Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Meet a Mega-Murder of birds: loud, massive flocks of American crows

Sharon StitelerAmerican crows do something pretty spectacular in the winter months. About mid-November, family groups select a point from the surrounding 20 miles to use as a communal roost. These roosts can be made of thousands of crows. The collective name for a flock of crows is a murder and the winter roosts get so large in Minneapolis, that a Facebook group was started called South Minneapolis Crows: The Mega-Murder.

These winter roosts are nothing new, crows have always formed these large groups in the winter, but what is new is that they are forming them in urban areas. Though crow roosts are not well studied, it’s presumed that being part of a large flock at night makes you less likely to be the bird eaten by a predator. Considering great horned owl mating season starts in late December and the number of large black feathers found around an owl nest, this makes sense.

But why the move to big cities? In the country, the unwanted flocks can be harassed or encouraged to leave with a gun or some other means without anyone finding out. Guns aren’t supposed to be used in cities and the crows are generally left alone. Food is ample for them in the morning. Any open dumpster is a buffet for the omnivorous crow. Another reason could be what’s called the Urban Heat Island.

Metro areas are warmer than the surrounding rural areas because all the concrete, asphalt and buildings absorb heat during the day and release it at night making for a toastier place to sleep.

In Minneapolis, we have a roost that shifts around in the downtown areas. Sometimes they are in Loring Park and others Elliot Park. I think the roost gets disturbed and the birds will move into other neighborhoods including our own.

If you happen to notice what look like rivers of crows flying in a certain direction late in the afternoon, take some time to follow them. It is quite the natural spectacle. The crows will stage in surrounding areas looking for food and smaller flocks will join to become hoards, eating the few remaining hackberries or sifting through dumpster. Then just after sunset, the murders pour out of the sky with loud cawing and the flocks of thousands of birds descend onto the tree branches.

It’s quite eerie to see every inch of bare tree limbs covered in huge crows at night. The crows will do this up until their breeding season starts in mid March when all the family groups will stake out their own territories and begin building nests.

To find out if there is a roost in your area or to report a roost, visit and check out their maps.

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