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Hey, What’s the Deal With the ‘Mega-Murder’ of Crows in South Minneapolis?

You asked, we found answers.

1:48 PM CST on December 14, 2023

Heidi Makela via Minneapolis Crows: the Mega-Murder

In Hey, What’s the Deal With… we’re tackling everyday oddities, random curiosities, and what-the-actual-fuck mysteries about life in the Twin Cities. Got a pressing but somewhat trivial Q about something you saw, heard, or thought about while stuck in traffic? Email jay@racketmn.com, and our crack investigative team just might try to figure it out.

Make no mistake: If the organ grinder (a paying subscriber) turns the crank, this monkey (Racket) will dance (cater to your journalistic demands). Consider a recent Bluesky request from reader Anu Wille, in which she wrote, "My kingdom for a Racket article about why my neighborhood has been swarmed by hundreds of crows over the last week. That is not foliage, those are birds!"

Intrigued and unsettled in a Hitchcockian sense, we wasted no time (OK, we wasted several days...) tracking down an expert who could speak to creepy gangs of crows perching all around town. It quickly became apparent that these sky-blotting bird blobs are a thing in south Minneapolis. So much so that there's a Facebook group with 5,000+ members—Minneapolis Crows: the Mega-Murder—that tracks and documents the phenomenon. The posts are reliably captioned with riffs on "Caw-caw CAW CAW CAAAAW caw caw!!"

So, what's the deal? We asked the expert.

These days Sharon "Birdchick" Stiteler works as a park ranger at Alaska's Denali National Park. Since 1997 the ex-Twin Citian has made a career out of birding, having authored books and blogs on the activity while making frequent media appearances. Relevant to our hyper-specific inquiry, Stiteler has led walking tours devoted to the Minneapolis mega-murder, and even delivered an hourlong presentation on the subject at the University of Minnesota.

"So in the wintertime, crows roost together in large numbers," she says. "It's a way to protect themselves from predators; great horned owls eat a lot of crows, so if you're one of 10,000, you're less likely to be the one eaten."

Not dying is just one benefit of joining the mega-murder, she adds, noting that crows are highly social animals who meet, play, and even find mates amid the murder. Sadly, there's nothing singular about Minneapolis that makes it prone to vast crow gangs.

"This happens everywhere, and in the grand scheme of things, our murder is kind of small," Stiteler says, unintentionally worsening the author's flyover complex. "There have been crow roosts in the south with up to 2 million crows roosting together."

But! Our modest mega-murder might be a relatively recent curiosity. Farmers consider crows to be nuisances of the highest order, and they're not just scaring 'em away. It's legal to harass and shoot crows, Stiteler says, which means more of them have been appearing in sanctuary cities over the past few decades. Plus metropolitan areas tend to be a few degrees warmer, she says, and there's no shortage of bird food: "They love to eat out of our dumpsters."

Historically, the Minneapolis mega-murder tends to fly southward from downtown along I-35W, and of course you can join the Facebook group to receive real-time updates. For some cheap thrills, Stiteler encourages Minneapolitans to follow the mega-murder at dusk.

"They'll do these crazy tumbles and dives," she says. "It's a spectacular birding thing to watch even though it's a common bird. That sheer number of them… it really gets under your skin!"

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