Conspiracy at West Edmonton Mall as ravens gather at night

With the landfill supplying food, ravens have been increasingly flocking into west Edmonton in recent years - and the mall is becoming a favourite place to roost

'They're just smart. They're finding a way to keep warm and stay together'

Ravens have turned West Edmonton Mall into their winter gathering spot at night. 0:47

It's the peak holiday shopping season and outside West Edmonton Mall, patrons are squawking and beaking off at each other as they fight for a spot to park.

But this group of rowdies is not allowed inside the mall — and it's not a conspiracy against them.

In fact, they are the conspiracy. A conspiracy of ravens, that is.

Scott Charlton noticed them in mid-November when leaving the mall after a day of work. He heard caws and noticed between 50 and 100 ravens flying around above him.

With another group perched on the letters of a lit Winners sign, Charlton said it looked more like a scene from the Planet Earth nature series or from Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds instead of a mall parking lot.

Ravens have been spotted gathering after nightfall at West Edmonton Mall for the past couple of weeks. (Scott Charlton)

People in some cultures would consider such a gathering of ravens (called a conspiracy, an unkindness or a constable) to be a bad omen.

Charlton was simply awestruck.

"It was such a huge group that I was just like 'I have to take a video.' I've never seen that many ravens in one place," Charlton said. "It just seemed really out of place that they're hanging outside at West Edmonton Mall of all places."

Since taking that first video three weeks ago, he's been keeping an eye on the gatherings and said the most recent rally happened within the last few days. "When they get together, they squabble over who gets to sit where and for how long," he said.

But they don't seem to be causing any problems, he added. 

"I haven't really seen them try to eat anything or really scavenge around at night. They're just hanging out for the evening, it seems to me."

They generally will gather together in fairly large groups both for protection and for social purposes.- Mike Jenkins

Wildlife experts suggest Charlton's conclusions are quite accurate.

While the flock might seem out of place in the urban environment, it's really not all that rare, said Mike Jenkins, senior biological sciences technologist with the City of Edmonton.

Ravens have been flocking to Edmonton more and more, and they've been spotted in recent years making west Edmonton their night-time hangout in the winter months.

"They generally will gather together in fairly large groups both for protection and for social purposes," Jenkins said. "The corvids, including ravens, are really intelligent birds and they do have pretty strong social structures," 

Alison Normand takes photographs of ravens resting on lettered signs along the walls of West Edmonton Mall. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Gordon Court, provincial wildlife status biologist for Alberta Environment and Parks, suspects the ravens' heavy presence at West Edmonton Mall is all about food.

"They group together, usually near a large food source. In this case, it's probably the landfill at 170th Street," Court said.

"In winter, they would roost communally and that's probably what they're doing in the West Edmonton Mall area."

He suspects the conspiracy will return in larger numbers every winter as the birds spread the word of a food source.

"The birds used to be constrained to the boreal forest, the Rocky Mountains and foothills but now you can find them right out on the bald prairie. They have expanded their range a great deal and, I believe, in their numbers as well."

On Thursday night, Alison Normand took pictures of the ravens after a bout of holiday shopping.

"I don't think anyone walking below will appreciate it if they get pooped on or anything," Normand noted.

"I think they're just smart. They're finding a way to keep warm and stay together and there's nothing wrong with that."

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc