Blaaackbiiirrrrds flyyyy … into Tellus360 on Saturday night (sing to the tune of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”)
This Saturday, as the evening sets in, you’ll see them converging, flock-like, upon downtown Lancaster – feathers gleaming, beaks protruding into the cold air, an excitable cacophony arising in the streets. They’re preening their feathers and perhaps lighting cigarettes. No, they aren’t crows (although in India pet crows been observed picking up cigarettes) – they are the crow people. And they are coming to roost at Tellus360 for the first-ever Lancaster’s Blackbird Ball and Masquerade.
The Lancaster Blackbird Ball and Masquerade is a part of Something to Crow About – a monthlong citywide cultural celebration of one of the most misunderstood creatures in the animal kingdom: the crow. Various crow-themed events have taken place across Lancaster this month – including art exhibits, lectures, and even a haiku contest – but Saturday’s event will take things one step further as Tellus360 turns into a crow bar to celebrate the corvid creature. All night long, crowheads will don crow masks, answer crow-related trivia questions and enjoy the songs of, not the crows, but the classic rock sounds Gleasons Drift, the foot-stomping cigar box blues of Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band and some lovely Americana folk music by Camela Widad.
For hundreds of years, tens of thousands of crows make a migratory stop in Lancaster each winter to take up temporary residence in the warmth of downtown. They roost on the rooftops of buildings and in the city’s trees. It’s long been a problem that has plagued many businesses, including the Park City Mall.
Over time, crows have developed a bad reputation. Most people think that all crows do is make noise, mess up car windshields and sidewalks and dive bomb Tippi Hedren. It certainly doesn’t help that a group of crows is called a “murder.”
But here’s the thing. They are actually one of the smartest creatures on the planet – right up there with dolphins and monkeys. Crows are observant and playful. They are very social (they’ve been tweeting long before we were). They’ve been known to learn phrases in English and other languages. They also mate for life (which mean crows have a better rate of success at making relationships work than most of my friends).
They can solve intricate problems, make tools, recognize specific human faces and even use vending machines. If you think crows are just some stupid bird take ten minutes to watch this. They’ve been known to place nuts on heavily trafficked streets and wait for cars to drive over them and crack them, then wait for lights to change and retrieve their lunch. Crows are innovative in their problem solving.
They also benefit society in a number of ways. Many people regard crows as pests but they actually perform more of a pest control role, eating many bothersome insects. They also keep our roads and highways clean by eating roadkill. Thanks crows!
“They’re interesting creatures, no doubt about it,” says Dave Gipe, the event director of the Something to Crow About celebration. “The goal is to educate and give people more information and then they can make a decision whether they like crows or care.”
The Something to Crow About festival and the Lancaster County Crow Coalition aim to educate people on the most humane practices of displacing crows. (The Coalition even has a crow hotline – 717-397-0776.) The Coalition provides non-lethal, environmental safe practices, like pyrotechnics, to deter birds from roosting in developed areas. It will take years to train birds to shift centuries–old migratory patterns but the practices the Crow Coalition employs are actually already achieving its goal of rerouting the crows to less urban areas. Penn State scientists and researchers have been able to track crows with radio collars and determine that indeed the practices do work.
Groups like the Lancaster County Crow Coalition and events like The Something to Crow About festival are proving that crows and people can live in harmony. And speaking of harmony, you should be sure to check out the Blackbird Ball and Masquerade at Tellus360 this Saturday. One of the acts has to cover “Blackbird,” right?
The Lancaster Blackbird Ball and Masquerade takes place at Tellus360 (24 E. King St., Lancaster) on Saturday,January 31. 6:30pm. $5 at the door. 21+. Click here for more information.