less creepy overviews that shed some light on the seasonal nature of these generally nonthreatening crow gatherings. And on the plus side, at least they seem to only number in the low thousands and not the half-million that enigmatic Hannibal Audubon would have me believe.

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Tackling my fear and moving on (maybe)

As daylight stretches out longer and temperatures warm up, the online birders' consensus is that these massive assemblies will eventually cease to gather for a long while.

And while plenty of crows will continue to hang out Downtown, the predominant canal-side bird noises will return to the honking and hissing of Canada geese that confidently patrol the Towpath Trail.

I'm working through this crow obsession, trying to rid myself of the notion that I've been thrust into an Alfred Hitchcock-type nightmare. They're not actually going to eat me if I try to befriend them with an offering of tinfoil. And I am not going to kidnap their kids and train them to speak like me.

Hopefully by next winter, I’ll feel less panicked if the crows return to this roost.

But then again, what did Audubon mean by “virtually” omnivorous?

When he isn’t toiling away as the Beacon Journal metro editor, you can occasionally find Joe Thomas musing about everyday life as the Average Joe. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Average Joe: The crows have eyes for Downtown Akron