For the Birds Radio Program: Icarus the Crow

Original Air Date: Sept. 4, 1987

Laura is taking care of an injured crow who she named Icarus. (3:35) date confirmed

Audio missing


Icarus the Crow

(Recording of an American Crow)

Icarus the Crow, also called Oliver by some nice little kids, showed up at my house last Wednesday with a shattered wing bone and a crippled hip. No Greek god had blasted him from the sky for looking at the sun–a person had shot him, violating federal and state law as well as the bounds of human decency. A kind mail carrier rescued him and brought him to the DNR, but they don’t have facilities to care for injured birds, and one crow has no value from a population standpoint, so they recommended putting him to sleep.

The DNR is right that an individual bird, especially a crow, is insignificant in terms of a species. On the other hand, as anyone who has ever looked into a crow’s brown eyes can testify, this is one creature that knows. So my mailman friend decided to give me the bird.

It’s always hard to treat an injured bird, and Icarus had several strikes against him from the start. The wing bone was broken at the joint by the pellet, and his pelvis was badly damaged from the impact when he hit the ground. Plus he was weak and emaciated. He had little chance of making it, but his eyes blazed with indignation, intelligence, and life, so I could hardly condemn him.

My first step was to get permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so I wouldn’t be violating the same federal law that protects birds from shooting. Then I took a good look at Icarus, setting him on his back in my lap–any bird stays quiet and calm in that position. His left leg was completely useless, though there was no apparent break. I made a sandwich splint out of cardboard to hold it in the proper position, and braced it against the other leg. The foot didn’t grasp right, so I splinted it open flat. Then I looked at the wing. The bleeding had long since stopped, so I cleaned and disinfected the wound and taped a splint to the inside of the wing matching it to the good wing. As I worked, I felt how thin he was. He was strong enough to leave several purple marks on my hands before I thought to put on heavy gloves, but he was too weak to eat much. I made a thin gruel from soaked dog food, hard- boiled egg yolk, and strained chicken, and took advantage of his efforts to bite me to shove some into his beak. The more he ate, the stronger he got, and I started feeling some hope.

Hope’s a dangerous sensation when you’re caring for an injured bird. The vast majority die even with good care. A broken wing bone is especially dangerous because the hollow bone connects an air sac to the lungs–even if the break heals, pneumonia can develop. As of this taping, Icarus is still alive, spending his days in my backyard under my dog Bunter’s protection–she keeps the squirrels and jays from taunting him. He’s starting to take an interest in the goings on on Peabody St., and is even turning into something of a watchdog, startling everyone who passes by with his caw.

(Recording of an American Crow) This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”