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For decades, a Halifax neighbourhood has been known for a murder (of crows)

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They arrive alone, in pairs or in small groups, flying in from every direction just before dusk to a part of Halifax overlooking the Bedford Basin.

By the time twilight falls and the sky’s blue is deepening to black with every second, the treetops are filled with crows — thousands upon thousands of them.

“It just gets black with crows,” said Fleurette Sweeney, who lives at a retirement home for nuns behind Mount Saint Vincent University, which is pretty much ground zero for the nightly crow convention. “It’s hilarious. The cacophony of sound is incredible.”

The crows congregate throughout the fall and winter to fulfil whatever innate longing they have to caw with abandon and be with their bird brethren.

They’ve been flocking to the area between about Seton Road and Flamingo Drive for decades in numbers that have been estimated at up to 8,500.

Amanda Dodsworth, who grew up on a nearby street and still lives in the neighbourhood, said she recalls seeing them in the early 1980s, and her mother remembers them in the area as far back as the 1960s.

“I can remember being a little kid and driving in the car in the wintertime and thinking, it’s weird that there’s leaves on those trees,” she said. “But they weren’t leaves — they were crows, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them.”

By the time Dodsworth was a teen, the natural phenomenon had taken on a slightly creepy bent, with the theory that each crow was a nun from the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse who had died and returned for a visit.

“We used to drink up in those woods when we were 13 and 14 years old and there was always the scary story about the crows following you or watching you,” she said.

The crows have been gathering at the roost for at least 60 years. (Robert Short/CBC)

Kevin McGowan, a crow specialist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., said crows have been known to return to the same roost for 100 years. While the biggest roost he’s seen had about 100,000 crows, one in Oklahoma was estimated to hold over two million.

It’s unknown how far crows travel for their gatherings, but 15 kilometres would be “no big deal,” McGowan said.

But the reason for these meetings is still somewhat mysterious.

Two of the main theories include sharing information, including about food sources, and protection from predators.

“The great horned owl is the bogeyman,” said McGowan. “It is the thing that comes and gets you in the middle of the night and eats you.”

A campus constant

The crows have occasionally caused concern on the MSVU campus.

Retired professor Fred Harrington, who taught animal behaviour in the psychology department for 33 years, said early in former NDP leader Alexa McDonough’s stint as interim university president, she was working late on campus one night and “all of a sudden she saw the sky fill with crows.”

“She wondered whether she should call security,” he said. “She was kind of baffled by the whole thing.”

For a while, hundreds of crows would roost in a cluster of trees along a steep path between the library and cafeteria, and students were “terrified” of them, Harrington said.

“You have … several hundred crows that are going to defecate at some point during the night onto that path, so the path actually became kind of treacherous and slippery,” he said.

Crows have been known to visit the same roost for 100 years. (Robert Short/CBC)

Some of his students used a helium balloon covered with a black garbage bag with two paper eyes taped on it to deter the crows, but that didn’t work for long. A falcon, too, had a short-lived effect, but Harrington said it was only when some of the longer branches were trimmed that the “whitewashing” of the path stopped.

For the most part, though, Mount Saint Vincent University has embraced its noisy neighbours. The campus lounge is called the Crows Next, there’s the Crow ‘n’ Go convenience store and earlier this year, the university even retired its mascot, Monty the mountain lion, in favour of a new one: Captain the Crow.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic.

Some neighbours complain that the crows poop on their car, tear up their lawn or even peck holes in their roof.

Friends and enemies

McGowan has seen both the good and bad sides of crows. 

The birds are able to distinguish humans from one another, and that can be a blessing or a curse.

McGowan often tags baby crows in their nests, and the adults, to put it mildly, do not look favourably on that.

“I’ve had up to 75 crows mobbing me when I go to a nest … flying overhead and yelling and insulting my ancestry and stuff like that — generally noisily expressing their displeasure at my presence on the planet.”

Some neighbours say the crows poop on their cars, tear up their lawn or even peck holes in their roofs. (Robert Short/CBC)

The crows began to recognize McGowan when he was nowhere near a nest, too.

“It’s like, ”Ah, it’s that guy!… And everywhere I’d go in town, minding my own business, I’d get mobbed.”

Eventually, he decided to make friends out of his enemies. McGowan now carries unshelled peanuts with him wherever he goes, and the crows know it.

‘One of the most fascinating animals on the planet’

They pick him out of a crowd no matter what he’s wearing and they spot his white Subaru — “and trust me, there are a gazillion Subarus in Ithaca” — going 100 kilometres an hour and fly around it until he tosses peanuts out the window.

McGowan said crows are “one of the most fascinating animals on the planet,” and people should appreciate them for the amazing creatures they are.

“I think crows are awesome and people often don’t give them the thought that they deserve,” he said.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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