BOTHELL — “It’s just so weird,” lifelong Bothell resident Lisa Coon said as she stared at the sky.
Coon and her husband, Mitch Evans, often watch the crows swarm over the city from the windows of their home. Evans said the crows even turn the sky black on some winter nights.
Thousands of crows have gathered nightly at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus for at least 14 years. The “murder,” or group, of crows in Bothell can reach a peak of up to 16,000 birds.
Even those who witness the phenomenon regularly are still awed. On Wednesday evening, standing close together, the couple had a front row seat as the corvids descended on the trees behind the UW Bothell football field.
Close to 200 people attended UW Bothell’s annual Crow Watch, featuring several presentations about crows and an invitation to watch the birds at dusk.
Observers began crowding at the North Creek Events Center, overlooking the football field, at 4 p.m. — almost an hour before the crows started landing. Many held binoculars and cameras in anticipation of the crows’ arrival.
Flocks of geese flying high above the field throughout the evening occasionally caused confusion among onlookers who wanted to make sure they caught the first glimpses of crows.
“Are those crows and geese?” asked Sabrina Bates, a UW Bothell alumna who enjoys coming back to her alma mater for the free entertainment. With so many groups of birds circling above the football field, it was difficult to distinguish the species.
“It’s a bird-watcher’s paradise,” said Bates, eyes trained toward the sky.
Close to 5 p.m., the crows stopped hovering and started landing on campus buildings. Many swooped even lower to the ground, swirling almost 30 feet away from onlookers standing on the path between the football field and tennis courts. Most of the crows settled into nearby trees, but a small group huddled on a tennis court, unfazed by people who moved as close as they could.
Faculty at UW Bothell suspect the 58-acre site on campus became a roosting area for crows around 2009 because trees in the nearby wetlands were tall enough, at last, to provide nighttime protection. Crow experts said the campus is also a central location for the birds to gather, beckoning them from cities across King and Snohomish counties.
Ursula Valdez, a lecturer at UW Bothell, discussed how media influences public feelings toward birds in a presentation at this year’s Crow Watch. She mentioned Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and how the 1963 film played a significant role in making people wary of crows.
She said events like the Crow Watch encourage people to learn about the birds’ actual behavior.
“We don’t tend to notice things that are around us,” Valdez said.
When her family members from Peru come to visit, Valdez said they always want to see this local spectacle.
She believes people are constantly captivated by UW Bothell’s crows because of the sheer number of them and the predictability of their daily roost.
Valdez said, “People like things that are out of the ordinary.”