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Nightly ‘murder’ near Layton Hills Mall attracts interest

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LAYTON, Utah -- For the past two weeks or so, a murder takes place just north of the Layton Hills Mall each day around 5:30 p.m. A murder of crows, that is.

Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or more of the black birds arrive seemingly at once to roost in the trees outside of several chain restaurants in the area.

"It looks like, for some reason, they like this place," said Gene Gelhard. He's been coming to see the spectacle almost every night for a week. He said crows aren't his favorite birds, but he likes to study their behavior, "because they are smart, you know."

Many scientists agree. According to the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, the population of crows has risen by as much as 300 percent in the past decade, due to their ability to adapt to urban environments.

"Winter is the time they congregate in large numbers," said Mary McKinley of the Ogden Nature Center.

The crowd of crows in Layton litters parking lots and sidewalks with droppings on a daily, or nightly, basis--but McKinley said the birds aren't likely a health hazard. They are, however, susceptible to West Nile Virus, which has been found in other birds in Davis and Weber Counties, so people should not handle sick or injured birds they might come in contact with.

Crows are skilled scavengers, typically spreading out during the day to forage for food before roosting together at night. McKinley said they're also very social birds, and the winter gathering being witnessed in Layton may be an essential  part of their social structure.