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Thousands of crows amass in the skies over Minneapolis

Minneapolis leads a charmed interspecies co-existence with a mega-murder of crows.

Minneapolis leads a charmed interspecies co-existence with a mega-murder of crows.

Last fall Christopher Carr watched, entranced, as thousands of big black crows swarmed the tree outside his second-story window in Powderhorn. He’d just gone through a breakup, and he was feeling pretty low. Somehow, the leathery flutter and surround-sound cawing made his relationship demotion more tolerable.

Carr spent the better part of the evening watching and making noises back at the crows. When he woke up in the morning, the streets were awash with droppings. His car looked like it had been bombed. The birds had fled, but there was no doubt in Carr’s mind who the culprits were.

An embarrassing drive down the street to the car wash, where a line had already formed, proved that he wasn’t the only victim that night. 

“I don’t mind, honestly,” Carr recounts the night that the Minneapolis mega-murder blessed his car. “I can’t blame a bird for pooping. I probably should have moved my car, but I was mostly concerned with interacting with the birds. I was feeling extra emotional at the time, and just having all these wild creatures around me, chattering, it made me feel like I was a part of their gang.”

The Minneapolis mega-murder is a thousands-strong flock of crows that amass in the skies about south Minneapolis every winter and rove over the city like a great omen of doom.

They congregate in order to protect themselves from nighttime predators like the great-horned owl, says Jennifer Menken of the Bell Museum. Crows can’t see much better than humans in the dark, and when trees shed their leaves they’re exposed like great chunky targets for hungry owls. By roosting together, the crows watch out for each other.

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Plus, the city’s residential neighborhoods are full of delicious trash. When Menken sits in her office at night, she can see thousands of crows fly across the Bell Museum campus to the river. In Southeast, where she lives, they can be seen rummaging in the dumpsters, deftly picking apart McDonald’s wrappers for that last bite of burger. At least one flock regularly camps out by Psycho Suzi’s.

“People have mixed feelings about the crows,” Menken says. “I personally think they’re really cool. They’re very, very smart, and do learn how to interact with people and what we leave behind.”

Despite the crows’ ominous stature, the superstitions that surround them, and their partiality for raiding other birds’ nests for hatchlings, Menken isn’t alone in thinking they add great character to the city. 

Coral Sadowy has lived in southeast Minneapolis for years, where she plies one bird in particular with crackers and chicken leftovers. She can pick “Mr. Crow” out of a crowd, she says, because when she crows at him, he crows back and then adds a few caws.

She mimics in response, at which point “He goes a bit wacko and starts crowing and flying around me,” Sadowy says. “No other crows ever relate like he does. He had a lot of attention at the townhouse as he strutted back and forth on the huge length of lawn. He is so proud and insistent he be acknowledged.”

Sadowy and other crow-watchers populate a Facebook page created in honor of the Minneapolis mega-murder.

Gabe Sehr, who started the page, says the community would be prepared to protect the crows from any potential efforts to have them labeled as nuisances and eradicated, as other cities have.

"Considering all of the animal habitat that humans destroy, I think it is great that at least certain animals have found a way to flourish even in the most urban areas, surviving off our scraps and waste," Sehr says. "A bunch of bird poop and noise is a small price to pay to coexist alongside such creatures."