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Crows come back to MSVU roost site despite clearing for development

Crows gather on a small deforested area behind Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020.
Crows gather on a small deforested area behind Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. - Tim Krochak
HALIFAX, N.S. —

It seems massive flocks of crows are so attached to the area around Mount Saint Vincent University, they are still roosting there despite the clearing of a large area for future development.

David Currie, president of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, said it appears the avians are comfortable enough with the cleared area for now.

"They come in and they land in the cleared out areas ... where all these shrubs and trees have been removed from there," Currie said in a recent interview. "There're these vacant, levelled areas where there are no trees and they'll come down and kind of walk around and go in that area first. And as it becomes really dark out, they move up into the trees just down by the university itself. There are still trees down there close to the university and it appears they're using those."

The land was cleared a year ago for the development project on the former Sisters of Charity Motherhouse site. Last January, Currie theorized the crows would find a new roosting spot, but they defied predictions.

It's common behaviour across North America for crows to gather together in winter roosting areas, he said. The area up the hill from the Bedford Highway is a prime spot for them to occupy from roughly November to March.

"If you've not ever been there ... the vista from the top there is very impressive," Currie said. "You can see Bedford and you can see Dartmouth. It's just a beautiful place and these crows can easily navigate that from all corners of the county and they can just move in there. So it's this beautiful place that they've come to really appreciate, I guess, and like, and ... they've obviously found it's a good spot to roost."

Crows gather near Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax just before dusk Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. - Tim Krochak
Crows gather near Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax just before dusk Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. - Tim Krochak

He estimates there are between 4,000 and 5,000 crows arriving around sunset every day and dispersing in the morning into small groups to go about their daily foraging elsewhere in the municipality.

"If you go up and you watch from, say, 3:30 til 5 o'clock, you'll see these birds in small groups start coming into the Mount area and they come from all different directions," he said. "But sometimes, they will stage so that 10 or 12 will meet 20 that are already sitting in trees in Beaver Bank Road, for instance. And they'll gather in these, what we call, staging areas where several – maybe 100 or more – will sit in trees til it gets dark enough that they'll all ... end up going in the air at the same time and come to Mount Saint Vincent. So you'll see small groups of one, two, three or four and then you'll see other large groups come in that have stayed somewhere else."

He said it appears they are adapting to the new environment there and making the best of what they have. What they do when construction begins is anybody's guess. They could move or they could stay and roost on the rooftops.

In the spring, the crows will be pairing off to find mates and disperse to establish nests elsewhere. It'll be next fall before it's known if they'll come back to the Mount roosting area.

"We are anxious to see what they decide to do and the response to what happens," Currie said. "We'll be watching it carefully to see what the developer or the city decide and hopefully we'll have some input on that because we really don't want any drastic action taken. We want the birds to kind of decide for themselves what they want to do and not have humans decide for them. We've done enough by taking away habitat that they have used for decades in this case and we're just hoping that whatever the crows decide to do that they continue to thrive there."

RELATED:

Mount Saint Vincent crows will move on after being displaced, says expert

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