A murder in Minneapolis


The strangest thing just happened on my way to dinner.

As I was approaching downtown Minneapolis, an ink-black cloud overtook my car — thousands of crows, swirling like tufts of lint circling a drain.

This happens every winter, apparently: To evade predators the crows band together and form a “mega murder.” They even have their own Facebook page.

crows over minneapolis

Photo by Scott Shaffer … but multiply the crows by three.

Anyway. As the light turned red I stopped and reached for my camera, but a sound distracted me. “Plunk.” Was it starting to rain, as well? “Plink, plunk … PLOP!”

It took a second to register as the blobs on my windshield multiplied. “Oh crap,” I thought. I was caught in a literal sh¡tstorm!

Parallel to me, a police officer and a young man were running in some distress, for they too were being bombarded.

When the light turned green I considered coming about to get some video, but realized it would be pointless through my poo-coated windshield. And anyway, I was laughing too hard by then to wield a camera.

But now I’m curious: Where do all those birds come from? And where do they end up each night? I hope to be back soon with more on the mega-murder of crows in Minneapolis.

68 Responses to “A murder in Minneapolis”

  1. A literal shitstorm…..I feel bad it happened to you—but what a line!

    • 2 Heide

      Don’t feel TOO bad for me, Anthony — I went straight to the car wash and there was no harm done. We can both feel bad for those poor pedestrians, though. 😦

  2. HA. Quite an adventure! I have seen the clouds of birds before, but more over open fields than in town. And fortunately I was not directly under them. Maybe it is good luck to have a bird poop on you. I would like to think so anyway.

    • 4 Heide

      I hadn’t thought about the “good luck” angle of having a bird poop on you, Patti. If that’s true, I’m going to stock up on lottery tickets, ha ha! Well, let’s hope these birds will soon find a nice open field somewhere so downtown will be safe again for pedestrians. 🙂

  3. Those upstarts!!!

  4. wow, what an amazing sight

  5. Are you sure they are crows? Starlings, black starlings, look like crows.

    • 11 Heide

      Great point, Paloma — we have starlings here too, and they do indeed flock in those wonderful “murmurations.” But I have no doubt these were crows both because of their enormous size and the cacophony of “caw caw caaawwwwws” they were emitting.

  6. We have winter gatherings of crows here in Upstate New York. Yours is an compelling tale.

    • 14 Heide

      Ah, so you know how loud and messy these affairs can get! I do remember seeing a large flock over Chautauqua Lake a couple of times, if you’re anywhere near there. But I can tell you now with some experience that they’re best appreciated from a distance, ha ha. Thank you for stopping by, Michael!

  7. We have starlings which do this here in Scotland. It’s called a murmuration. The starling roosts are very messy places too. Unusual for crows? It reminds me of a happy night spent filming bats a few years ago. Great until I got back to my car and thought, ‘Hmmmm, why does my hair feel…erm… crunchy?’

    • 16 Heide

      Crunchy hair — from bat guano?! You have immediately earned my admiration and respect. I’ve never seen bats in numbers that vast, but have been lucky enough to witness a couple of murmurations. They really are magical, aren’t they? It seems crows do this too, though not with the same acrobatic precision, and certainly with a lot more noise. I’ll be glad to report back if I learn anything more, and especially if I’m lucky enough to actually film the spectacle. It really was like something out of a movie, though I haven’t yet decided whether the genre was comedy or horror, ha ha. Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • 19 Heide

      PS: I am doubly grateful now for your kind comment, because it also led me to your website. How fascinating! And how incredibly generous of you too to post all of these records and mementos. I can only imagine the glee of some researcher a year or two hence when he/she stumbles across this treasure trove of first-person accounts. Best wishes with your book!

  8. For Heide, everything is fodder for a photo and creativity. I love it!

    • 24 Heide

      You are so kind, Tom. Thank you for all your support! Alas, I can’t take credit for that photo … I was too busy cowering (and laughing) inside my car. 😀

  9. Wow… what a moment. Thankfully you were under shelter. One never knows the storms that may come, lol.

  10. Hitchcock! Amazing! Wow! Thanks for sharing this! Would have been freaked!

    • 29 Heide

      I bet you still would have gotten some fantastic photos in spite of being freaked, Marcus. 😉

  11. Sorta like the river walk in San Antonio…stupid grackles!

  12. I know…especially when you’re drifting down the river in a slow boat…so romantic!

    • 33 Heide

      OMG. That sounds *awful*! But hopefully also hilarious, after enough time has passed?

  13. Heide what a classic post! I think there should definitely be horror music playing. It reminds me of how in Shakespeare how freaky things in nature foreshadows evil events. I think would have been freaked out though the shitstorm does sound funny. Thank you for posting this.Louise

    • 35 Heide

      I’m a big-time animal-lover, but even so it WAS pretty freaky. Still … another reader pointed out that getting pooped on by a bird portends good luck in some cultures, so I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home just in case, lol. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  14. Nope nope nope. That sounds horrifying! Did you make WWII airplane noises when they “bombed” your car? that’s what I do lol! 🙂

    • 37 Heide

      They may have been making WWII airplane noises in their heads (as one does), but all I could hear was CAW CAW CAWWWWW. Really grateful to have been inside a car, though — I bet those poor pedestrians are going to have nightmares for *weeks.* 😀

  15. hahahaha!! That would be an interesting experience. The title had me thinking it was a literal murder.

    • 42 Heide

      Sorry about the shameless clickbait, Racheal — but hopefully you forgave me by the time you got to the end! 😉

      • Shameless clickbait?

        • 44 Heide

          Yup. Have you heard this term before? “Clickbait” (at least in the United States) is a publication’s use of provocative headlines in an attempt to get you to click through to the article. Sometimes the headlines are deliberately misleading or grossly exaggerate the content of the article, which is why the term has a rather negative connotation. Of course, my intent here was not to deceive — just to have a bit of fun.

  16. The closest I’ve seen to this is migrating starlings just off the south coast here in the UK, which is a quite majestic sight, especially with a sunset as a backdrop.

    Have you found any more information about the Minneapolis crows?

    • 47 Heide

      I don’t think anything beats the flocks of starlings for their synchronized acrobatics, Dan — I’ve seen them too, and it’s truly awe-inspiring! But unfortunately, no, I haven’t learned any more about the crows beyond the couple of links I posted. I did retrace the same route last night in hopes of at least getting some photos but alas they were nowhere to be found. Such is life.

      • Sometimes the infrequency and the highly fleeting nature of these events make them all the more special, and likely to gather more of a mythical status in your memories (and therefore the stories you recount) as the weeks, months and years unfold.

        • 49 Heide

          Very well said, Dan! Indeed.

        • I have traveled in countries where crows “rule” the roost. They do indeed bomb a person intentionally. I can just hear them laughing as they take aim. My little kindergarten daughter was sitting outside of her school room at recess eating her lunch and a crow deliberately bombed her sandwich. She was mortified and cried of course. Her teacher very sweetly shared her lunch with my daughter that day.
          Other days I have seen them bomb my second son on the top of his head or on his shirt. They might have had a reason for vengeance there. He used to aim his slingshot at them to make them leave the property.
          While I was doing some studies at the university, our first son found a way (at age 5) to entertain himself outside my classroom door by calling a group like you describe. He learned to mimic them exactly and of course they all came to see what the call was about. Someone told us later that the call he leaned was a “funeral” call and that they make these large groups to mourn their dead.
          I have no idea whether that is true or not, but we thought it sounded like a good explanation.

          • 51 Heide

            Wow, Beth … your family has quite a long and colorful history with crows! Especially interesting that your son found a way to mimic them and attract them at age five. Young children can be much more in-tune with nature than adults, because they take the time to observe. So who knows? Maybe he did learn the “funeral call” because that’s the one he saw getting the most results. Thank you for sharing your stories!

  17. I suppose the only sensible reaction to the shit-storm baptism is to take the French approach. I’ve often heard it said that to walk in poop or be bombed by a bird brings you luck. In that case, you’re off to a very lucky 2019! 😅

    • 53 Heide

      I’ve heard the same saying about avian “dirigibles” — so perhaps 2019 will be very lucky indeed! At least for my car. 😉

  18. Golly! Look at that whorling! Between November and February upwards of ten thousand crows roost in the trees in the Arboretum below us and oftentimes something will get them riled up (the usual bird gossip) at dusk during their preroosting aggregration and it’s the most exciting spectacle of noise that takes some time to calm down.

    • 55 Heide

      During my research last week, I read somewhere that when they all get riled up at the same time they all poop at the same time, too — which explains the appearance of my car afterward. I guess the moral of the story is to enjoy the spectacle for afar, and to make no sudden/surprising moves. 🙂

  19. OMGosh ! That’s amazing ! Look at them all ! Weird right?

    I once stopped at a book store in town and walking back to my car, I had a “WTH” moment. There were crows everywhere! They were in the sky and sitting on all the store front signs. Maybe because the signs are warm? Funny to me was that no one else in the parking lot seemed the lease bit curious, alarmed or freaked out. I’m like, “isn’t anyone else seeing this?” I wondered if I was having a weird dream at first, LOL

    • 57 Heide

      That Quiznos sign is EPIC — like something out of a nightmare, right?! I wonder if their sales plummeted that night, in proportion to the crows’ accumulation, lol. It doesn’t in the least surprise me that no one else seemed to notice, though. I think most of the people around us are sleepwalking through their lives, without any sense of natural curiosity or wonder. Thank goodness YOU exist, to bring some color and whimsy to their lives! And thank goodness too for your always-kind comments. You motivate me to keep at this! xoxo

      • Oh honey ! That’s so lovely! xo. I wish I was motivating myself, LOL ! I just can’t seem to sit long enough to compose these wonderful posts you share. But thank you for your generosity. I’ve just found that I enjoy reading others work a lot more lately 😀 I like to be in the audience enjoying the performance more than being the performance you might say. I Googled a swarm of crows later that night, to be reminded they call it a ‘murder of crows’….mind blown. x K

        • 59 Heide

          I get in those moods too, dear K, when I’d rather just sit in the audience and enjoy the show. Life gets so busy sometimes and we have to conserve our energy, right? (And as you say so kindly, it can take a LONG time to compose a post sometimes.) Well, no matter how we stay in touch, I’m always grateful for your presence.

  20. Murmuring starlings are quite a sight here in the UK as attested above, but I’ve never seen crows do it. That must’ve been quite something to witness. I don’t know how American crows are related to British crows, but there is a saying here to help distinguish between crows and rooks, as they look similar at a distance; ‘A crow in a crowd is a rook and a rook on its own is a crow’ 😉

    • 63 Heide

      Ha ha — I love that cheeky “guide” to identifying crows and rooks! I think it would apply to crows and ravens here in the U.S., too. And yes, it really was quite a sight to see. Although I’ve noticed a few crows flying past my window every evening since then, I’ve not again spotted the “mega murder.” Just as well, probably; it’s expensive to wash one’s car.

  21. wow! (Nice wordplay on “murder of crows”.

  22. The amazing

  23. Great title for this entertaining post. Sorry for the sh*t storm on your car, but as you say, it was easily washed away. It would have been a doo-zy to be on foot. I wonder what the origin is for murder of crows? I should look that up.

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