Tag Archives: ottawa

A murder mystery

At dusk every evening, there is a murder in Ottawa. Thankfully in this case, no humans are involved– this is a murder of crows.

It is an awesome and eerie sight to witness a flock of crows — or murder, as it is called — swooping overhead. And we aren’t even in the thick of it. Our neighbourhood is sometimes part of the crows “pre-roost” where they mass by the hundreds before moving on to their nightly roost near the Ottawa General Hospital — where tens of thousands gather.

Crows descend upon Lynda Lane Park, Ottawa. Photo by Leah Walker

Bird experts have yet to come to a consensus on why the birds gather in such huge groups. Among possible explanations — safety in numbers against predators, a desire to socialize (and holy, uh, crow, do they have a lot to talk about!) , and mating purposes. They roost overnight, take off the next day in different directions in search of food, then reunite again at dusk.

The crow population is surging in Canada, in part due to loss of habitat. Last year Maclean’s reported that crow populations are up thirtyfold since the 1970s in some cities. Washington zoologist John Marzluff called it an “urban invasion.”

Ottawa, and Woodstock, Ontario are among the areas most affected. Chatham, Ontario was home to a murder of more than one hundred thousand crows when a company was called in with birds of prey to chase them away. They are still a major problem for residents there, making huge messes as they scavenge in garbage.

The crows have their own mysterious reasons for getting together, but for humans their assembly can serve a practical purpose: Just as the streetlights coming on used to let kids know it was time to get inside, the flight of thousands of birds over local pubs lets those stopping after work for a pint know it’s time to get home to get dinner on.

Maybe the gathering of thousands of the big, noisy black birds would be less intimidating if it were called something other than a murder, but I doubt it. The first time we saw hundreds of cawing crows perched on every branch of the tall oaks on our street and lined up menacingly along the peak of the nearby church, we couldn’t help but feel a chill. Dave and I decided it would be best to take part in a safe indoor activity, like watching a movie.

Next time we won’t be choosing The Birds.

Unladylike behaviour

It’s been a spectacular autumn in Ottawa. All these bonus warm days have sent me into the garden day after day, getting projects done I was sure would have to wait for the spring. Our walkway is clear of weeds and grass, the leaves are raked, the peonies have been cut back. But another beautiful day means another attempt by the ladybug army to take our house.

The ladybugs are especially attracted to the south side of white houses. On a sunny day ours becomes speckled in orangey-red spots.  When I open the front door to collect the newspaper, they storm.  They also sneak in on our clothing, and while they are easy enough to pluck off, opening the door to send them on their way brings in another wave.

Technically, these infiltrators are Asian ladybeetles. While they are pretty enough when you meet them one on one, these ones bite, and in swarms they are creepy.  Wonderful for the garden, as they munch on aphids, but in the home they are a nuisance, and if you accidentally squish one — yuck. They are stinky and the smell attracts their friends.

Warm soapy water is a way to discourage the critters and I’ve now armed myself with a spray gun. Neighbours be warned. You should expect to witness a recreation of the final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when I leave the house on sunny days like these.

More on Ottawa’s ladybug invasion: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2011/10/14/ottawa-ladybug-invasion.html