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. 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 that  the protective nature of corvids  may inspire them to attack you, so make your assessment quickly and move on.


Safety First


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 as  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.  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.  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.


Emergency Care

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:

Call your local Audubon or Wildlife Rehab center. Your other option is to find a vet who specializes in bird care. See our links at the bottom of the post.

Do Not: Wrap the wing or leg yourself, or move the bird unless absolutely necessary.

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.

Call your local Audubon or Wildlife Rehab center. Your other option is to find a vet who specializes in bird care.

Do Not: Euthanize the bird yourself. 


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.

Call your local Audubon or Wildlife Rehab center. Your other option is to find a vet who specializes in bird care.

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.  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,  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.

Do not: Attempt to hand-raise the bird as a pet. Not only is this illegal if you are unlicensed, but it is not right for the bird.


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

To Cull or Not to Cull, Caw Crow Lovers

According to popular media, so-called scientists in the U.K. plan to execute a cull of thousands of corvids in a bid to save songbird populations.  Many of us in the community, which include scientists, rehabilitators and amateurs alike, are wondering when these scientists forgot that crows, magpies and jackdaws are songbirds too. The ‘dramatic decline in farm and woodland birds in the last 50 years’ has been tenuously linked with crows, although no hard evidence has been furnished nor has there been comment on exactly which farm and woodland birds are at stake. As is usual in bias case, an objective viewpoint regarding other factors such as climate change, human encroachment, and feral species has not been offered either. To make matters worse, political interests are involved, granting wind farm owners a strong voice in adding peregrines and other protected birds to the list.

One article mentions the concern focusing on sparrow declines while another suggests Skylark issues. The sparrow decline is a sad story indeed, but one that has been ongoing for nearly a century, without any change in corvid behavior or population. According to a recent special run by the BBC, the primary threat under study now is not the cunning crow, but is the human element. Feeding behaviors causing dependency, the sparrow’s poor adaptability and the human introduction of the obnoxious wild asian parakeet which is rising in population as much as 30% per year. As reported by BBC news, “The population boom has been put down to a series of mild winters, a lack of natural predators, food being available from humans and that there are now enough parrots for a wider range of breeding partners.”

An RSPB spokesman said there was no evidence crows and magpies are behind the decline in numbers of songbirds. ‘The fall is driven by changes in the countryside,’ he said, ‘principally, a lack of nesting areas, a lack of food for chicks and a lack of food in winter. The robin population has increased by 52 per cent since 1970, long-tailed tits have increased by 89 per cent and the great tit species by 90 per cent.’

From the New York Times:

The £100,000 trial cull, due to start in March, has exposed a deep rift between two rival bird conservation groups, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Songbird Survival.

The RSPB rejects claims that avian predators are responsible for the decline in species such as the tree sparrow, corn bunting and yellowhammer, numbers of which have more than halved since 1970. It insists that the main cause of songbird decline is intensive farming, which has robbed songbirds of their habitat and food sources. It also argues that a widespread cull of crows and magpies could be illegal.

Songbird Survival questions whether farming practices are the main cause of the decline, pointing out that it has continued despite the billions of pounds paid to farmers in the past decade to protect bird habitats.

Between 2003 and 2008, there was a fall in farmland bird numbers of 7 per cent, according to figures published last week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Populations of the main predators of songbirds have doubled in the past 30 years. Sparrowhawks, which kill an estimated 50 million songbirds a year, have increased by 152 per cent to 40,100 breeding pairs. Magpies, which raid nests, steal eggs and kill chicks, have increased by 98 per cent.

Nick Forde, a trustee of Songbird Survival, accused the RSPB of pandering to its members’ squeamishness. He said: “The well-established conservation charities rely very heavily on legacies. How many old ladies would want to leave their money to an organisation that goes round killing birds? There are a lot of vested interests who resist the idea of managing wildlife. But if we don’t we are going to lose our biodiversity.”

An RSPB spokesman said: “There are dark forces at work here. There is a lot of rhetoric going on about all our songbirds being eaten by nasty predators. We think these declines are driven by changing farming practices. Birds have been trying to outwit each other for millions of years. It’s an arms race between birds of prey and songbirds and there’s a natural balance.”

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 permitted landowners to control crows, magpies and some other corvids for specific reasons, such as protecting game birds, the spokesman said. But he added that the law did not permit a widespread cull. Killing a sparrowhawk is punishable by a pounds 5,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

The trial cull of crows and magpies will be carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which is considering sites in Hampshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Herefordshire and the Scottish Borders.

Use the following graphics on social sites or your own  website where you want to spread the word to help educate humans about the effect of climate and habitat change on birds. Where myth and villianization are lifted, our intelligent friends can be left to evolve as the planet sees fit.  You can link back to this post using the full URL or this tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/63nkfw5



Learn more:

Wildlife Villiage Stop the Cull Petition


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Keeping Up With Kinohi – San Diego Zoo’s Rare Alala

This is Kinohi, an ‘alala (Hawaiian crow) hatched in captivity 20 years ago. Growing up, he lacked other crows to socialize with, and so he developed an unusual vocabulary. But while we may find his human-like babble amusing, there is nothing funny about the fact that he will not breed.

Kinohi was sent to the San Diego Zoo in 2009 so that Dr. Barbara Durrant, director of Reproductive Physiology at the Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, and her staff could train him for semen collection. As one of only 60 ‘alala left in the world, Kinohi is very important to that population; unfortunately, he is behaviorally compromised and just does not get on with the ladies. His genes will be lost unless Dr. Durrant’s team intervenes. Their goal for the last year is to collect semen to artificially inseminate a compatible female.

Says Diane Van Dien, Research Technician working on the Kinohi project, “Working with Kinohi certainly is a challenge. Crows are very smart, and if we are not careful, he’ll end up training us instead of the other way around! Luckily, we have had the help of the keepers at both the HVMC and the Bird Breeding Center. They have shared their insights with us as well as making sure all of Kinohi’s needs are met, from food and water to appropriate perches and toys.

We’ve had to spend time getting to know Kinohi’s personality and gaining his trust. In the beginning, he would never sit still for long, and we felt successful if we had just one solid minute to pet him and left without any new bruises from his beak pounding on our ankles. But little by little we have seen Kinohi transform from an anxious bird, constantly hopping from perch to ground, to one who sits contentedly to get his head scratched. He now perches with his feathers so fluffed that he almost looks like a youngster, and he will even close his eyes while I rub his head feathers and Barbara pets his back and tail, abdomen and cloaca. (The cloaca is the one hole through which everything passes in a bird.) Eventually he sidles away, hops over to his cardboard box, and fusses with the grasses inside, mumbling to himself. Then we try to lure him back. When he cooperates, he gets one of his favorite treats: a piece of mouse or a waxworm. When he refuses to come back, the session is over.”

A Wild Alala

With only 70 known ‘alala left on the planet, Kinohi’s genes are extremely important. Diane continues:

“We like to think Kinohi looks forward to our visits. When we enter the anteroom to his new indoor-outdoor enclosure, he calls out, letting us know he knows we are there. As we cut up his mouse into a cup (the pieces are his reward for cooperating with us), Kinohi waits at the door, peering at our feet through the small space at the bottom. To position his eye low enough to see us, he hangs his head upside down, the top of his head resting on the floor.

Spring marks the beginning of the breeding season, and while the ‘alala in Hawaii have been building nests, Kinohi also has been responding to the lengthening daylight. A few weeks ago, he began saving part of his food reward in his beak. It is now his routine to pick up the pieces of mouse one by one, but after swallowing a few, he holds the rest in the back of his mouth. Then, when he has emptied the cup, he takes the morsels to the box that serves as his nest. We think he is trying to bring food to an imaginary mate. He mumbles in a whiny tone, moving the food pieces up and down over his tongue, giving his voice a gurgling quality. Eventually he leaves the nest box, lines up the pieces of mouse on a perch, and eats them one by one as though savoring each bite.”

We encourage our readers to get involved in supporting this cause as one of the most critical conservation efforts involving Crows currently underway.  Click here to view the conservation blog, or visit the main donation site.