For the Birds Radio Program: Baby Crow

Original Air Date: July 1, 1992

Taking care of hurt birds isn’t all fun and games. (4:04) Date verified

Audio missing


This is the time of year when I’m inundated with injured and orphaned birds. Most of the time I love rehabbing them, but sometimes the heartaches make me a little bitter. It seems like every year I have one nightmare experience that makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t just throw in the towel.

There was the woman who brought me three different birds in the same week, each attacked by her cat. She kept insisting that the cat didn’t intentionally hurt the birds, and that keeping the cat indoors would be cruel and inhumane. I’m of course not allowed to accept money for my rehabbing services, and only people on serious budgets themselves ever think about how expensive medications for birds are—this woman never gave a thought to how much money and time I would have to devote to her cat’s victims, nor about my children’s broken hearts when the efforts finally failed. Cats’ puncture bites are hothouses of infection, and most cats chomp or claw a bird down hard enough to cause internal injuries as well as shock—only two or three of the birds I’ve ever had with cat injuries have ever survived.

The woman stopped bringing birds to me after the third one. I’m afraid this wasn’t because her cat was leaving birds alone, but because she got tired of listening to my lectures about keeping cats indoors during daylight hours. Neighbors tell me the cat is hurting and killing just as many birds as before, but now she simply ignores the situation.

Last year’s horror story was the woman who found four brand new baby Red-eyed Vireos on her lawn after a storm and kept them for ten days, feeding them nothing but canned dog food, and not once making any effort whatsoever to keep them clean. She told me that she knew the birds would die, but she wanted her children to have the experience of trying to raise baby birds at least once. By the time I got them, their skeletons and feathers were irreversibly damaged from inappropriate food and lack of vitamins, and they were caked with dog food and their own droppings, which made them so stiff they couldn’t even move. I couldn’t identify them until I’d given them three baths. She brought them to me on July third, telling me her kids were tired of them and she was expecting company for the holiday. It was my kids who had to watch those little birds fade and die.

This year’s horror story revolves around a baby crow who was found in a park by an eight-year-old girl. The bird had a band on its leg until the girl’s neighbor took it off and unfortunately threw it away. That band was evidence that somebody else had tried keeping the bird as a pet. And the bird’s crooked leg bones and poor feather development showed that whoever the person was didn’t know a thing about how to take care of a baby crow. By the time I got it, its growth was stunted, its feet and legs were virtually useless, and the feathers on its wings and tail were punctured with a series of striations which would make it impossible for the bird to fly properly or keep warm until it molts. There were even white areas on the wing feathers where no pigment developed, indicating the bird had been stressed as well as malnourished. I suppose when the person realized that the baby crow was not going to make it, he or she released it in the park to let nature take its course.

The poor little crow, with its bright blue baby crow eyes, is eager to live, but it was so starved that so far it doesn’t even know what to do when it’s hungry. Once it gets used to the idea of a full stomach, it will learn to beg properly, and soon it will be learning skills baby crows need to survive. I’ll have my hands full for the next few months with its care, and will learn new things from raising it. I wonder if the people who did this to it have also learned a lesson?