5 reasons to leave baby crows alone 

Those blue eyes, that awkward gate, their seemingly constant precariousness, they’re all calling to you to intervene. Here are 5 reasons second guessing that instinct might be in the bird’s best interest.

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1) The vast majority don’t need your help. It’s totally normal for baby crows to be on the ground and flightless as long as they’re covered with feathers and appear otherwise alert and mobile. Even nestling crows are usually on the ground on purpose. Not because they are ready, but because their parents have intentionally rejected them for one reason or another. They will die an that’s ok. Part of coexisting with wildlife is giving them the agency to be wild. The story is different of course for species where the survival of individuals may mean the difference between population survival and extinction, especially because these situation are almost always driven by human activity.

2) It’s hard to tell when they’re stressed.  Recently, I saw a video on Facebook of a Steller’s jay fledgling in the care of a very well intentioned good samaritan.  She was giving it gentle strokes with her fingertips, each touch resulting in the young bird turning its head towards its back and opening its mouth.  The comment thread filled with ooo’s and awww’s and general comments of encouragement or gratitude for her actions.  For me it was like watching an alien attempt to care for a human child, the child recoiling and screaming while its caretakers congratulated themselves on how kind they were being.  Having handled baby corvids before, I know what that kind of posturing means, it means “I’m scared and stressed.”  To an untrained eye though, it may not look much different than the kind of gaping that means ‘feed me.’  Being stressed to death is a reality for young, or even adult animals, so any handling best be done by experts whenever possible.

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3) It’s illegal to rehab crows without a license. You can provide temporary care until you can get them to a licensed facility, but do not attempt to rehab them on your own.  Mistakes like the one I just described are a prime example of why the law seeks to protect animals by ensuring they are only raised or rehabilitated by experts.  For more information on how to handle them until you can get them to a facility visit my previous post.

4) Imprinted crows do not survive well in the wild.  Even if baby crows are receptive to being treated like a pet, doing so is both a legal violation and I would argue a violation of their right to be a wild animal with a healthy fear of people.  Of all my daydreams, at the top of the list is having a wild but imprinted crow that follows me around.  I even have a name picked out.  This fantasy of mine will forever remain just that, however, because it’s too dangerous to allow a crow to become that comfortable with people.  All it would take is one cranky neighbor with a pellet gun and it would be over.  Not to mention being imprinted on people, instead of crows, denies them access to skills and relationships with other crows that will help them survive into adulthood.

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Killing them with kindness is a real risk.

5) It may do more harm than good.  The conventional wisdom suggests “well, worse case scenario is I try and rehab this baby crow and it dies, which it would have done anyway so really, nothing’s been lost.”  The more we study death in social animals the more we are beginning to realize there may be a cost to prematurely removing ailing or dead animals from their groupmates, however.  Being able to interact with their dead may serve an important role for social animals, and denying them this opportunity may have serious implications in their ability to process that death.  So be thoughtful about how slim the chance of survival is.  It might be that the kindest, most responsible action is no action at all.

3 Comments

Filed under Corvid health, Crow behavior, Crow curiosities, Crow life history, Crows and humans, Uncategorized

3 responses to “5 reasons to leave baby crows alone 

  1. Su Coleman

    Emotive topic. Having to deny our human trait to show mercy can be almost unbearable. A couple of years ago the children of one of our neighbours ‘rescued’ a fledgling crow and they asked me if I could look after it for a week while they went on holiday. I found out later that they had ‘released it back into the wild’ and I am happy to say that I have seen it regularly in the neighbourhood since then. Admittedly it is tamer than the other crows but smart enough not to allow humans to approach too closely. I also noticed this year that it had a mate and I’m pretty sure they were rearing youngsters. I guess this must be an unsual situation?

    • Nicely said, Su. This IS an emotive topic and I totally respect how difficult the decision to turn a blind eye is. I want my readers to understand that I’m not advocating for them to do so in all situations. I just want people to have all the information when they consider if it’s really in the best interest of the bird. As for your story, I’m so happy to hear your rescue is doing well. There are so many factors that determine how well they reintegrate into the wild so without knowing those it’s hard to say if your situation is unusual or not. In any case it’s certainly one to be very pleased with!

      • Su Coleman

        Had another baby corvid case this week from another neighbour. Lots of juvenile jackdaws around us at the moment. The neighbour came to tell us he’d seen ‘a baby crow in distress’. My son and I went to have a look and it was a juvenile jackdaw. It was on the ground and did seem to have problems walking. We told the neighbour to leave it because the parents were up in the trees and knew it was there and would feed it. It did venture out into the road at one stage so we coxed it back into the neighbour’s garden where there were lots of bushes where it could shelter for the night. Hopefully it will stand more chance of survival as it’s ability to fly increases.

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