Mystery solved: the Minneapolis 'megamurder'

Screen shot, Sharon Stiteler

For our April 2021 Workshop, National Park Ranger Sharon Stiteler entertained and informed us with tales about the birds that frequent our area, particularly the many crows that we see congregating in large numbers, especially in the river corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul. For reasons that are obscure, a group of crows is called a “murder,” just as a group of geese is called a “gaggle” and a group of ravens is called an “unkindness.” Especially in winter, she told us, we can see a “megamurder” of crows, a huge group of thousands.

Crows are remarkable creatures, according to Stiteler. They are among the most intelligent of birds. Not only do they use tools, but they also actually make them. Crows have been observed bending little twigs to fashion a hook that can be used for rooting out insects. Crows can recognize people and cars. They can remember specific researchers who have caught and banded them, and flee or fight at the sight of these people. 

Watch the video recording of National Park Ranger Sharon Stiteler's presentation.

It’s not completely clear why crows gather together in huge murders, especially in cities. Stiteler said. They may do so because there are good food sources; crows are omnivores and will eat just about anything. They may be seeking protection—owls, eagles, hawks, raccoons, and coyotes, among others, will prey on them. Groups of crows will mob a predator, with dozens dive bombing and pecking the offender. Crows may also group in cities for warmth from the built environment. 

A murder of crows can be very loud. The caws of crows communicate information about location, predators, and other things. One way to avoid the noise—and the mess—that a group of crows can cause is to make sure you don’t have appealing food sources nearby, such as open dumpsters.

A magnet for observing hundreds of bird species
Crows are just one of the many bird species that we can observe nearby. We are blessed to have in our backyards one of the world’s great rivers, and our stretch of that river is protected by having been designated the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. It is a magnet for hundreds of bird species, and many kinds of mammals and reptiles. 

Stiteler told us there are also other great places for birdwatching and wildlife watching right nearby. They include:

Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area in Cottage Grove. The dunes on the island host an amazing array of wildlife and migrating birds. Perhaps not the best place to take grandchildren because you need to stay in designated areas.

Crosby Farm and Lake in St. Paul. Great birding and nature viewing both around the lake and along the river. Lots of room for grandkids to run around.

Coldwater Spring in Minneapolis/Mendota. The native sacred site accessible from Minnehaha Park attracts otters and bald eagles, among other creatures.

Marshall Terrace Park in NE Minneapolis. A riverside park with many amenities to keep grandkids entertained while grandma and grandpa look for herons and cormorants.

Pike Island at Ft. Snelling State Park. Deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, and more.

Pickerel Lake in Lilydale.

Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park in Coon Rapids.

—Ron Matross, chair, UMRA Workshop Committee 

Publication date: 
April 27, 2021
At A Glance
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

2022 Annual Meeting and Forum

Welcome back!

Campus Club, Fourth Floor
West Wing Dining Room
Coffman Memorial Union

   
   

10:45 a.m.

Check in

   

11:15 a.m.

Buffet lunch

Noon

Annual Meeting and Forum

Featured speaker
John Coleman, dean
College of Liberal Arts

Menu
Chicken in heirloom tomato sauce with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and seasonal vegetables. GF.
For vegetarian/vegan option, please request when making your reservation.

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Unable to attend in person? Please register and join UMRA’s 2022 Annual Meeting and Forum via Zoom.