A bird in the hand…

Thursday some co-workers found a baby crow at the park near the office. The poor thing couldn’t stand up; it had apparently tried to leave the nest too early.

We didn’t want to leave it on the ground; the area is too well-kept to leave any good hiding places, and while the mother was apparently there (she screamed at us every time we got near the baby), there were enough night animals that the baby would be a quick meal for someone. The nest was way too high in the tree for anyone to be able to put the baby back in. So we tried to figure out how to put a makeshift nest in the tree where we could reach, but out of reach of any predators. We tried putting a cardboard tray in the tree with zip ties; that worked well enough, but the baby backed out of that too and fell to the ground again.

A couple of co-workers were concerned about catching West Nile Virus from the bird; but everything we’ve read says that crows can just be carriers or infected by it — the virus requires a mosquito to actually spread. So that wasn’t an issue. Still, we kept him relatively isolated and washed our hands and clothes after handling him, just in case.

So we ended up taking him home for a night; we washed him off (there was some poop stuck to him where he’d scrabbled about in the box), and gave him some water (he was just at the point where he should be figuring out drinking; we had to point his beak at the water, but once it dipped in he got the idea and started trying to scoop water in his beak and drink it.)

He was reasonably awake and alert through all this; he didn’t make a sound unless there were other crows also making noise; even then it was a quiet cheeping. He kept his legs extended anytime he wasn’t on something; his feet could grip around fingers, but he wasn’t able to stand on his legs, or fold them underneath him comfortably on his own. We were able to slowly fold the legs underneath him, but he kept wanting to extend them — either under him or to his side.

We took a picture:
Picture of baby crow

We also tried to feed him a bit; we’ve fed baby parrots before, but not crows. Some sites recommended mixing up some dog food and water along with something grainy or mealy like cornmeal. We’d actually mixed in peanut butter with baby bird food for the fat and protein content; so we crushed up some dry dog food, mixed in a small bit of peanut butter and some warm water until it was a wet slurry. We tried giving the bird some with an espresso spoon, then letting him drink it like the water, but he wasn’t really all over it. The stuff didn’t smell quite as bad as dry dog food does to me, but I wouldn’t have wanted to eat it, either.

During cleanup we decided to try and sex him; for the most part, you can usually determine the sex of a bird by the width of the two points of the pelvic bones just under their tail. You’ll be able to feel the bones as two nubbins; if they’re really close together, it’s probably a male; if they’re far apart, it’s probably a female (‘egg laying bones’). It’s not 100% reliable, but it’s worked well enough.

Turns out baby Squibbs (my SO named him) is a she. We made up a box for her, so she could sleep. And she did:
Baby crow sleeping in towel

We put the box into a room where the dogs couldn’t get, and let her sleep through the night. The next morning, we tried another feeding, but she was more interested in just having water than the food mixture. We took the bird to Project Wildlife, a local organization that rescues and rehabilitates injured wildlife.

We were a bit apprehensive as to whether or not this would be a place that is a bit free with the euthanasia (a few years ago, San Diego’s Animal Control department was run by a person for whom euthanasia appeared to be the first and only option; fortunately she was ousted after an expose by the local paper). As it turns out, that appears not to be the case — the Project Wildlife office had lots and lots of cages, and from what we could see, there were lots of recovering birds, baby and otherwise. It was actually quite heartening to see. They even have a question and answer on their FAQ — “I found a hawk that was hit by a car, should I just let “nature take its course”?”. Their answer is absolutely not — that if you can get the bird to Project Wildlife it can be rehabilitated and rejoin the wild.

The person at Project Wildlife said that there might be something developmentally wrong with the crow; she said that at this size it should be able to stand and vocalize well. The bird did seem fine, other than being unable to stand. It still had lots of baby fuzz (not the real, interlocking feathers) covering its head and body, so with any luck she just decided to leave the nest early.

Here’s hoping baby Squibbs recovers and is rehabilitated well enough to rejoin the wild. I think Project Wildlife can do so. We enjoyed taking care of her for a night; I have to admit I had a couple of fantasies about a shoulder-perched crow making foreboding noises at opportune times, but gothic fantasy rarely matches reality. A bit sad to see her go, but she’s definitely in good hands now.

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