Mystery solved: the Minneapolis 'megamurder'
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.
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
The Minneapolis 'megamurder' mystery
Thu, April 29 2021, 11am
National Park Ranger
Event to be held via Zoom.
Our April workshop will be a lot of fun. Our presenter will be Sharon Stiteler, aka the “Birdchick.”
A National Park Ranger, author, and radio/TV personality, Stiteler’s books include Disapproving Rabbits, City Birds/Country Birds, and her latest, 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know. She has appeared on MPR’s All Things Considered and the NBC Nightly News, talking birding. She blogs at birdchick.com.
Stiteler will tell us about the opportunities for birding and wildlife viewing in the 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreational Area, a 54,000-acre protected corridor that stretches from the cities of Dayton and Ramsey in the north to just south of Hastings.
Her vehicle for telling us about the park will be a murder mystery.
If you’ve walked along the river gorge between Minneapolis and St. Paul this past winter, you may have encountered a mysterious spectacle: huge groups of crows flying around cawing in a wild cacophony. Why are they there? What are they up to?
Stiteler will help us solve the mystery. Why is it a murder mystery? Because the proper term for a group of crows is a “murder,” just as a group of geese is called a “gaggle.”
Please register and join us at 11 a.m. on April 20 for this UMRA workshop.
—Ron Matross, chair, Workshop Committee
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