See a murder of crows up close at the UW-Bothell campus

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, February 28, 2014 1:34pm
  • Life

Do you want to see a murder?

Then come by the Bothell campus of the University of Washington. A murder of gigantic proportions can be seen around dusk each evening from late fall to late spring at a restored wetlands just north of the campus.

A murder is used to describe a flock of crows, a term that dates to the 15th century. More recently it’s been used in a film, album, band, video game, board game, television and a Sting song.

Murder, in this case, refers to a huge flock. It might make you a little uneasy to watch the skies blacken with up to 10,000 crows as they swoop into view, converging from different directions to roost for the night.

In 1997, the university began a stream restoration project on North Creek to turn a pasture infested with reed canary grass into a highly functioning and diverse wetland.

Cottonwoods, alders and willows were planted, and began to host crows from Snohomish County, but the trees now host thousands of birds from the Seattle area as well.

Crows roost in large numbers for protection, and rarely in exposed areas to predators, mainly the great horned owl.

UW professor of wildlife science John Marzluff, the resident crow expert, says that the trees also serve as a warning system. If a predator moves onto a branch, it creates a rustling sound that warns the crows.

Roosting in the wetland trees is a noisy operation, seemingly chaotic, but actually with a sense of order accompanied by cawing and jostling for position, followed by quiet.

Marzluff has done research that indicates there’s a social hierarchy in a roost, too, with older crows on higher branches.

They don’t all land at once, and there’s no amazing swirling like we can see with Vaux’s swifts going down a chimney.

Marzluff said that the best place to watch the birds is from the top of either parking garage.

He suggests that visitor don’t venture out into the wetlands just as the birds are roosting, “or they will get more than an eyeful.”

The roost is between the campus and I-405. The campus entrance is at 18115 Campus Way NE, Bothell.

Swans: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife trumpeter and tundra swan count, aided in no small part by volunteers, shows an increase in the population. The six-county count, from King to Whatcom plus San Juan counties, totaled 14,421 swans. Skagit had the most, 9,545, followed by Whatcom and Snohomish; Island had the least, 25.

Whip out that card: Debit and credit cards now are accepted by Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Employees will even scan personal checks in payment for over-the-counter transactions such as map sales and federal recreation passes.

Out and about: About 50 bald eagles were spotted this month in a tree off San Juan Valley Road on San Juan Island. The farm sits in the middle of the island. … There’s a plague sweeping through North American bats at more than 40 national wildlife refuges in the Southeast. … A snowy owl was seen on the top of a condominium in Long Beach earlier this month, as was a gyrfalcon in the Snohomish area.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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