Emergency Care for Baby Crows
It is that time of year again, and the baby crows keep coming! In most cases, crows should be left to fend for themselves, particularily if they are fledgelings.Â Before you attempt to rescue a baby bird, consider the following:
- Is it badly injured or in danger?
- Are there other crows nearby?
- Is it a fledgeling or a nestling?
Fledgeling or Nestling?
Like many species, juvenile corvids will typically leave the nest before they are able to fly. They will spend several days on the ground building up their flight capabilities and learning essential survival skills from their families.
This is a completely normal and very important part of their life cycle. It is not uncommon to find young crows on the ground in suburban, urban and industrial areas.
Unless these birds are clearly injured, they should be left alone for their parents to care for. Crows that are in immediate danger, can be placed up off the ground on a low branch or structure, but should not be moved more than 100 feet from where they were found.
Nestlings, on the other hand, are quite apparently babies, with pink or greyish skin, overlarge heads and fine chickdown. Nestlings may fall from the nest by their own terrible misfortune, or be kicked out by a sibling. In some cases, a rival bird may also be the culprit.
Fledgling crows can be found learning to fly during the months of May, June and July. People are frequently concerned that the crow that they have seen on the ground is injured rather than simply a youngster learning to fly.
One easy way to tell if a crow is a youngster is to look at the color of the bird’s eyes. Young crows have blue/grey eyes. Another easy way to tell if a crow is a fledgling is to look to see if other crows are hanging out nearby.
If there are other crows nearby they are likely the parents. Size of the bird is NOT a good indicator of age since fledgling crows are frequently close to the size of their parents when they leave the nest.
Wouldn’t it be safer to raise the crow in captivity and let him go once he is able to fly?
No! Although the urban landscape may seem like a hazardous place for a crow to learn to fly, many crows do manage to survive. In fact urban crow populations are increasing.
Raising a crow in captivity and then releasing it to the wild reduces its chance for survival. Crows spend between one and two years with their parents, a much longer period than most other bird species.
This extended period is essential for young crows to lean complex life skills, a wide array of vocalizations and to integrate into a complex social structure. Captive raised crows miss out on all of these things and have very little chance for survival.
Sometimes protective behavior by adult crows can be confused for aggression against the youngster, but rest assured that a loud raucous group of adult crows is a sign that a youngster is in good hands.
If you have determined the bird is a Fledgeling, get as close as you can to check for injury, but take care not to touch it. Beware thatÂ the protective nature of corvidsÂ may inspire them to attack you, so make your assessment quickly and move on.
It is best to avoid touching the bird if possible to avoid spreading disease (contrary to popular belief a crow will not reject its young just because you touch it). However, if the bird is in an unnatural place, such asÂ a parking lot or the middle of the street, it needs your help. Pick it up as gently as possible by slowly cupping your hands together beneath its feet. If the bird is quite large, slide one hand under its feet and place the other gently on its back right at the base of the neck.Â Move it to a safe spot under a bush or at the base of a tree. Take care not to move it too far away from where you found it, so the parents don’t freak out when they return.Â If the bird is within reach of a dog or cat, keep the animal inside or away from the bird until it has fluttered off with its family.
Caring for a nestling at home is very difficult, and babies have very little chance of surviving. Nestlings are too young to be on the ground. If you find a nestling, try to locate the nest and put it back. If you can’t reach the nest, attach some kind of “nest” to the side of a tree. You can use a small box lined with any soft and dry material. The parents may come to this nest to continue caring for the nestling.
If you have found an injured fledgeling, or orphaned nestling and it is too late or impossible to go through with the above advice, use the following guide to take action.
Injured fledglings: broken leg, broken wing, ruptured air sac (will appear as a “bubble” of skin), or wounds from cat/dog attacks:
Fledglings with a twisted leg:
A severely twisted and useless leg is a common crow birth defect. The parents will reject babies with this defect and push them out of the nest. Babies with this defect do not typically gape for food, and may have some type of internal defects. An adult bird can survive with one leg, but a baby with a crippled leg will not be able to walk or fly, and will spend its life sitting as if paralyzed. Sadly,a baby with this defect should be humanely euthanized.
Sick, dehydrated, or fly-covered fledglings:
If the fledgling is unable to sit (toppling over on its side) or is attracting flies, it likely just needs some TLC.
Place the bird into a box with clean, dry bedding and sit it under a 40W lamp (take care that the bulb is not too close to the bird’s head)
If the baby is gaping for food: Mix a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt in a litre of lukewarm water. Use the wadded up end of a clean cloth or paper towel to soak up the liquid and gently let it drip onto the birds tongue.Â Do not squeeze or pour the liquid in or you risk drowning the bird.
Once the bird seems to be feeling better, you can offer a shallow dish of water and try feeding it some soft food:
- Cat or dog food soaked in water until soft and mushy
- Ground turkey or chicken softened with a little warm water
- All natural baby food (meat varieties are best)
- Finely mashed tuna (low sodium please!)
Depending on the news from the vet or rehabilitator,Â it can probably be returned to the same general location where it was found. The parents will likely resume care once the baby has been revived.
Why You Shouldn’t Keep It
According to Cornell Ornithologist Kevin McGowan, “One common problem with hand raised crows is that if they are taken early enough they easily become imprinted on humans. This might seem like a good thing while you are raising it, but it is definitely a BAD thing. Crow babies make wonderful pets and are very appealing. Being very social they want to interact with you constantly (like a puppy, way more than a kitten). They are very curious and get into lots of funny situations. They are very personable, have very distinct personalities, and might even learn to say a few words (often only to one specific person). The downside of this behavior is that it makes them unafraid of people and very vulnerable in the wild.
Over the course of my studies on crows I have spoken to a large number of people who have raised them as pets. All speak lovingly of the experience, but consistently, the stories end in one of two ways: 1) The crows start leaving for a day or so at a time (usually in the fall), and then are never seen again, or 2) some neighbor or someone nearby kills them when they are too friendly/aggressive. Usually this involves the crow trying to land on the head of an unsuspecting person or their children, which results in the crow being hit and killed with a stick or broom. I was astounded at the number of people whose stories ended this way. What I have almost never heard is the one I would expect the most, knowing normal crow behavior: that the crows left and kept coming back intermittently for a year or two. My wife had pet raccoons that did that, and I had a friend who raised a bobcat that did that, but I have spoken to only one or two people who have ever had a hand raised crow do that. I suspect that they don’t get the chance because they got killed soon after they went out on their own.”
Crows, Ravens, Jackdaws, Rooks, and other corvids need professional care and large aviaries to maintain their health and happiness. If you are interested in becoming a wildlife rehabilitator in your area and you have the yard/room for a substantial aviary, contact your local rehab center for volunteer position and inquire about their licensing program. Online programs are available through several univeristies world-wide or by clicking here (US-Intl) or here (Canada)
Originally posted on 6/27/2010