Overestimation of own possibilities/ability
Raising a baby orphan crow is often seen as easy and very tempting, especially because they look so cute.
People who mean well and with some experience with other bird species, sometimes fall into the trap of “giving it a go”, even when expert help and advice is at hand. It’s not enough to mean well, you have to try and think about doing the right thing and that is giving the bird the best possible second chance he or she deserves.
Another mistake is not to think about the effort required and the financial implications of caring for a crow bird.
In the end, the bird may be imprinted on humans unintentionally, released prematurely, or by choosing the wrong release method, the wrong release site, or the wrong release time.
Raising a single crow
Raising a baby crow results in some imprinting on humans, the human habitat or pets. However, it would be wrong to think that this is merely an undesirable function. Imprinting is essential for life and survival. But the question is on whom the animal is imprinted. Birds are “pre-programmed” for many things in their future lives, but they also have to learn the art of finding food, catching food and social interactions and behaviours from their parents. Songbirds can sing by default, but they need to “learn the tune” from those around them, those who are normally their parents. Imprinting in animals in general involves sight, sound and smell. In addition, imprinting becomes stronger when the animal is under stress, which is undoubtedly a survival mechanism.
The irreversible imprinting process occurs only in a fixed time window. This is the critical period, learning after this period has various weaker effects. To counteract the risk of imprinting, companionship with individuals of the same or similar bird species is crucial, which means that crow birds in particular should never be reared alone. As many of these young patients need long-term rehabilitation, it is also important to understand and recognise their social needs during the maturation process, a process that takes many months if not years.
Lack of rehabilitation facilities
One of the most common mistakes made in this context is that the facilities provided are usually too small and inadequately equipped to be used, which often leads to injuries, chronic diseases such as gout or damaged plumage. Crow birds are very curious and destructive. The materials to be used in a crow aviary must be safe and must be checked and monitored constantly for wear and tear to eliminate a potential cause of injury. Avoid items that birds can eat, swallow and bite/chew on (never use staples to secure netting and ensure that these are not left in place if using newspaper).
Although it is possible to combine different species of crows, constant monitoring should always be remembered as rapid changes in the flock can occur at any time. Maturation, mating, hierarchical disputes, mood swings and hormonal changes during the breeding season and predation are just a few of the factors that affect the stability of a mini-flock. It is best to get camera surveillance for the birds. It is available from 350 crowns and up!
Underestimating the importance of hygiene
The necessity of keeping a large group of crows in a confined area for an extended period of time can be a challenge when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. The problem increases exponentially with the number of animals being cared for and the good intentions of creating a small artificial habitat, which would ideally allow the animals to behave and act naturally. When testing crow birds, it becomes obvious that almost all of them are carriers of Coccidia and worms. Although it is possible to treat these birds individually, this becomes a greater problem and challenge when birds are housed in a larger communal aviary, where flock treatment is the only option. It is also impossible and indeed not advisable to completely eliminate these diseases, but it seems necessary to keep infection levels as low as possible.
Although crows are known to be omnivores, their diet varies considerably, from species to species and over the seasons. For example, only about 40% of the crow’s diet consists of animal protein, and this is mainly worms, insects and larvae. Rooks usually eat meat, as their beaks are not designed to tear animal carcasses into manageable pieces. The remaining 60% of the rooks diet is plant-based products such as fruits, seeds and vegetables. In winter, crows prefer seeds, berries and animal foods, while in summer they feed mainly on animal protein such as snails, worms, insects, small mammals and eggs. These species-specific facts should be taken into account when creating the menu for crow patients. Baby crows should primarily be fed an insect-based or adequate animal protein-based diet. Despite the fact that baby crows are fed slugs and worms by their parents, these should not be fed to birds, as they carry parasites such as coccidia or roundworms, which are then likely to be transmitted. Canned dog or cat food is also not suitable and will lead to serious digestive problems in the short and long term. Additional vitamin, mineral and calcium supplements are recommended, as crows are prone to develop calcium deficiencies leading to feather damage. Whole mouse chicks should be fed to chicks older than two weeks. These can be bought frozen in different sizes (pinkie without fur, fuzzy with fur) in most pet shops. Of course, these should be thawed thoroughly and possibly cut into smaller pieces before feeding to the bird. This is done so that the young crow develops the ability to produce pellets in its stomach that will be needed when it is released to hunt and eat whole small animals. Once the birds are of nestling age, species-specific dietary preferences become even more important and should be taken into account.
Misinterpretation of behaviour
One of the most common mistakes made is the misinterpretation of normal crow bird behaviour, mainly due to lack of knowledge and experience, but also sometimes due to anthropomorphic reasons. Crows are highly intelligent and social animals that can read and interpret the good or bad intentions and behaviour patterns of other animals, including humans.
There is a big difference between “submissive behaviour” in captivity and being truly tame or imprinted. Young crows have not yet learned to regard humans as dangerous and will cooperate eagerly when fed. At that point, the risk of imprinting is greatest, but it does not have to be that way.
Adult crows can also adapt very well to a situation where they are in captivity, especially when they realise that the human caretaker is providing food and pain relief. They will remain calm when unrestrained and when a minimum of privacy is allowed, at least as long as they need to recover from their injuries.
Long-term patients often form a personalised bond with their carers, which is broken when the animal feels ready to leave the rehabilitation facility. All these behavioural variations have nothing to do with imprinting or taming and are simply signs of the birds’ amazing ability to adapt to these unique situations. It is important to recognise the difference, as this basic ability of a good rehabilitator will determine the patient’s future and chance of survival.
Mistakes in species identification and age estimation
Animals are sometimes rescued unnecessarily, with good intentions. A young lone bird on low branches or on the ground has not necessarily been abandoned, as chicks of many bird species will spend a few days on the ground before their feather development is complete and they can fly. Parents are nearby and will feed the chick as soon as they deem it safe. To make an informed decision, whether an animal needs to be rescued or not, you need to find out what species it belongs to and how old it is. A young cub that looks healthy and curious but is sitting on the ground, unable to get to higher ground (trees), will not be fed by its parents and needs help. On the other hand, a healthy baby crow sitting on the ground will usually be defended by its parents. Birds that were not ready to leave the nest (any species), will not survive without human intervention. However, the degree of human intervention varies from going back and observing the situation, moving the bird out of a risk zone and putting it back on higher ground (a tree), to taking the animal to human care. Species identification and determination of the correct age are also crucial for the correct choice of release site and time.
Underestimating the importance of the choice of emission area and timing
All long-term patients who have been in captivity for more than 2 or 3 weeks should always receive a “soft release”. Juvenile crows are not ready for release until they are 5 or 6 months old, which is usually in late summer after their first partial moult. This allows them to reach full growth and can build up strength. The preferred release time is the end of August. Also note that it would lead to a horrible death if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival. This could include release in an inappropriate location, in the wrong territory, at the wrong time of year, or when the bird has not yet learned to hunt.
Lack of knowledge about species-specific behaviour and ecology
The most common mistake made is wrong species identification combined with a lack of species-specific knowledge. Ravens breed in colonies or “rookeries” (is there a word in English?), because they are highly social animals. Crows are territorial and have well-defined breeding territories, which are very fixed but tend to shrink and expand slightly during and outside the breeding season. This means that the territory has a single breeding site, which will be defended against intruders. Sometimes another so-called third bird, usually the children of the territory-owning pair from the previous year, may stay on the edge of the occupied territory, helping the territory to defend its foundations. Outside the breeding season and in winter, crows become more sociable and sometimes mingle with rooks. When releasing juveniles or long-term residents, a “soft release” is the best option. For short-term patients or a scenario with complications (e.g. area with heavy traffic or proximity to people who have been shown to hate crows), the release site should be chosen very carefully. The place where the bird has been found may not necessarily be the best place for his or her release. Neither crows nor ravens should be released into an occupied crow roost, especially during the breeding season. An area where there are crows or rooks that are not expecting/have children would be an ideal place for release. A “soft release” works best when the rehabilitation facility is located in an unoccupied crow area, or near a rookery.
Misinterpretation of feathering anomalies and their consequences
Leucism is a general term for defects in pigment cell differentiation. It is a condition in which a partial loss of pigmentation results in white, pale or mottled coloration of the skin, feathers and scales (the ones on their legs ), but not the eyes. Leucism can be caused by a decrease in all types of pigment, unlike albinism, which only affects melanin production. Leucism is sometimes found in crows, which may show varying degrees of white or pale feathers in an otherwise normal plumage. These feathers are often more prone to wear and tear, making the bird potentially more conspicuous and vulnerable to attack.
In addition to mainly genetic causes, poor diet (McDonald’s disease!) causing calcium or folic acid deficiency, or the condition seen in Australian ravens due to a circovirus infection, can also result. Agricultural pesticides have also been found to have a direct impact on reducing the availability of food and insects. Insects are essential from a dietary point of view for almost all bird species. Pesticides lead directly and indirectly to the search for alternative and often inferior food substitutes and can also lead to a progressive weakening of the immune system in adult and young birds, increasing mortality in general, but more often leading to varying degrees of plumage and skeletal abnormalities.
Understanding the difference between inherited and acquired plumage abnormalities is crucial, as acquired plumage problems can be corrected, whereas inherited causes cannot.