Skip to content

Poughkeepsie’s Massive Crow Roost

Each fall, 10,000 or more crows choose Poughkeepsie for their largest roost in hundreds of miles. Experts know just a bit about why.

by Jacqueline Dooley
Share:

As the weather cools off, crows flock to Poughkeepsie by the thousands to join a communal roost, a ritual that’s been recurring in the area for at least four decades. Though the exact roost site changes slightly from year to year, the crows invariably arrive as the temperature drops.

Crows roost in Poughkeepsie.
(Photo: Nava Tabak / Scenic Hudson)

The Poughkeepsie crow roost is the largest for hundreds of miles. And with trains and bridges carrying thousands of commuters right past, the incredible gathering of birds provokes fascination at its scale.

Even the experts aren’t immune to wondering at it. Vox Pop’s Rich Guthrie, a retired ornithologist who compiles the Catskill Christmas bird count for the National Audubon Society, recalls watching nightly even years ago when he lived along the crows’ flight path in Poughkeepsie. “My son and I would sit out on our porch in the evening and watch the waves of crows coming in from the west, going to the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center, where the roost was located at the time,” he says. “It was an evening event.”

Crow. (Photo: Karen Kraco / KracoCreative.com)

American crows are highly social and are constantly interacting with members of their extended family or neighboring families of crows. “In the late-winter and early-spring, the sense of a territory becomes much more heightened and the boundaries of the territory will be defended with relatively more gusto than during the non-breeding periods,” according to Douglas Robinson, a biology professor at Newburgh’s Mount Saint Mary College. Robinson conducted his Ph.D. research on crows’ social behavior and also studied the crow population at Cornell University’s vaunted Lab of Ornithology.

Fish Crow. (Photo: Peter Stewart)

“Whether you have crows living as residents or migrants in your community,” Robinson says, “you’re likely seeing the same individuals over time.”

Crows in Winter

In the Hudson Valley, the crows are territorial during nesting season in February and March, Robinson says. Further north, the birds are migratory. They leave their northern territories, especially when there’s snow on the ground, and travel south.

This means that the crows that roost in Poughkeepsie are primarily migrants, rather than locals. In late November and December, we’ll see the number of crows flocking to the Poughkeepsie roost begin to grow larger, as northern birds travel south, increasing the size of the roost. 

Crows fly over the Arterial in Poughkeepsie, December 2018.
(Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion / Scenic Hudson)

Around sunset, the crows arrive from the Ulster side of the river and gather in staging areas prior to moving to the roost. A staging area is basically a gathering place for the crows located close to the roost. Staging sites can include trees, parking lots, buildings and (much to the dismay of some residents) backyards and houses.

Fish Crow. (Photo: Peter Stewart)

Staging is a boisterous time for crows, with a lot of chatter and interaction among the birds prior to roosting. They’ll often gather in relatively small groups of 50 to 150, then head out in groups. “The staging process is a wonderful thing to watch,” Guthrie says.

Why Poughkeepsie?

No one knows exactly why the crows roost in Poughkeepsie in the winter, but Guthrie notes that the birds are likely drawn to cities and suburbs because, quite simply, they’re warmer. The crows probably return to these sites because of collective crow memory.

Crow. (Photo: Karen Kraco / KracoCreative.com)

“We think there’s some cultural transmission of information taking place,” Robinson says. “Roost sites like the one in Poughkeepsie are known spots to gather during the winter evenings. They might shift slightly over time, but we can predict that they are going to be there on a regular basis.”

In addition to warmth, roosting in populated areas like cities and suburbs may provide some protection from nocturnal predators, especially owls. “Owls are the biggest predators for crows,” Robinson says. “Especially the great horned owl.”

Crows in winter. (Photo: Karen Kraco / KracoCreative.com)

Crow communication is instinctual. They meet up in (roughly) the same staging area year after year, with occasional shifts depending on local conditions. “The crows don’t have road maps or GPS. Smaller platoons of crows will gather and merge with others, forming the army march to the roost site,” Guthrie says. “That’s how the Poughkeepsie roost gets so large, with wave after wave of crows flying upstream. This continues well into darkness.”

Crow in flight. (Photo: Karen Kraco / KracoCreative.com)

Crows mark the change of seasons

When the crows come to roost in Poughkeepsie, it’s a clear indicator that the seasons are changing. The roost begins to gather as early as August in smaller groups of about 50 to 125 birds. The number of birds increases as the weather cools, reaching as many as ten thousand (or more) by December.

Fish Crow. (Photo: Peter Stewart)

To catch a glimpse of this phenomenon, Robinson recommends looking from the west side of the Hudson River out over the Poughkeepsie area (at sunset, of course.) He likes to observe crows flying to the roosting site from Franny Reese State Park in Highland. Across the river, Guthrie recommends watching from from Cottage Road, at the north end of Poughkeepsie, near the Hyde Park Border. Wherever you watch, bring your sense of awe.

Jacqueline Dooley is a freelance writer located in Eddyville, N.Y. Her essays about grief, nature, birds, and parenting have appeared in the Washington Post, Longreads, Modern Loss, Al Jazeera, and more.

More in this Series

Bird lovers throughout the Hudson Valley are watching for one of our area’s most beloved seasonal residents: the ruby-throated hummingbird....
The robin is the oneThat interrupts the mornWith hurried, few, express reportsWhen March is scarcely on. Virtually nobody signals the...
Northern cardinals have become a familiar and welcome sight to New Yorkers, particularly here in the Hudson Valley. The iconic...
The secret ingredient to understanding the habits of snowy owls is, of all things, lemmings. This tiny rodent that thrives...
There’s something especially heartbreaking about coming across an injured bird — a creature meant to soar that is suddenly suffering,...
Few things in life draw the sort of deep-sigh feeling of awe as the sight of a majestic eagle soaring...
You might see a seagull over the Hudson River and think it’s amazing that these birds have come 50 or...
BEEMPP! BOOM!!  and again  BEEEMPP! BOOOM! On a warm June evening, I would take the kids down to Coxsackie to wait....
If you stand outside at about 9:30 p.m. and listen quietly, you might hear the distinctive “wheet” calls of the...
Jacqueline Dooley

Related Content

Editors' Picks

Climate Solutions
How to Get in on the Refillability Game
Land + Air + Water
Restoring Resilience to Mawignack Preserve
Land + Air + Water
Can Hops Make a Comeback in New York?
A close view of a hop growing on a vine. Behind it is a red barn.
Land + Air + Water
Protecting Forests by Managing the Exploding Deer Population
Climate Solutions
Floatovoltaics Makes Waves Approaching the Valley

Search Viewfinder:

Hudson Valley Viewfinder is a collaborative, community digital magazine sharing what inspires us about the beautiful Hudson Valley. We publish original stories and multimedia content about all things sustainable in the region along the Hudson River — including agriculture, science, wildlife, outdoor recreation, green transportation, environmental justice, and more.

Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

Subscribe!

Get the latest articles delivered right to your inbox  — for FREE!