Friday, May 18, 2012

Bird Days Part I: Something to Crow About

It's been a week for the birds. Really.

On late Monday afternoon, on my way to quench the thirst of our parched vegetables growing in the front yard, I was hailed by my neighbor across the street. The problem: Bird troubles.

I walked over to their house to find out the problem only to see a young, black crow smashed up against the bottom stone step, not moving. This did not look good. It kind of looked like it had flown into the step almost like a cartoon character smashes up against a wall.

Just to preface this situation, I think we're known as the animal folks in our neighborhood. We fostered a baby crow nine years ago that fell out of its nest and was injured. No rescue place would take it (believe me, we tried to find a way to foist that responsibility off on someone else.) Nurturing the little crow was an incredible amount of work, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. I still respond internally to the sounds of a baby crow's call -- kind of like once you're a mom, you instinctively respond to the cries of other infants.

In our shared neighborhood history, my husband has also shown the neighborhood kids a variety of snakes, lizards, rats and mice that he has caught. Flashback to the time we accidentally killed two parent mice (actually I think we relocated one prior to our knowledge about the young 'uns and the other was accidentally done away with when my husband took out the drawer to try to catch it and then unfortunately squished it when he put the drawer outside.) Subsequently, we found out that they had babies after the fact. One at a time. We would be sitting in the living room and then see a streak go buy in the kitchen. So, we ended up catching each baby in the humane trap over a course of a week.

They seemed way too young to be able to survive on their own in the wild. They were wee little things (actually, really cute and silly.) Usually, if we encounter any kind of rodent problem, we catch the rodents in a live trap and then move them out to the hills where there are no human residents close by -- this way they have a shot a life or end up being someone's dinner rather then us having to distasteful do away with them in a snap trap or some other killing device.

So, we ended up caring for these little mice babies in a special aquarium box until we deemed them old enough to be let go in the big, bad world out there. It was kind of fun. An educational experience. Did I mention that we home-school?

Okay, we're suckers. Bleeding-hearts. Animal crazy. Whatever you want to call us.

Back to Monday: So, after observing the crow for a moment, I could see he was a fledgling by his feathers -- meaning he was just learning how to fly.  He wasn't a wee one (I felt secretly relieved because, now that I think of it, these same neighbors were the ones we inherited the other crow from. While that was a wonderful learning experience, I really didn't want to try to add another animal rehabilitation endeavor to my overburdened schedule right now.)

The young crow had beautiful, dark mature feathers growing in.  But, his neck was jammed up against the step and he wasn't moving at all. "Please, don't let it be broken,"  I prayed.

I had several warring emotions going on. One was worry for this crow's physical health; I find an injured animal upsetting, especially when its injuries are mortal. Another was worry for me -- hell, I did not want to have take on another animal injury case; I am way overloaded in my life right now. At the same time, I felt in awe of the moment and excited by the opportunity to be in close contact with a wild animal. Such a moment seems sacred to me -- rare and special.

I gently picked him up by scooping him under his breast and under his feet, carefully moving him and cradling him in my hands against my body. I could feel his feet grip around my fingers.  As I moved him away from the step, his head seemed normal -- it didn't tilt in an odd way - which looked good to me. His wings didn't appear broken. I moved my hand down a bit to check out his feet and make sure he wasn't lame.

I noticed blood on my finger. His blood, not mine. I got a little worried, but when I really inspected his feet they seemed to be gripping my fingers just fine. No toes curled up in lameness. Looking more closely, there was a scrape on the top of one leg going onto his foot that was bleeding a little. Didn't look like worse case scenario. Phew.

His mouth opened slightly. My neighbors were concerned about giving him food - so I suggested some dog food soaked in water - but he wasn't interested in eating. Really, he seemed in shock. Of the flight, fight or freeze reactions, he seemed to be in freeze. Poor guy, probably thought he was going to be lunch.

I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to hold him in my hands. It brought back so many memories about our other experience with our foster crow, Henke. To have the chance to hold a magnificent wild animal in your hands is just so cool. I felt a warm feeling in my heart. I loved looking at his blue-grey eyes, feeling his shiny, silky feathers and feeling the weight of him in my hands. I felt really blessed to get the chance to hold him.

He seemed fine enough that we just needed to find a safe place to put him where his parents could find him and he wouldn't get attacked by a cat. First thought was my neighbor's roof. But, once we got up on the balcony and my neighbor got on the roof, it seemed decidedly too slanted and unsafe - we could imagine the poor thing rolling to his death if his foot wasn't really sturdy.

Back to the drawing board. I didn't like the idea of the plants or the ground. Too many cats. The ash trees were really tall -- we would need a ladder and still we had the problem of not knowing the exact damage to his foot and if he would be able to stay in the tree safely. In the end, we ended up putting him on top of their car on a towel with some wet dog food. That way his parents could find him.

My husband later suggested to our neighbors that they might want to put him on their balcony during the night so he would be safer. I didn't know about this suggestion until the morning and I woke up in the middle of the night totally freaked out with alarm because I realized that on the car he was a sitting duck (or crow!) for owls.

My neighbors got busy and forgot to move the fledgling crow. I found this out in the morning from my neighbor when I woke up really early to go check on him. He wasn't there.  We didn't see the young bird anywhere.

There was, however, a big crow poop that looked pretty fresh on the top their car (I am very familiar with crow poop). And no feathers left over from an attack. So, I was hopeful that the little guy wasn't an owl dinner, but reunited with his parents.

As it turned out, the fledgling did survive the night. We discovered this when our neighbor told us that the crow was on their porch hiding behind the large, blue planters. Sure enough, as the Bee and I observed through our window looking at our neighbor's porch, every now and then the little guy would peep out or start strutting around back and forth in front of their door.

He looked good. Neck fine. Wings fine. Legs and feet in darn good shape. Everything appeared to be working. And he survived the night!

That morning we could hear several mature crows calling out and saw them flying around our neighborhood. His parents had to be out there.

The Bee loved observing him and asked lots of questions. Eventually I needed to go grocery shopping and move on with my day -- the Bee was decidedly unhappy about this. Did I mention that our children are animal crazy, too? Apparently, there is a genetic component to this strange madness.

Later, when I our saw our neighbor's teenage son, I asked about the bird and he said that he wasn't there anymore. I felt both happy and sad. Happy, because I do believe he fully recovered and managed to fly off to be with his family again once he figured out what to do.  Sad, because that moment of interaction with a beautiful, wild creature was gone.

And yet, it stays with me -- the moment where two different species interact and affect one another. One gives the gift of caring and help. The other gives the gift of appreciation for the magnificence of life. Something to crow about.


  1. Great article! I'm the guilty neighbor who takes all hurt wild animals and birds to you guys! hahaha Because I know you guys know what to do.

  2. Awww! We love you guilty neighbor! You've given us some wonderful animal encounters - thank you sooooo much...