The Annual Murder of Crows - Atlas Obscura
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The Annual Murder of Crows

I know it’s winter when the crows settle in to Minneapolis. I’m not just talking a handful of them, or even a few dozen… think a full-on murder of crows.  

Crows Flocking to Roost - Atlas Obscura Blog - Winter Crow Murders

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Roosting in groups of a bajillion (I kid, sort of: 300,000 is kind of like a bajillion), crows swoop into their preferred winter homes en masse, careening and calling to each other in the process.  This usually takes place at dusk, and is at best awe-inspiring, and at worst terrifying.

Crows in Winter Flock to Minneapolis - Atlas Obscura Blog

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I used to live on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, in a neighborhood called Loring Park.  The park itself has long been a winter haven for crows looking to protect themselves from their only non-human predator: great-horned owls. It has all the features ornithologists have identified as attractive to crows, including an urban heat bubble, good lighting for spotting threats, and big trees. To give a specific example of what I’m talking about, each photo below was taken in Loring Park.

Minneapolis Crow Murder - Flocks of Crows Loring Park - Atlas Obscura Blog

 

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Crows Roosting for the Winter - Loring Lake - Minneapolis MN - Atlas Obscura

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Flock of Crows - Murder of Ravens in Loring Park - Minneapolis Atlas Obscura

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But wait, what’s this murder thing? When seen as a group, the harbingers of death and doom are known as a “murder of crows,” a title which does little to remedy their eerie connotations.  Origins of the term are sketchy, but most attribute it to either Dame Juliana Barnes’ 15th-century work The Book of St. Albans, orThe Exaltation of Larks, penned in 1968 by none other than James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio fame. 

Regardless of their nomenclature-related spookiness, few and far between are the times when, in an urban setting, the people feel (or are!) outnumbered.  If the population of Minneapolis itself is in the mid-400,000’s, having up to 300,000 crows just outside one’s front window can bring out even the most steely midwesterners’ inner Hitchcockian terrors.  Then, just for good measure, take into account the ruckus so many thousands of birds create:

 

As much as I’d like to think that I live in a place full of unique weirdnesses like murders of crows watching me while I sleep, Minneapolis isn’t alone in this winter rite of passage.  Entire websites exist to chronicle the winter roosts of crows, updated in near-realtime to accommodate their constant shifts. 

If not through crows, how do you know when winter’s set-in like it means it?  What are your tell-tale signs? As always, it’s those silver lining moments that make the harshest of seasons just a bit more bearable.