First Aid for Birds – How to help a Grounded Corvid Fledgling

Introduction

It is nesting season and corvid fledglings are about to leave their nests to start the big adventure of life. Corvid fledglings are fully feathered and healthy looking birds, who can perch, stand and hop by themselves. They are already able to fly short distances. Fledglings of many bird species leave the nest at this stage, and for good reasons. If they would remain in the nest, predators could have an easy meal, killing the whole brood at once. Leaving the nest and hiding scattered in trees, in the undergrowth or in bushes, even when not fully developed and not being able to fly properly, is the best way to increase survival chances. It gives fledglings the time and required exercise to improve their flying skills, which often takes less than a week of daily practice, after they have left the nest.

The Special Case of Corvid Fledglings

If you have found a fledgling on the ground, and you are not sure what to do, then please contact your local experienced friendly bird rescue and get expert advice. Generally speaking, healthy fledglings on the ground do not usually need human help, unless they have entered a danger zone like a road. Their parents are most likely nearby and are waiting for us to move away to get a chance to feed their hungry youngsters. However, rook fledglings found on the ground are an exception from the rule, together with a few other bird species such as common swifts or barn owls. Unlike carrion crows, rook fledglings found on the ground may need help as they will not be fed by their parents.

The Importance of Species Identification

It is important to identify the correct species of bird found on the ground. Rook and carrion crow fledglings are looking very much alike. The safest piece of information to work with is the location where the bird has been found. Rooks are social and gregarious birds and nest closely together in so called rookeries, whilst crows are more solitary and territorial and will occupy a single nest in a large corvid free territory. There are of course other criteria like plumage colouration or shape and size of head and beak, but these can be confusing for inexperienced people.

The Importance of a Quick Health Check

The next important step is to check the fledgling quickly over to assess his or her general health and nutritional condition. Please note that it is not a problem or risk for the fledgling to be handled. The parents will not reject their offspring, as corvids have little or no sense of smell. However, please do keep contact to a minimum. And do not forget that it is likely that you are being watched! It is often easier to pick up a bird by gently covering him or her with a cloth first. Please check for injuries, wounds, external parasites, discharge from nostrils or the cloaca. Other problems to look out for are broken, damaged, discoloured or white feathers. The nutritional state of the bird is very important too, as a malnourished bird will not have a good survival chance. If the keel-bone is very prominent, then the bird shows signs of malnourishment and starvation. Coughing or gaping can also be an indicator for a high internal parasite burden. Please note that birds will also gape when stressed or feel hot, whilst being handled or covered. Animals showing any of the signs described above should not be released, but taken immediately to an experienced corvid friendly rescue to be properly assessed.

Carrion Crow Fledglings

If the carrion crow fledgling is healthy and the area is otherwise safe, then the best course of action is to leave the bird where found, or to put the animal onto a safe branch. Please watch at least for one hour from a safe distance to make sure that the parents return and feed the youngster. If a crow fledgling needs to be taken in overnight, then the postponed reunification attempt has to be done with upmost care. Crows are more aggressive than rooks towards ‘intruders’, and may attack or even kill their own offspring, in particular when being separated for more than 24 hours. Please bear in mind that one often does not know for how long the fledgling has been already separated from its parents.

Rook Fledglings

If the rook fledgling is uninjured and healthy, then it is recommended to put the bird onto a reachable high tree branch and to observe from a safe distance to ensure that his or her parents attend. This should only be done during daylight hours and not overnight, as survival chances are otherwise low. After nightfall it is safer to postpone a planned reunification attempt and to try again the next morning by taking the bird into human care overnight. If the parents are not coming back within one or two hours to feed the youngster, then it is advisable to secure the bird and to bring him or her to an experienced corvid friendly bird rescue, where the bird will be raised together with other birds if its own kind.

The Importance of Observation

It is very important to observe the fledgling closely, and if in doubt to ask for expert advice or help from your local corvid friendly bird rescue. The behaviour of the fledgling, but also of its parents, siblings or other birds of the same kind, will provide an important piece of information, which can make it necessary to abort a reunification attempt and to take the bird into human care. If the bird is getting completely ignored or even attacked, something else might be seriously wrong. There are often reasons, which are not always easy to appreciate. Therefore it is important to make sure that the fledgling is physically and psychologically healthy before being released. Birds, who will not stay on the tree branch they have been put on, or call desperately without visible response from their parents despite them being around, could have significant underlying problems and should not be released. Developmental problems are not uncommon and usually effect the runt of the brood. Unusual behaviour or unexpected responses of the fledgling may result in parents abandon their offspring. It is worth knowing that many of these developmental issues are curable, but only in the hands of experienced rehabbers with access to longterm care facilities.

Plumage Aberrations and their Consequences

If the grounded rook or carrion crow fledgling shows white or broken wing or tail feathers, then this is often caused by a nutritional deficiency. No reunification attempt is indicated, as it is unlikely that this bird will survive his or her first winter. The deficient plumage will quickly deteriorate further, which means that these birds may become sooner or later grounded and will get easily wet and hypothermic. At this point these birds may become unable to sustain themselves and die of starvation or predation. A release is not indicated before they have completed their first annual moult, which will happen for fledglings hatched this year in the summer and autumn of the following calendar year. These birds need longterm expert care to allow the damaged feathers to be completely replaced.

What to do when the Fledgling is Poorly

If it turns out that the bird found is injured or poorly, and you take the animal home, please do not put him or her somewhere overnight to see whether the animal is still alive the next morning, unless you have been advised otherwise. Please contact your local wildlife rescue as soon as possible, and let them decide what the best approach is going to be. Just think of how you would like to be treated, if you feel poorly and lost. The chances of survival are decreasing by the minute. Please do not forget that all animals feel pain like you do! If the animal is very badly injured, then again, do not wait and let the animal suffer! Please contact an experienced wildlife rescue or veterinary surgery immediately, as euthanasia might be the kindest option in these hopeless situations.

Ethical Considerations

Many people feel tempted to raise their ‘cute’ corvid rescue bird by their own. Please do not attempt this, unless you have got the expertise, corvid company and setup needed to give the bird the best second chance he or she deserves. Animals are sentient beings and individuals and are not objects for human pleasure. They should be treated with respect and dignity and are not to be used or experimented with. If you truly care about the welfare of the rescued animal, then please bring the animal to an experienced wildlife rescue or rehabber.

Expected Problems

Every bird species has got very specific dietary, emotional and social needs. Corvids should not be raised or kept by their own. During the many years of being involved in wildlife rescue, we are being approached every year to help out with birds, who have been raised on a wrong diet, show a severely damaged plumage, signs of organ failure or severe developmental and interpersonal problems. Corvids raised without adequate company are bound to become imprinted. To release an imprinted animal is not just illegal and cruel, it is most likely its death sentence. Sadly, this is a common problem because many ‘hobby rehabber’ underestimate the inquisitive, demanding and potentially destructive nature of corvids and let them go when things spiral out of control. These birds will not be able to survive very long. They are often lacking basic survival, communication and other essential social skills, which they would normally acquire over a long period of time by interaction with their own kind.

Please give your rescue bird the second chance he or she deserves!

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