Crows swarm in Virginia Beach along I-264 near the interchange (Joshua Weinstein/Southside Daily)
VIRGINIA BEACH — Commuters driving near the interchange of Interstate 64 and Interstate 264 may have seen something peculiar in the past month: a swarm of crows flying and swirling above the road, moving all together in one sweeping motion.
So what’s up with that?
Southside Daily set out to get to the bottom of this large group of highly-visible birds — why they’re hanging out by the interstate, why there are so many, and what they’re all about.
As the crow flies
David Youker is a board member of the Hampton Roads Bird Club and has been involved with the organization for 15 years. He said there’s a reason why the crows by the interchange tend to be most visible around sunset.
“They gather and roost for the night together, for warmth and protection, and are likely returning from the surrounding area as it gets dark,” Youker said.
But why are they returning to that particular area around the interchange?
Youker said it could be related to the types of trees there, which are predominantly evergreen.
“Because they’re evergreens, the trees provide shelter year-round,” Youker said, adding that’s likely why the crows roost near the interstate. The birds feel safest from predators when they are roosting together beneath a canopy of shelter.
The birds appear to roost in the clusters of trees that flank the four corners of the interchange, but also gather on man-made structures nearby. Construction near the interchange related to improvements of the Newtown Road exit has cleared away part of the forest that once stood there, but that hasn’t deterred the crows from hanging out.
Bird count circles
The Audubon Society has conducted annual bird counts nationwide for the past 119 years. Volunteers count the number and types of birds they see and record their results. The observations are organized by local bird enthusiasts and take place within a designated 15-mile circle.
Virginia Beach has two active bird count circles, one of which is centered in the northern half of the city and encompasses the interchange.
Elisa Flanders is the compiler for the bird count circle in the northern half of Virginia Beach. She’s been leading bird count efforts in the city for the last seven years, and has been tracking birds for 30 years. She’s responsible to counting the crows by the interstate.
“The day I went out there, I’d say it was about 2,000 birds, which seemed a bit low,” Enders said. In past bird counts, Enders said she had seen groups of crows by the interstate that “could have been closer to 5,000 or 7,000 birds.”
So where do all those birds go during the day?
Wherever the people are, Enders said.
“I’ve seen them hanging out looking for food. Trash dumpsters, Walmart — wherever there’s a possibility for food to be dropped,” she said, adding that crows are opportunistic when it comes to food.
The interchange roost is unique, Enders said, because “it’s in a pretty developed area, and it has generally stayed in that vicinity. It seems like it’s always been there. I moved here 17 years ago, and people have been talking about this roost the whole time.”