Holy crow! A late night spectacle on Brookdale Ave.

Hundreds of crows cluster on the snowbanks around the Rotary Traffic Circle in Cornwall, Ont. on March 16, 2015. A research scientist with the St. Lawrence River Institute says it's typical crow behaviour. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – An evening or late night drive or walk around the Rotary Traffic Circle in the city may have you think you’re reliving a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

The snowbanks around Seventh Street and Brookdale Avenue turn black at night as hundreds of crows cluster there and in the parking lot of the old Walmart site.

It’s a spectacle that Dr. Brian Hickey, research scientist at the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences, has fielded calls about every winter from either reporters or members of the public.

Dr. Hickey says there are many theories as to why crows assemble in large groups.

“Part of the explanation is that’s just normal winter crow behaviour. They hang out and roost in large groups. It might be partly for protection in numbers, lots of animals do that,” Hickey tells Cornwall Newswatch.

Hundreds of startled crows take to the sky on March 16, 2015 near the Rotary Traffic Circle in Cornwall, Ont. A scientist says there are a number of theories why crows get together in large numbers during the winter, including protection from predators. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)
Hundreds of startled crows take to the sky on March 16, 2015 near the Rotary Traffic Circle in Cornwall, Ont. A scientist says there are a number of theories why crows get together in large numbers during the winter, including protection from predators. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

“There’s lots of speculation as to why these groups of crows have moved into urban areas,” Hickey explains, pointing to protection from being shot at by farmers, to fewer predators and an abundance of artificial light.

“It makes it easier for them to be alert and on the look out for predators like owls,” he says.

Dr. Hickey says, while they haven’t taken any systematic bird counts, the river institute does note where the crows are congregating. He says Monaco Crescent behind the hospital and the former Kmart site have been favourite meeting places for our black-feathered friends.

“They settle on an area and come back to it on a nightly basis.”

The scientist says there are also suggestions the birds might hang out in groups so they can share information about good food locations.

Dr. Hickey suggests the crow behaviour is exhibited in other bird species but we don’t see it so prominently because other birds and animals get together during migration (heading south for winter) or hibernation. “Crows are one species that sticks around (all winter). Crows are maybe unique in that way but there lots of other animals that live in large groups,” he says.

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