You’re walking down the sidewalk when suddenly you notice a waddling little mass of black feathers trying awkwardly to hide under a bush or car. When you begin to approach the young crow, it simply stares up at you or perhaps continues on its poorly planned waddle down the sidewalk or worse, into traffic. Clearly this baby crow cannot fly and has a habit of making bad decisions. Your instinct (and perhaps the opportunity to interact with a baby animal) are tempting you to intervene and “save” this young crow who seems ill prepared to be out of the nest. What should you do?
The answer, almost always, is to ignore your instincts and good intentions. I’ve had many friends and colleagues who are either licensed wildlife rehabbers or who spent summers volunteering with their local rehab facilities, that can attest to the dozens of animals that get brought in during the spring and summer by well intentioned folks who assumed that simply finding such a vulnerable baby meant it needed help. In many of these cases, these animals did not need help and now they’ve been separated from their parents or mother and stand a much lower chance of surviving once they’re released from the rehab facility. So how do you avoid making the same error?
First, understand that corvid babies very often leave the nest before they are completely flighted (usually by about 7-10 days). Evolution has taught them that it’s better to be flightless but still mobile on the ground than trapped in the nest where they stand no chance of escape, should they be located by a predator. During this time they are still in the care of their parents who will continue to feed and defend them. So finding a flightless baby crow or jay is totally normal between late May and July. Perhaps it would be helpful to gently herd the fledgling away from traffic and under the safety of a bush but, outside of that, most baby corvids do not need your help and are better off (less stressed) if you give them a wide girth. The baby jay in the above picture was captured so it could be color-banded, and then was released under a bush where its parents quickly attended to it.
Simply knowing this piece of corvid biology will lay to rest the concerns for most situations you may find yourself in this summer. For babies that are naked, are bleeding or have drooping wings, or are within reach of a dog or cat, etc., the following flow chart is excellent and will help navigate the situation (I’ve thrown in the mammal one too just for fun).
The main thing to remember is; as long as the baby is mostly feathered and being attended by its parents, it’s just where it needs to be. Only if it’s trapped in a storm drain, naked, injured, cornered by a cat, or after several hours has not been visited by its parents is it appropriate to intervene. Even in most of those cases, simply creating a makeshift nest out of a basket and securing it to a tree, or placing the baby in a bush and leaving the area, is much better than taking it away to a facility. So use your best judgment this summer and remember; if you feel your situation is unique and has not been addressed by the flow charts provided, give a rehab facility a call and let them help you decide if an animal needs to be removed before you make the mistake of taking babies away from their parents.