When I say “listen to the city”, I do not only ask to support the local music scenes; as you might have noticed, I have not yet dedicated a single post to a specific local music artist. I am talking about the musicality of places in general; the polyphonic symphonies of urban environments; of natural and man-made rhythms of our cities.
I have just finished a course at McGill that has inspired me to take off my headphones and listen to the cities more often. The text below is taken from the audio-visual presentation on the Crow culture of Vancouver that became a part of my final project for this course. I will not share the video itself, but the script gives you a clear idea of the importance of CORVID within urban environments.
Thanks to this project, I also have a collection of images of crow-related public art in Vancouver: I will share it in a separate post.
365 days a year, at dawn and dusk, Vancouverites can witness an audio-visual natural wonder: a twice-daily crow migration. Thousands of crows from all over the Lower Mainland travel in clans (or murders), to and from the large roost located at the Still Creek. The Still Creek rookery occupies an area of the city of Burnaby, which lies immediately to the east of Vancouver. As local journalist Stacey McLachlan jokes, “Like many of us priced out of the real estate market, they’re heading to the burbs.”
The Still Creek rookery is the only one in Metro Vancouver; yet similar urban roosts are common in North American cities. In 2019, the number of crows at the Still Creek rookery was estimated at 3 to 6 000 birds. According to the Nature of Cities website, such a large and singular congregation is a recent urban occurrence, and is a product of large-scale habitat loss, predator protection, and urban food resources. Locals say, crows have been roosting at Still Creek since the 1970s, attracted by salmon the creek used to be plentiful with. The location has slightly shifted west since Costco was erected in the middle of the previous spot. Right now, the rookery is in the middle of the industrial area with multiple car dealerships, auto body shops, and office towers that have been built around it over the last 40 years. Crows are not planning to move and use this infrastructure for their needs. The City of Burnaby does not discourage the roost or attempt to lure crows away to other areas the city has set aside for wildlife habitat.
The crow hour at the rookery is an overwhelming experience for the human senses, the orchestrated cacophony of their voices, with the birds covering every surface.
The rookery itself is a bird symphony. Crows contribute a lot to the musicality of our cities: they are typically heard before they are seen.
Urban crows feel so comfortable in the city because they have similar rhythms as humans. In the morning they commute from their suburban home to their assigned spots around the city, and spend the daytime doing their “crow business”; in the evening, they reconvene and fly back, creating a trafficked infrastructure up in the air — just like our highways during the rush hour. At the rookery, they socialize before going to sleep. The time of their commute shifts according to the season, as times of the sunrise and sunset change.
Thus, crows live according to their natural rhythm that is synchronized with ebbs and flows yet is so similar to the man-made rhythms of every day’s urban mundanity.
Crows mate for life, help parents raise their younger siblings, use tools, and recognize human faces. No wonder the stories of bonds between these birds and humans are common – I even have one of my own!
Sometimes these friendships become folklore. The story of mischievous and outgoing Canuck the Crow, who befriended an East Vancouver resident Shawn Bergman, made the local news back in 2016. Shortly after, Shawn started Facebook and Instagram pages about Canuck to share stories, pictures, and to try breaking the common misconception of crows as the symbol of misfortune. Since then, the adventures of the friendly crow have been followed by thousands of people all over the world.
Canuck was covered by the news multiple times, and for different reasons. but his most famous media appearance was in May 2016, when he stole the knife from a crime scene and was photographed holding it. That time, he made it to international media, and that image has become an Internet meme.
Canuck has been missing since September 2019. After his disappearance, Shawn has received an outpour of love from the Canuck’s online fans and support from the local community and media.
The Canuck’s social media accounts are still thriving. Shawn usually posts the old videos and photos of his much-missed crow friend, while other people share their stories of friendships with crows in their cities. A short Telus documentary about Canuck can be found on YouTube.
Another local crow lover turns her passion into art. June Hunter, the East Vancouver-based photographer, artist, and crow paparazzo has a popular nature blog dedicated to crow adventures and urban nature in general. She has a lot of crow friends that visit her and know her well. June also creates and sells prints and accessories with images of her favourite birds.
As the city’s most famous crow, Canuck has helped corvids to become one of the key symbols of Vancouver, but especially East Vancouver, since the birds’ demeanor fits the neighborhood’s industrial, working-class aesthetics.
East Vancouver and Burnaby are also located side by side; East Van is just a few minutes’ drive away from the rookery: so, its residents are observing the daily migration on a larger scale than residents of other neighborhoods. If you pay attention when looking around – you will find a lot of crow imagery hidden all around east Vancouver.
If one were to create a rhythmanalysis portrait of Vancouver, the cawing sounds would be on its forefront. Crows contribute to the city both visually and sonically, and Vancouverites are quick to pay homage to their favorite neighbors. This is the life under the shadow of ten thousand crows.
Thuring, C (2019). Crows of Vancouver: The Middle Way Between Biophobia and Biophilia. The Nature of Cities. Retrieved from www.thenatureofcities.com
McLachlan, S. (2017). Where Do These Crows Go Each Night? Vancouver Magazine. Retrieved from www.vanmag.com
Storyhive (2017, July 19). Canuck and I. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flU0rDDGtHU