Back in the mid-1990s when Minneapolis had a gang-war problem it became known for awhile as “Murderapolis.” Those days are thankfully gone, but there is still murder in the air.

Minneapolis is host to a mega-murder of crows. During the winter, thousands of crows from as far away as 30 miles, gather in or near downtown Minneapolis to roost for the night. They gather mainly for protection from predators, but I have also seen it suggested that it is for warmth as well since the city is warmer than outlying areas.

Sometime around 2009-2010 when I began working downtown I became aware of the mega-murder. I’d see them flying around, beginning to gather for the night. The next day I would see all the poo thousands of roosting birds leave behind them. It was a fascinating phenomena but nothing more.

Until this winter when I decided to bike commute year-round. 

One morning in mid-December I arrived at work in the pre-dawn dark to discover the crows had roosted around the university buildings that night and were still there waiting for daylight.

Murder caught on video

Apologies for some of the picture quality there, I took the video on my phone and am not a skilled videographer! 

All those birds and all that noise was kind of creepy, but I was more wonderstruck than anything else.

It did get really creepy though in January when they spent the night by the football stadium. My bike commute path goes right by the stadium and I could definitely hear them but could not see them until I came around a bend. A very large contingent had encamped on the fence along the bike path, on a few utility buildings right next to the path, and on the ground. None of them were on the path, but they were all crammed right next to it, hundreds of them. I could see more across the street and even further away, but it was the ones who were so close that kind of freaked me out.

The joke, of course, would be to invoke Alfred Hitchcock here. And that did briefly flit across my mind as I slowed down, mouth agape at the sheer numbers. But Hitchcock did not imagine anything quite like this.

I thought about stopping and getting my phone out of my bag, but with so many of the birds caw, caw, cawing only a foot or two away from me, I thought it best to just keep going. I rolled slowly through so no one–them or me–was startled. 

We have not had any other morning meetings, but I frequently see them on my way home in the late afternoons swirling around in the skies, beginning to form up and decide where to spend the night. My path takes me past a large urban cemetery, and yesterday it appeared they were going to be spending the night there. It looked like there were maybe one hundred or more spread out through the trees at the edge of the cemetery calling, with more arriving every minute. But this morning when I biked by, the cemetery was quiet. They might have still been sleeping, or maybe they ended up relocating.

My chance of meeting with the whole mega-murder again will last until about March when mating season begins and they no longer gather. Then I will have to wait until October/November to see them again.

If you are interested in more photos and videos of the mega-murder, they have their own Facebook page. Caw! Caw!

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20 thoughts on “Murder!

  1. Before moving to Toronto, while living in a smaller city to the west, there was a season in which the city was host to a large murder of crows too. it made the news! Heheh Anyway, I recall having all the same feelings you’ve describe here, but mostly the positive ones. It was awe-some.

    1. Oh BIP so cool you got to live somewhere with a mega murder too! The daylight is coming earlier and later so I have not come across them again. Something to look forward to next winter 🙂

    1. Thanks Iliana! Didn’t want to go too fast because I have heard that if you startle them their defense is letting loose the poo in unison. Bad enough if you are in a car, but on a bike or walking–can you imagine?

  2. I’m just wondering what all those birds find to eat, maybe they’re like seagulls and frequent the tips. I would find them unnerving, but I like that they relocate, I wonder how they decide the location.

    1. They disperse during the day to all over the Twin Cities, suburbs and near rural areas where they are seemingly finding plenty to eat. They are good scavengers! 🙂 It would be interesting to know how they decide where to spend the night. I don’t think anyone has studied them enough to figure it out. Maybe one day some enterprising grad student will make it a project!

    1. Heh, definitely unnerving BookerTalk which is why I didn’t get my phone out when they were right next to the bike path. If it ever happens again though, I might have to stop and take pictures anyway 🙂

  3. I love that! we have a huge murder that lives in our neighboring field (some big oaks make a great crow condo!) and when they get going it’s quite noisy. I love them! They don’t hang out in our yard much, which is probably for the best, although I have fantasies of making friends with them.

    1. I like crows in general and the mega-murder, while unnerving when I came upon them on my bike, is still pretty exciting. Your murder sounds fantastic! We get crows in our yard sometimes and Waldo goes nuts. He does not like them at all, it’s kind of funny.

  4. I played the video and from the other room my husband thought he was hearing a bunch of crows outside, until I told him it was on the computer! It’s kind of eerie to have that many crows in one place like that!

    1. Oh Laurie that’s excellent! Crows are such big birds and take up so much space that when they gather in the thousands it’s really sight! And definitely eerie 🙂

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