CARING FOR CROWS
From Connie, a SBWCN volunteer with many years of experience:
I got my first baby crow yesterday, 5/11, which means it's time to send my yearly baby crow call letter to the Center. You should be receiving lots of calls (and lots of baby crows!) from May 15th through early July, so would you please forward my suggestions to everyone tending the Helpline and the front desk?
My advice runs counter to the easy answer that baby crows should be left on the ground for the parents to feed, but I rehabbed an average of 160 baby crows a year for 20 years, so have a good idea of which crows are going to make it on the ground and which are going to die if they aren't brought in for help.
Questions to ask when receiving a baby crow call:
1. Is it a baby or injured adult?
Check for eye and mouth color--babies have blue or grey eyes, pink to red mouth
Adults have brown to black eyes, some black to all black in mouth
If it is an injured adult, it needs to come in for rehab.
If it is a baby, ask
2. What is the length of its tail?
The shorter the tail, the more necessary it is the bird be brought it. One, two, three inches, the bird definitely needs to be brought in as it will be too many days before it flies for the parents to feed adequately on the ground. If the tail is 4 inches, it may need to come in. If the tail is 5 inches, the bird looks sleek and mature (a fledgling), ask
3. Are there obvious predators in the area and are the parents in attendance?
If there are dogs or cats stalking the bird and it can't fly, bring it in
If there are no parents guarding or feeding it, bring it in (crows can't self feed until 2 weeks after they start flying)
If no predators and the parents are involved, ask
4. Are there any obvious wounds, illnesses, or broken bones
Mouth should be bright pink (pale mouth = anemia/internal injury, yellow=trich)
Any open wounds or growths (injury or pox)
Does one wing or leg droop or not work like the other (broken bones)
If there is stool on the ground, is it healthy (white=urine/inadequate food, dark green or black=starvation and/or organ damage)
If the bird appears healthy on the ground, it is still wise to pick it up to check condition
5. Pick bird up (you can replace it to the same spot or put it in a safer spot nearby, usually up in a bush, and the parents will return to feeding after you've left)
Is breast bone well padded or is it sharp (breast bone runs the length of the chest and should be well padded on both sides--if emaciated/knife like, the bird needs to come in)
Do you get any mites on your hands when you pick him up (most don't, but if has mites, needs to be treated)
Does he grip your fingers with his toes (baby crows don't bite, and it doesn't hurt if they do, but a healthy crow will grip tightly with its feet and you'll have to pry its feet off to remove)
Only those babies passing all of these tests should be left on the ground. Babies left too long will either die or come in another day in much worse shape.
These same guidelines apply to all baby bird calls, with some variation in tail length, mouth color, etc., but baby crows are often the most difficult for callers to figure out because they are so large that people think they look like adults rather than babies.
Once in the center, try to keep baby crows together in groups of two or three, the same social setting as if they were in a nest (avoid isolation or overcrowding). They need to be fed massive amounts of food compared to other babies, so keep checking keel bone and stool color to make sure you're keeping up with their caloric needs (again, in a cage of two to three crows, you can keep better track of changes in stool color or keel bone). Crows can be very hard to feed, often need to be caught individually, wrapped in a towel and force fed with several short breaks during each feeding round, and even then they have a tendency to toss half of it out (and all over you). Hang in there though, feed, feed, feed, and 95% of the babies you get in will make it!
Please feel free to call me (phone number on request) if you have any questions. My longer piece on feeding and housing should be in your files somewhere....