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Crows 'commute' to feeding grounds

The advice you guys give on ornithological questions is usually spot on. I am one of those people who enjoys relaxing on Roxy Ann Peak after a day's work. My question is about the 50 birds that begin noisily circling the top for an hour or two every evening. Are they crows or ravens? They seem to come from the north, and then at sunset they head off — often in a long line toward maybe Ashland. Where are they going? How smart do they have to be to use Roxy Ann as a social meeting place? But perhaps most important, where have they spent their day? I originally thought they might be dining at some plowed fields north of town. Now I am thinking maybe they are looking for roadkill all day long.

— Anonymous

The birds you see are most likely crows congregating after a day of foraging. They then head over to a large crow-roosting site south of Asante Ashland Community Hospital, according to Klamath Bird Observatory Board of Directors President Harry Fuller.

Groups of crows regularly travel 10 to 20 miles each day, he said.

"They're commuting — just like we do," Fuller said. "They will return to the same area as long as the food supply at the end of the commute lasts."

Like racoons, humans and other omnivorous creatures, crows eat a wide variety of foods. They forage for food scraps in parking lots and farm fields, eat garbage and frequent vineyards and orchards. Fallen fruit is a favorite since it also attracts edible insects and small rodents, such as mice. Crows often drop walnuts onto streets, where cars serve as nutcrackers. The crows then eat the nut meat, Fuller said.

"You'll see them everywhere they can find something to eat that's more edible than a stick," he said.

Crows are intelligent, social animals. They are relatively safe from predators such as peregrine falcons as they fly back and forth from their nighttime roosting spots to their daytime feeding grounds, Fuller said.

"Peregrines usually go after birds that are less smart," he said.

At higher elevations, such as at the top of Mount Ashland, ravens are more common than crows. Both crows and ravens hang around the Rogue Valley year-round, Fuller said.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.