Students walking around campus in the evening may sometimes feel like they’re in their very own Hitchcock film.
And while students don’t have to worry about being pecked to death by birds any time soon, there has been a recent influx of crows congregating in areas like the Nichols Arboretum, Forest Hill Cemetery and the Diag, among others.
Robert Payne, professor emeritus of zoology at the University, wrote in an e-mail interview that he believes the increase in crows is a result of a habitual tendency of the species. The crows gather in large numbers during the winter and early spring months, finding security in tall trees, wrote Payne, who is also a curator emeritus of birds at the Museum of Zoology at the University.
The Ann Arbor crow population is at an estimated 10,000 birds during the winter, compared to a few hundred during warmer months, according to Payne. However, the Washtenaw Audubon Society counted almost 30,000 crows in Ann Arbor in the group’s annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 20, 2010.
“(Crows) often shift their sleeping sites from one day to another for security, often not coming back to the same place,” Payne wrote.
According to Payne, this pattern is a more recent development.
“They didn’t do this when I was a student in the 1950s,” Payne wrote. “We think that, being intelligent, they have learned safety in being in towns.”
Earlier this month, MLive.com reported that 19 crows had been found dead in Ann Arbor, the majority of which were uncovered near North Campus and along railroad tracks close to the Gandy Dancer restaurant on Depot St. It was determined the crows died of poisoning, according to the article.
Though some may think the deaths may be linked to mysterious mass bird deaths across the country, Payne wrote that they aren’t related.
“Recent mass deaths of birds in other parts of the U.S. appear to be due to pesticides and to birds being disturbed at night (by lights and noise) and flying around and crashing into power lines,” Payne wrote. “The Ann Arbor crows don’t have this problem.”
About 5,000 dead blackbirds were discovered in Beebe, Ark. on Dec. 31, according to a Jan. 3 article in The New York Times. It is believed the birds died from “’acute physical trauma'” as a result of nearby fireworks, The New York Times reported.
Several days later, about 500 birds were found dead on a highway in Louisiana, according to a Jan. 4 MSNBC.com article.
Though some students said they haven’t noticed large groups of crows on campus, others, like Engineering freshman Brian Miller, said they’ve been scared by nearby swarms of crows.
“They’re a major threat,” Miller said.
Miller described his encounter with the birds around 2 a.m. one night when he and a friend were walking through the Diag.
“As we were walking there, we were talking about the crows, and how terrifying they are,” he said. “We were looking around to make sure they weren’t there, and of course they were, in four or five trees.”
Miller said once they saw the crows, he and his friend started running, trying to avoid being defecated on.
“I thought, ‘Oh God, here we go. I’m just going to run through’ … They start rustling the leaves and flapping around. There was a deafening noise of crows … We sprinted the entire way, not looking back once,” Miller said.
Miller had a piece of advice for others regarding the crow situation on campus.
“Avoid the Diag after sunset,” he said.
Other students who’ve also noticed the birds around town, however, have attempted to actively ward off the flocks.
Business sophomore Michael Kovach said he often sees crows sitting in trees near his fraternity house, Phi Psi, on State Street. He said he’s thrown ice chips at them before for entertainment purposes, but that they’ve always flown away before being harmed.
— Daily Staff Reporter Claire Goscicki contributed to this report.