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Vancouver History Oddities: Crow Commute

November 2nd, 2012 @ 11:29am (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

If you’ve lived in Vancouver long enough there are a few things that become a part of your everyday routine. At noon the O! Canada horns will sound at Canada Place, at 9:00pm the Nine O’Clock Gun will fire, and at around 5:30pm tens of thousands of crows will retreat to Burnaby from Vancouver.

daily drama of Crows retiring for the evening
Photo credit: Judy B – The Travelling Eye on Flickr

I call it the “crow commute”. It’s as though 10,000 of the black birds pack their lunches every day and set out from the Willingdon area and head downtown, to Stanley Park, and surrounding beaches. A silent whistle blows at the end of the day and they all return home in one steady, ominous stream of black spots across the sky.

The Burnaby roost has been in use since about 1971. Prior to that, crows left the city for the evening. One roost was on Bowyer Island in Howe Sound. Crows from across the North Shore, UBC, and Stanley Park would make the late afternoon commute to the forested hills of Bowyer. A much smaller roost was somewhere up Indian Arm. Other roosts were in Richmond near the former dump along Highway 99. [Vancouver Sun, 2010]

When it comes to birds in the city, we have our share of french fry-stealing sea gulls and sidewalk-crowding pigeons along with photo-op worthy herons, owls, and bald eagles. Crows are low on the ‘nuisance’ meter for me but other West End residents didn’t always think so.

I was browsing the Vancouver Archives this week and discovered that on this day in 1903 crows were considered such a pain that the city decided to turn a blind eye to the firearm by-law in Stanley Park and allow sportsmen to shoot crows.

From Chuck Davis’ History of Metropolitan Vancouver: Crows made the news with a plan to allow sportsmen into Stanley Park “to exterminate the pest.” A bounty of “five cents per head up to 5,000 head” was offered and the park was closed to the public. Although a by-law banned the discharge of firearms within the park, officials said they would look the other way.

This wasn’t the first time that the people of Vancouver were fed up with crows. Chuck Davis also posted a piece from The Province from August 1900 where a letter to the editor states: “There are few residents in the city and particularly in the West End who are not disturbed in their slumbers from 5 a.m. by the fearful and nerve-killing noises made by the crows. A vote should be taken as to whether the people want crows or not.”

Over 100 years later, the immeasurable group flies over our heads every day, like clock work, perhaps to remind us of our past attempts to exterminate them. It seems like West End residents have finally learned to live peacefully with the crows or perhaps it’s the crows that have now accepted us.

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7 comments

  1. Mary Ann says:

    The crows don’t just commute from Vancouver to Burnaby. They also travel west in the late afternoon from Surrey and New West to Burnaby’s Still Creek area. When we’re out on our Sapperton deck watching the light fade, we see the massive flocks wing across the Fraser River and overhead into the red skies to the west of us.

  2. Lina says:

    If I was a crow, I’d vote not to keep people.

  3. Michael Kwan says:

    There are a couple of falcons (or are they hawks?) that be consistently found in Richmond too, oftentimes perched on lamp posts near the Knight Street and Alderbridge Way kind of area.

  4. Iris says:

    I think crows are so clever! They are interesting to watch as they drop nuts on the roads for the cars to crack open for them!

  5. Funny, I’ve only ever seen the crows flying *eastward* at dusk. I used to live near Trout Lake & was under their flightpath. Coming from downtown (I think) & heading to roost around the film studios near Boundary.

  6. Honey says:

    I call it crow o’clock!

    But the time isn’t set to 5:30pm, it depends on the length of day, and changes as the seasons change. so in winter, it happens around 3:30-4:30, but in the summer, crow o’clock is at 9:30pm.

    glad other people notice this event too!

  7. late yesterday afternoon, around 5, i was walking along arlington (around 47th ave east, close to boundary) and SUDDENLY this whooshing sound happened, and hundreds, maybe thousands of crows perched themselves first on one, then another, then a third tree. altogether they were only on one block. it was an incredible experience,still gives me shivers down the spine. after a while, they began dispersing, maybe heading towards everett crowley park? would be interested to find out more.

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