a murder, an unkindness, and the murmuration that followed after...

watch one too many Alfred Hitchcock films, and you are guaranteed to be left with a lingering fear of some seemingly ridiculous things. from stairs to rope to low-flying planes, Hitchcock has rendered me frightened for life of all of this and more. be honest... you have drawn open a shower curtain at least once in your lifetime, fully expecting to see some wig-wearing lunatic standing there, holding a kitchen knife in mid-air. exactly! clearly i am not alone in this fear. however, nothing comes remotely near to the sheer dread i feel when confronted with two or more birds circling overhead... which brings me to the subject of this missive.

i got out of bed this morning, just as the sun was threatening to rise. sunlight was streaming through the south-facing windows by the time i finished making some tea and feeding the cats, so i went into the living room to open the drapes so that the indoor plants could take full advantage of what little sunshine we get at this time of year. that is when the trouble began.

i heard the noise just as i took hold of the first drape. it was the unmistakable cacophony of a murder of crows flying low overhead. that sound never fails to send a cold chill through my entire frame, and (yes) Alfred Hitchcock is entirely to be blamed. i steeled my nerves, pulled aside the drapes, and there they were. it was as if every single crow on the planet was circling in the air above our street. okay... so it was more like a hundred or so crows, which is ninety-nine crows too many for my peace of mind. they settled along the bare branches of the large maple tree next to our building, and it was relatively peaceful... for a (very) short while.

now, it should be noted that scavenger birds tend to evoke an extra level of creepiness most days. if i see an eagle (or some other bird of prey) swoop down from the sky and snatch up a squirrel that was in the middle of leaping from one treetop to another, i cheer, because 1) i do not like squirrels, and 2) that is just an awesome display of prowess. birds that hang around looking for dead things to eat, however, are just unnerving beyond belief. so, when the crows settled in, i knew something had to be dead, but then it got strange(r).

there was a sudden flurry of activity, and all the crows took to the air, sending out cries of alarm every which way. something was definitely wrong. i bent down to retrieve my cup from the small table, and by the time i stood back up, the crows were all gone. yep... nothing creepy about that, for sure. then i saw the cause of the sudden flight. there, at the very top of the maple tree was a pair of ravens. a small unkindness, some may say. then things got stranger still.

one of the ravens was clutching something in its claws, pressed against the branch of the tree. it was a bird of some kind, and the absence of resistance suggested that it was very much dead. as i stood there watching, the raven bent its head toward its prey and began to rip the feathers from the body, sending large clumps of bloody feathers drifting toward the ground.

me: uhm... sweetie... you need to come see this... QUICK!

i was so traumatized at this point, i returned my cup to the table, and sat in my favorite sofa, bending my head over into something approximating a fetal position. meanwhile, he stood there, narrating the rest of the proceedings for my benefit. i eventually steeled my nerves and tried to snap a few photos before they flew away, but the lighting was terrible at that time of day. i even considered going out onto the balcony for a better view, but they would have certainly flown away, and the only thing worse than watching a raven disembowel a dead bird from a short distance away would be to have bits of dead bird falling on me as the raven flew away with its prey. exactly.

(if you squint a bit, you should see a raven with the remains of a smaller bird in its mouth).

one of the ravens took off, and after a minute or two of treetop-butchery, the other raven balanced the de-feathered carcass in its beak and flew a short distance away, to settle into the old tree that overlooks the highway. it was about this time that i looked down to see one of the cats standing near me, watching this display, and she looked equally terrified. i can only imagine the puzzled expression of anyone passing below as they were blanketed by the flurry of bloody feathers.

i was disturbed at the doubly-foreboding start to my day, but Nature has a remedy for every possible thing. a short while later, a series of shadows went fluttering past the window, and i raised my eyes to find one of the most mesmerizing sights there is. a murmuration of a couple-few hundred starlings were engaged in that hypnotic, pulsing dance of theirs, a most welcome sight on such an omen-filled day. Hitchcock never filmed endings like this.


  1. Oh you poor thing. One reason I was never a fan of Hitchcock movies, he manages to warp nearly everyone that passes by.
    You have, however, just seen one of my favorite sights, starlings in flight mode. There is, truly, nothing like it anywhere. They remind me of schools of small fish, all turning in unison.

    If you check out my blog (back in October, I think) I have a photo of just that, hundreds of starlings feeding and flying in our woods. The noise is deafening, and the birds are magical.

    Deep breaths, lady.

    1. i imagine that even folks who are fully versed in the laws of fluid dynamics look on in awe whenever starlings are putting on a display. it is a beautiful (and completely mind-boggling) thing to witness. and, yes, they really do behave like schools of fish.

      i saw the starling photo when you first posted it, and i meant to comment at the time that we occasionally get them around here. Montreal is still a small enough city that there are lots of old, large trees and open spaces, so the bird life tends to be interesting. we even get a hawk buzzing past our windows every once in a while. that is always exciting. however, it is far less exciting when a raccoon climbs up four flights of fire escapes to destroy your kitchen window screen.

    2. Oh, I know that one. They are determined little beasts, aren't they. I used to (and used to is the operative phrase, since the bears dropped in) have bird feeders, and one that hung directly out of our second story window.
      Until one day when I heard this scrabbling at the kitchen window directly beneath it, and saw the rear end of a racoon disappearing up past the window, intent on the feeder above. He left a footy print on the top sash, and i left it there for years.

      I also galloped upstairs and shouted at him as he reached for the feeder. Then I brought the feeder in.

      And mind boggling doesn't even come close to that starling display. I know other birds do this, but not with this fluidity.