There were easily 250 fish crows perched in the trees at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven shortly after dawn on Nov. 15. I am sure there were lots more, out of sight on the ground, as they were continually flying from here to there and back. Some were in Veterans Park, but most were perched on the opposite side of the road between the Mansion House, Stop & Shop and the Vineyard Haven Harbor. And they were noisy, making their very distinctive cah-cah sounds. There were about 20 of the larger American crows, all on the periphery of this large murder of crows (yes, that is what it is called).

Although the fish crow’s call is not as raucous as its larger and more common cousin, this could be a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. The vocalizations that sound so ominous are really the birds communicating with each other in ways that we do not understand.

These fish crows seem to be in Vineyard Haven throughout the day. There are murders of up to 50 fish crows, with very few American crows mixed in, anywhere from Woodland to the Vineyard Haven Harbor. Some will be perched in trees — they are somewhat smaller than their cousins — while others will be rummaging around on the ground. They will be in constant motion, flying between the trees and the ground.

Multiple reports all have them frequenting the Five Corners/harbor areas both at dawn and dusk. Their night-time roost must be somewhere near there, perhaps further out Hines Point. Watching this murder of crows is worth a special trip.

The only other time we have had fish crows here 24 hours a day was in the spring of 2014, when six of them were present near Tisbury marketplace between April and July. While nesting attempts were suspected, nobody was able to confirm their nesting.

Fish crows are a recent addition to our avifauna. They are originally a southern species but the e-bird website shows that they have now colonized most of coastal New England except for eastern Maine. The first confirmed sighting of fish crows on the Vineyard was on a Christmas Bird Count held on Jan. 2, 2011, part of the large winter-time crow roost in the Tradewinds/Farm Neck area of Oak Bluffs, as observed by Tom Chase’s field team. These commuter crows — both fish crows and American crows — have been observed every winter since then.

We have called these winter roosts commuter crows because they fly back and forth between the Cape and the Vineyard daily, even in bad weather and against strong headwinds. They spend the night here while spending their days off-Island. We have always assumed they all came from the Cape, but Chris Neill has seen them flying past Woods Hole from the New Bedford area.

As far as I know, there have been two attempts to count these commuter crows as they arrive on the Vineyard in the afternoon.

A year ago, on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2014, I counted 681 of these commuter crows as they flew past the entrance to Lake Tashmoo, on their way from the mainland to their roost site near Ice House Pond. Flocks of 10 to 75 of them flew quite close to me, so they were fairly easy to count. Based on the crows that were vocalizing, I estimated that up to one quarter of them were fish crows.

Another count of these commuter crows occurred on Feb. 2, 2012, on what seemed to be the coldest day of the year while we were stationed on the beach underneath the West Chop Lighthouse. We counted 414 crows while another crew counted 849 crows from the East Chop Lighthouse area. This makes a conservative estimate of 1,263 fish and American crows. The East Chop commuter crows roosted in the Tradewinds/Farm Neck area, while the West Chop birds likely roosted in Chilmark. Both those roost sites now appear to be abandoned. The West Chop commuter crows have roosted in the Ice House Pond area off Lambert’s Cove Road in the past few winters. John Nelson reports that the East Chop commuter crows now roost in the East Chop area.

Either of these spectacular collections of crows are worth observing. Watching them and listening to their vocalizations will teach you how to distinguish fish crow calls, the most reliable way to identify them.

Bird Sightings

Rare sighting of a Franklin's gull among herring gulls on the Lagoon. — Lanny McDowell

There are two other unusual sightings this past week, so I will start with the most unusual one. Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore observed a Franklin’s gull on Ferryboat Island adjacent to Tisbury Marketplace on Nov. 14. This is the fifth sighting of this species on the Vineyard, so it is a pretty unusual visitor. This bird was not present at that location the next day when I went to look for it. This species mostly breeds in central Canada and adjacent states, migrating south to spend their winters in Chile and Peru. In rare instances, some of the migrants are blown off their course. Nov. 13 was such a day, when strong westerly winds blew hundreds of birds east, from the Great Lakes to North Carolina and Maine.

The second unusual sighting has been widely anticipated: Susan McKeown spotted a snowy owl in a yard on Puritan Drive in Oak Bluffs, off County Road, early in the morning of Nov. 15. Photos of this large stocky white owl are slightly fuzzy, but certainly good enough for identification purposes. It is not too unusual for a snowy that just arrived on the Vineyard to start out its visit by perching on a house, or in a mostly forested yard. Once daylight comes it removes itself to more appropriate open grassland or beach habitats. To my knowledge, no one else has seen this bird, though the species is one of the most eagerly anticipated of our possible winter residents. This makes the third straight fall/winter that we have been graced by a snowy owl. Will we see another one this season? Stay tuned, only time will tell.

In other news, Sue Hruby observed her first dark-eyed junco of the season on Nov. 13.

Both John Nelson and Lanny McDowell observed flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls foraging in the waters off East Chop on Nov. 15 and 16. Mr. McDowell also observed the first American coot of the season on Nov. 15 at the Head of the Lagoon. And Captain Nelson commented that while he counted 46 bufflehead at the southern end of Sengekontacket Pond, he did not see any other ducks on the rest of the pond. And that day Sharon Simonin found a lone snow bunting on the big bridge jetty in Oak Bluffs.

Greg Palermo observed a small flock of cedar waxwings, robins and house finches in downtown Edgartown on Nov. 16. Also that day, Charlie Kernick observed a flock of golden crowned kinglet in his yard, along with his first white-throated sparrows of the season.

There are lots of birds around, so please get out looking for them, and be sure to report your bird sightings to

Robert Culbert leads Saturday morning guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.

More photos of recent bird sightings on Martha's Vineyard.