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Loring Park Crow Roost

A big thanks to Non Birding Bill for filling for a day. I had a moment of panic. Every year, my agent sends me a nice card with a note of a charity that received a donation in my name for Christmas. This year, I didn’t get a card. I kind of panicked. I have an author friend who had a GREAT book agent. She wrote a very successful book that won awards and then began working on her next book. Working on that next book went one year, into two years, well on it’s way into a third year. And then one day, her agent dropped her. I had no idea an agent could drop you.

When I didn’t get a card, I had a moment of, “Oh crap, I’m gonna get dropped!”

I buckled down and worked a fourth draft of the bee book I’ve been working on the last year and a half. In the middle of all of this on Christmas Eve, we received a lovely box from my book agent that included lots of lovely cookies. I suspect that I’m not getting dropped, but nothing like a healthy dose of fear to get a writer to finish something. I suspect I have more tweaking to do with this draft, but it’s shaping up to be quite the story and incredibly different than anything I’ve written before.

I finished the draft right before New Year’s and decided I needed to do some birding New Year’s Day. For the past few years, we have camped out at Mr. Neil’s for New Year’s and I have a leisurely morning of watching winter birds from the kitchen window on January 1. This year, Mr had incredibly exciting plans for bringing in the New Year in Boston with his special lady friend (as opposed Doctor Whoing in the New Year with NBB and myself) so we chilled with friends in our neighborhood (and I mean chilled literally, I don’t think it’s been above zero since the New Year began–on the upside, lots of coffee and snuggling for me–whoot).

I thought I would start the New Year with an owl and headed to the screech-owl spot but that bird was tucked someplace warmer. I’ve tried several times for a snowy owl at the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport and have come up empty every time, it was no different January 1, perhaps no snowy there this year? I then went to Big Willow Park which has been good for northern saw-whet owls in the past and could find no sign of an owl. It was not the most pleasant temperature for hiking so perhaps I wasn’t giving it the try I normally would. I finally decided to go for some birds that I know I would see–the crow roost in Loring Park. I texted Non Birding Bill and asked if he wanted to come with me (the crows meet his requirements: big, obvious, easy to see). I grabbed him and we followed the lines of crows heading towards the roost in late the afternoon.

falling crows.jpg

In the winter, as afternoons start to fade, you might notice lines of crows flying towards a central location. The lines will come from all directions towards a central spot. Crows are flying from all over to a central night roost location. Studies suggest that crows will fly as far as 20 miles from their roost spot foraging for food during the day. Then in late afternoon, they fly back to the roosting spot. A roost could have literally thousands of birds gathering to it. I’m not sure of the exact numbers of the Minneapolis roost, but it would not surprise me if it went past 100,000 crows.

ghost crows.jpg

The crows are all over Loring Park and along the bike path near the new Twins Stadium. I think the crows chose the southern part of downtown Minneapolis for a roost because there would not be as many natural predators. Also, an irritated farmer couldn’t shoot at any of the crows to drive them away. This roost still has at least one predator to worry about–great horned owls. They start their breeding season in Minnesota now. You can bet your bippy that a great horned will take a crow or two on the outside of the roost this time of year. It’s one of the reasons they attack owls during the day.

loring park crows.jpg

As we watched the amazingly huge sheer number of crows, it struck me that this was incredibly similar to watching the sandhill cranes coming in to roost on the Platte River in Nebraska. I wonder why some birders (including myself) place such a mystical value on cranes but not crows. I’m not anti-crow, but I’ve noticed this roost before, have always that, “Yeah, I need to check this out,” but never do. Yet, I’ve invested a lot of money in 9 or 10 trips to Nebraska–I’ve even taken others. I’ve frozen my tookus off at dawn in a blind and yet, here’s this cool gathering of birds practically in my backyard that I can watch from the warmth of my vehicle or from one of the many eateries or bars in downtown Minneapolis. Perhaps I am like the locals in Kearney, NE who smile thinly and say, “Oh, yeah,” when you tell them how excited you are about their 40,000 sandhill cranes.

minneapolis crows.jpg

I think I’ll schedule the January Birds and Beers someplace in Loring Park so we can watch the roost. The parking might be a bit trickier, but we’ll have one heck of a show with all the crows coming in. They should keep coming until their breeding season kicks in in March. I’ve never paid attention, but I wonder if the roost gradually disperses over a period of weeks or if the break up of the winter roost happen rather quickly as pairs set up territories?

church crows.jpg

NBB and I tried to get some video of the crows so you could hear them (and the traffic) and get an idea of the size of the roost. This isn’t even half of the roost:

Here’s another video near Dunwoody of crows staging. It’s the sound of all the crows that you can’t see that amazes me:


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UPDATE: Commenter Ren has this video of the same crows flying in to the roost.  This video was taken from an apartment building looking down on the crows coming in to the Minneapolis Roost.  It’s a very cool view!

20 comments to Loring Park Crow Roost

  • Wow that is so cool! I love crows! I’ve noticed they do that along with the Sea Gulls and wild Parrots we have too. They all head back south in the evenings. Our wild Parrots will stop off for a quick snack in my Loquat tree before ‘heading to bed’ as we put it but that’s not till later in the summer.

  • Cindy D

    Here’s an owl for you – about midway thru the set of photos.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gpabill/sets/72157622985314001/show/
    Happy New Year!

  • I am thrilled about your bee book! Let me know if I can help in any way with promotion/reading etc!

  • Every morning the crows fly past my house from the east to the west and every evening they fly back. I’ve always wondered where they roost. I’m going to go check that out!

  • Canaduck

    Here in Vancouver we have an enormous number of crows (thousands upon thousands) that fly out to Burnaby every evening. It’s pretty much the same as what you guys experience, I think–very cool. Unfortunately I haven’t been to Burnaby to check out the resulting number, but based on however many make their way through the city every evening, I imagine it’s also around 100,000. Crazy.

  • It would be a challenge to count the crows since they move around so much before they settle and the roost is so spread out. But if you have a roost nearby, I highly recommend checking it out.

    @cameo wood–thanks! Let’s get a buyer for it first!

  • Jiller

    I’ve seen these crows all over MPLS in the morning and evenings as I come and leave from work. They’re everywhere. It creeps me out. The make a big mess everywhere on the streets and cars.

  • delores

    I never really put it together that the crows are gathering together at night…kinda embarrassing! I’ve been watching the crows when waiting for my bus/light rail connections because they are about the only thing out there. Besides the resident mouse at the 46th st station that I feed bits of my P&B sandwich… I can’t wait until it is warmer so I can bike and bird my way to and from work!

  • When I lived in Wichita, about a million years ago, I enjoyed watching the crows roost on the frozen Arkansas River downtown. Driving over the bridges at night, you would be surrounded by crows in the air and sitting on the ice.

  • Hi BC: I was referred over to you by a commenter on my garden blog. This is my third winter in Minnesota, and the birds are one of the few positive aspects of this insanely cold existence.
    Have you read “Crow Planet”? It’s a great new way of looking at crows, but looks like you already do. Stop by my blog (The Garden Buzz) some time, it is a gardening blog, but I routinely blur the edges and end up on nature, birds, bugs, food, etc. I have a growing interest in bees (and all pollinators), hence the blog name.

  • Ren

    I live by Loring Park and it’s quite a daily ruckus (which I don’t mind at all). Last week I recorded a video clip from a friend’s 20th floor apt of the first wave of the crows flying across the neighborhood sky. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_CWb2hIlao

  • Hi Ronda–welcome to the blog and thanks for visiting. Have you started a hive yet? If not, you’re gonna have the time of your life!

    Ren–that is a GREAT video! I wondered what the view would be like from one of those higher buildings looking down on the flock. Cool, I’ll add a link to the blog entry.

  • Penn State has a regular winter roost (3 years running). The facilities crew goes to great lengths to get them to move off campus and into a neighboring wooded area. The first year the crows came, there were 3000 or so roosting in the trees around the main pedestrian entrance to campus. You really needed an umbrella to take that route… There are a couple of bad photos here, from that first year.

    Facilities has gotten pretty good at making the crows switch roosts. They use hand-launched fireworks, both screamers and something that goes flash-bang. They start an hour or so after sunset, which in central Pennsylvania in early December put the festivities around 6:30pm, just when I’m walking home from work. It took about a week to convince the crows to move elsewhere (a mile or so up the road).

  • Jodyth

    Congrats on getting even closer to completing your book. And thanks for revealing a very cool thing in my own back yard.

  • TJ

    Thanks, Sharon – I saw the roost flying in from what looked like the Minneapolis impound lot and wondered what the heck they were.

  • …nothing like a healthy dose of fear to get a writer to finish something.
    Amen to that, sister. I’ve got a pile of overdue posts for the Audubon Guides blog, and my second column deadline is already staring me in the face. Bleh.

    Thanks for sharing Mr. Neil’s New Year’s message – simply wonderful (and his lady friend sounds like a kindred spirit – my mp3 player is full of “downer songs”).

    Well, back to slaving away over a hot keyboard. Enjoy those cookies.

  • Cool Sharon, I have been wanting to check this out for some time as I always drive past and nearly run off the road gawking at the crows. A loring park Birds and Beers sounds good though it might take folks longer to get there and park and whatnot with evening traffic. Nice to hear others Who’d in the new year. Sad to see DT go!

  • chuck gribble

    I take many a walk through Loring Park. I have a pretty strong hunch your crow is a common raven.

  • I can tell you with certainty that those are crows, and not ravens in Loring Park. Number one, the lack the wedges-shaped tail and beard that is diagnostic in raven identification, but if you listen to them, they are clearly crows. Here is a link to what an American Crow sounds like:

    http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/IHIOGGZVQA/cp0063_Corvus_brachyrhynchos.mp3

    Here’s a link to what Common Ravens sound like:

    http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/IHIOGGZVQA/cp0706b_xc_Corvus_corax_15jun2008_Canyon.mp3

    Raven calls are much deeper. Also, you usually don’t find ravens south of Hinckley in Minnesota.

  • Birdzilla

    When the crows and seagulls gather its like in the classic movie THE BIRDS