A few days before Memorial Day weekend, I was busy cleaning the back porch, readying for the arrival of family. While looking out on the wooded canyon, as I often do, I noticed something hopping near the dry creek. My eyesight is not as good as it used to be so I dashed in the house for my binoculars. I figured it was a bird of some kind. It is normal to see fledglings in the spring and I find myself bird watching a lot. Sure enough, it was a baby crow. He was huge! I decided to photograph the young fledgling, though it didn’t seem to be attempting to fly at all. He occasionally hopped away if I got too close, and seemed confused about where to go. After I walked back to the house, I noticed the parents taking turns feeding the baby. They were never far away.
In the days that followed, I watched the baby crow hop around, then crouch low. The parents kept an eye on “Junior” while they searched for food nearby. Now and then the parents would exchange the “CAW, CAW, CAAAW” call that I have always found annoying. Each day I observed the trio, noting the attentiveness of the parents and the relentless feeding of their young charge. He appeared to be the only offspring.
In a month the little crow family could be seen combing the pastures for food, most likely insects. I sometimes observed them in the blackberries early in the morning. I never paid much attention to what else crows ate, that is, not until they began using my homespun bird baths as cleaning stations for their “crow kill”. I can tell you I wasn’t too happy to find other bird’s egg shells discarded in or near the bird baths, and small skeletal remains of who knows what left in the water. One day the crow family was gathered around the bird bath sharing something bloody for lunch. I observed one parent patiently ripping away small bits of flesh, offering it to Junior, who gulped it down heartily. The other parent waited for its share. When they left, I walked over to find what appeared to be the remnants of a small lizard. Before long, I got into the habit of cleaning the bird baths often, refilling with fresh water. The crow family sure was a messy bunch!
The summer sun brought scorching heat. I often saw the crows getting water at the bird baths or searching for food under shade trees in the pasture. By now the young juvenile was flying. His landings were awkward. I would often observe the parents flying from a branch to a fence post. Junior would take the same route, each time making a clumsy landing. The parents “cawed” in encouragement. Before long, the youngster was learning to “caw” like his parents. The transition from juvenile call to adult is quite comical. While the parents belted out the well-known, “CAW, CAW, CAAAAW, the youngster’s flat, “WHAH?” sounded more like a question. It was nothing like the deep, annoying acoustics of his parents. For weeks this went on. The young crow improved in flight and food foraging skills, but the call remained juvenile. At some point he became more confident, belting out his repertoire of calls, but all of them sounded strangely inept. I began to wonder if he had some type of intellectual disability.
By autumn the trio was still together, and now they attacked my tomato patch just as it was making a comeback from the summer heat. I often saw them raiding the chicken yard, picking up scratch before the chickens could clean it up. The biggest of them stood watch while the other two stalked around snapping up grain. They continued to leave their messy discards at my bird baths. One day I was walking under a cedar tree when something fell right in front of my face and thumped to the ground. It was a dead vole! My first thought was, “Voles don’t climb trees!!” and then I looked up. Perched above was one of the crow parents. It flew off, leaving its dinner at my feet.
The cold weather arrived and with it came sightings of more crows, most of them congregating in the woods and beyond. Still, I saw the little crow family off in a pasture, the chicken yard, or in our front yard looking for whatever bugs, small rodents or varmints they could find. Surely by now, Junior should be on his own. What kind of bird stayed with the folks that long?
Last week I had the camera out to photograph Daisy deer, playing in the rain. There in the front yard, amidst the puddles, was the crow family. I snapped a couple of shots of them, then headed inside and decided it was time to find out more about this interesting trio that still had their young charge tagging along. Referring to a link by Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/babycrow.htm I discovered the crow family I had been observing all year was completely normal. Usually, there are more “kids”, but in a drought year, who knows what happened. I also learned something else; I hope I am never asked to raise an orphaned or injured baby crow. They depend on their parents to feed them for about 2 to 3 months, and survival skills are learned over the period of a full year.
I read that crows raised by humans make excellent pets, and can easily be trained. But they cannot live on their own in the wild after imprinting with a human. This puts the responsibility of care solely on the owner, for the life of the crow. With that knowledge, should someone bring me a baby crow, there is no question in my mind about whether or not to raise it. Sometimes life’s decisions can be heart-wrenching and quite difficult.
Yes, sadly, I will be that woman with a crow on my shoulder, wandering through the woods in search of insects, worms and small varmints, belting out, “CAW, CAW, CAAAAW!”
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