Lighting changes and the effect on the Auburn NY crow roost
First let me state that I am not a biologist. Everything I am stating here are opinions and conclusions
I have made based on my observations of the Auburn NY crow roost over the past 12 years. I have studied vast amounts
of text on crows and their habits, and have talked and worked with biologists and experts in many fields
regarding this and other winter crow roosts. Over the years I have also talked with many citizens and government
officials about the problems a roost of this size may cause local residents. Those I have talked and
worked with cover the full spectrum of love and hate regarding crows and their roosting habits.
Auburn's Winter Crow Roost
Crows are commonly known now to be the smartest birds on the planet. We know that they have a way of communicating
with each other we haven't begun to understand. In the last 10-15 years, crow roosts all across north America
have changed there winter roosting locations from country/wooded areas to urban settings.
Experts generally agree that the crows are attracted to a particular area to roost for a number of reasons. Among
these are the following:
Lighting Up The Auburn Skies
In recent years the size of the roost has stabilized. Many feel that the roost has and is still growing in size. I do not agree. From my observations, most who think the roost is "growing" every year do not take into account that the roost is shifting it's actual location on an almost daily basis. This roost covers many city blocks and is considered the largest crow roost in New York State. If crows who usually roost on the south west side suddenly move a few blocks to the east for several nights, the first thing the residents under those trees assume is that the roost has increased in size and now covers their block also. However, if we don't reduce the reasons the crows are attracted to downtown, there is little hope that the roost will leave any time in the future.
Although the center of the roost, which I will call "Ground Zero" for lack of a better term, has stayed pretty much in the same location along the Owasco outlet for the past 10-12 years, the over flow trees used by crows that can't roost in the preferred roosting trees once they are full, changes on an almost nightly basis. There is one exception to the crows habit of choosing these outer roost trees depending on weather. I have observed over several years that the crows almost always choose trees that are near lighting first if a tree along the outlet is not available.
Lighting it seems, is the root of the crow problem. The intensity of the light in downtown Auburn has increased dramaticly since the early 90s. Newly available satellite data shows that the center of the highest intensity of light has made a major shift from the Grant Ave. area (car lots and major retail stores) in the north east of the city to downtown Auburn. If crows are attracted to well lit trees, increasing the lights around the older trees downtown that offer warmer air just adds to the problem. If you give crows more well lit trees to roost in, you are increasing the potential for a larger roost. This is exactly what has happened between 1992 and 2000 to increase the size of the roost to its current population in downtown Auburn.
The following NOAA satellite data was acquired from the National Environmental satellite Data and Information Service. It shows that the level of light Auburn generated in 1992 (before the roost dramatically increased in size) was centered in the outer Grant Ave. area. Notice that the level of light in 2000 has not only increased, but now covers a wider area and the center has shifted from outer Grant Ave. to directly over downtown Auburn. This coincides with the same years that the crow roost grew to its current size.
The intensity numbers used above are for comparison between data sets only and do not relate to any lighting "scale".
What's caused the shift and increase in lighting?
This fall, crows became a problem around the County office building on Genesee Street. Why after so many years in downtown did crows start roosting in the trees right in front of the building and next to the parking lot? In the past they were only there for an hour or two if at all. What changed to make the crows roost in these smaller trees all night?
This fall (2004) the City finished its Genesee Street revitalization project in front of the County Office Building. As you can guess, the city installed the new style street lights. Where there were once single, dimmer lamps shining down to the ground, there are now huge, bright, double globes shinning light in all directions.
The City of Auburn is now utilizing scare tactics to attempt to move the roost from the city. If it is even slightly successful, it will be temporary at best and will have to be repeated several times every winter. My hope is that this data will show that the new lighting is a major factor in the crows attraction to downtown and that unless you make changes to what attracts crow roosts in the first place, cities will continue to spend taxpayer's money attempting to relocate roosts every winter.