Amid the dark skies on a rainy day when observers set out to count birds in San Francisco, there was an ominous sign — a flock of about 27 crows.
The Golden Gate Audubon Society for the last 28 years has documented the numbers and types of birds in The City and on the Peninsula.
In the 1980s, crows and ravens were not even on the checklist of about 50 types of birds that more than 100 observers saw during the count. The once-rare predators are known for sabotaging other birds’ eggs and chicks.
The American Crows on Tuesday hid in the tops of eucalyptus trees at Stern Grove and almost went unnoticed until their caws disrupted the stillness around Pine Lake.
Dan Murphy, who helped start the San Francisco chapter of the society, said last year the group documented 413 American Crows and 616 ravens, which also used to be uncommon.
“I’d say 27 at the least,” yelled a binocular-wearing Murphy, while the flock swarmed the sky. “They’re at the top of the food chain. ... It might not be a good thing.”
As for the implications of the soaring number of crows, Murphy says he will leave that up to the experts.
He and his group of eight others — among 16 teams scattered throughout The City and a boat in the Bay — document everything they see.
In the afternoon, Murphy’s group was about halfway through their portion of the bird count and had seen species that ran the gamut. That’s when they spotted a White-Throated Sparrow, a bird that nests all over the East Coast but never on the West Coast.
“It’s been years since I’ve seen one of those,” said Tom Bacon, who was known among the group for hearing and naming the birds before he sees them.
The details of who saw what would be hashed out later during a dinner — inside a warm building, not out in the rain. The full tally from the annual count will be completed within a few weeks, Murphy said.
Birds of a feather
The anuual bird count is held in a 15-mile circle that is centered just east of Lake Merced in San Francisco. In 2009, 105 observers spotted:
- 159 species
- 49,313 birds
- 33 California quails
- 413 American crows
- 616 ravens
Source: Golden Gate Audubon Society