Magpie Immanuel

Magpie Immanuel

Admission – 22/04/2017

Immanuel is an immature second year magpie, who has been observed being grounded in a garden for several days. Whilst being in hiding, Immanuel has been attacked by a cat, but luckily managed to escape. He has been eventually caught, when he was seeking shelter in a conservatory following the cat attack.

The admission assessment revealed no obvious injuries, but showed a loss of all tail feathers and severely damaged primaries and secondaries involving both wings rendering the bird being unable to fly. Immanuel has been treated prophylactically with antibiotics to prevent a potentially fatal infection caused by bugs transmitted by the cat. As the plumage has been found to be severely damaged,  Immanuel needs to undergo a complete or post breeding moult, which is usually happening over the summer and is going to be completed by the end of September. This also means, that Immanuel needs to stay with us for almost half a year before being releasable. 

Magpie Immanuel

Wild, and in particular adult wild magpies can be difficult patients, as they are often very nervous and easily excitable birds, who may have the tendency to harm themselves when being kept in captivity in a type of aviary, which doesn’t completely suit their needs. Sufficient shelter and hiding spaces are crucial to allow these birds to feel undisturbed and to relax in a captive environment.  Magpies enjoy to cache their food items and need therefore suitable areas,  where they can do so. It can be also sometimes difficult to introduce magpies into mixed species groups, as other corvid species are commonly reluctant to accept magpies amongst them. Although jackdaws are the most likely species to be tolerant enough to accept magpie company, it is more about the individual personalities than the species itself, as we had positive outcomes with jackdaws, crows, jays and rooks. Age and previous negative or positive experiences seem to play a role as well, as does the degree of maturity and the time of the year in respect of the breeding season. Generally speaking, mixed setups of this kind have to be closely monitored as they are prone to seemingly sudden change.

Update – 03/09/2017

Magpie Immanuel is doing well in his outdoor aviary, which he is sharing with magpie Kiri and jackdaws Benno and Kojak. He has moulted most of his primary and secondary feathers and has also regrown his tail feathers. The result looks promising and we are now hopeful that Immanuel can be released by the end of September, when his moult is completed. 

 

Magpie Immanuel

Update – 23/09/2017

Today magpie Immanuel has been successfully soft released. Stay safe Immanuel!

Finding The Optimal Diet For Corvids

Carrion crow Amor

Although corvids are generally known as scavengers and omnivores, the diet of the different corvids species does vary considerably, from species to species, and over the seasons of the year.  Only about 40% of the rooks’ diet for example consists of animal protein, and those being mainly worms, bugs and larvae. They usually don’t eat carrion, as their beak is not designed and able to rip animal carcasses into manageable pieces. The remaining 60% of the rooks’ diet are plant-based products like fruits, seeds and vegetables. During the winter time, carrion crows prefer seeds, berries and carrion, whilst during the summertime they do mainly live on animal protein like snails, worms, insects, small mammals and eggs. 

Carrion crow Amor

Hatchlings And Nestlings Up To 3 Weeks

When raising hatchling corvids it is important to feed a purely insect based diet for the first two weeks of their lives. Ideally these birds should be fed on an insect mash consisting of the following ingredients:

  • Frozen fresh insects like crickets and wax worms
  • Mineral and vitamin mixture like Korvimin ZVT+Reptile (WDT)
  • Boiled egg yolk
  • Soaked NutriBird Bird Complete pellets (Versele-Laga)
  • Minced beef
  • Small amounts of feathers and fur should be added to the mash occasionally, but only when the bird is older than 2 weeks, which will help to produce pellets

Alternatively one can also create a baby food mixture (Modified recipe,  original recipe by Samantha Bedford of Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue) based on the following ingredients:

  • 2 parts ground up (80%) chicken biscuits (Applaws Kitten Food Chicken)
  • 1 part Hagen Tropicana Breeding Mash
  • 1 part Heath’s Prosecto Insectivorous Soft Food
  • Dried ants, flies and daphnia
  • Korvimin ZVT+Reptile by WDT (Nutrobal for Birds by Vetark)
  • Bene-Bac Powder for Birds and Reptiles by PetAg (AviPro Plus by Vetark)

Carrion crow Amor

Nestlings Older Than 3 Weeks

When the bird turns 3 weeks,  we would start reducing the amount of mash and introduce soaked cat biscuits in addition to the mash fed, which are of an ideal consistency and therefore easy to use for hand feeding. GoCat Chicken and Duck Complete pet food for adult cats (Purina) is well suited for corvids, as it provides the needed high protein contents required. It contains 20% rehydrated meat and animal derivatives, with a minimum 4% chicken and 4% duck (30.0% protein, 10.0% fat content). Tinned dog or cat foods are not a suitable diet for corvids and will most likely cause diarrhoea.

Carrion crow Amor

Fledglings

When the birds have fledged, a broader variety of food items will be added to the daily corvid menu, which will be provided in addition to hand feeding in a dish to encourage self feeding. Food will be supplemented with Korvimin ZVT+Reptile by WDT (Nutrobal for Birds by Vetark) to avoid a calcium deficiency. Alternatively one could also grind thoroughly cleaned empty snail shells, which make a good cheap, natural and easily digestible calcium supplement. The basic diet plan for all corvid species consists of:

  • Soaked cat biscuits (GoCat Chicken and Duck Complete pet food for adult cats (Purina)
  • Minced beef
  • Vegetables (fresh corn or maize, corn on the cob or peas)
  • Fruits (berries, grapes, apple or pear)
  • Scottish Rough Oatcakes
  • Good quality bird food seed mix enriched with peanuts, suet pellets and dried meal worms
  • Live meal worms (larval form of the mealworm beetle – tenebrio molitor) and wax worms (larval form of the wax moth – galleria mellonella)
  • Dead or frozen fresh insects like crickets, calci–worms (larval form of the black soldier fly hermetia illucens) or natural pinkies (larval forms of bottle flies)
  • Hazelnuts or walnuts for jays
  • Occasional food items in particular for crows include dead mice, day old chicks, raw pigeon eggs and cuttle fish bone

Worms and snails must not to be fed to corvids, although being part of their natural diet, as they are carriers of coccidia and worms. Although birds are being encouraged to feed themselves, assisted hand feeding needs to continue until the birds are completely weaned. Fledglings should also be moved into a suitable and spacious aviary, where they can learn to forage and are able to cache food.

 

Top 10 Mistakes Made In Corvid Rescue And Rehabilitation

Carrion crow Chili

During many years of corvid rescue and rehabilitation we came across a number of serious mistakes being made by presumably experienced and unexperienced individuals or rehabbers alike. We would like to share our observations and experiences in the hope that these sometimes fatal mistakes will not be made again, hopefully saving the lives of many corvids in need of help.

Overestimation of one’s own capabilities

Raising an orphaned baby corvid is often seen as easy and very tempting, in particular as the finder is often ‘persuaded’ by the cute and interactive attitude of baby corvids. Lay people, but sometimes even rehabber with some degree of experience with other bird species, ever so often get into the trap of ‘giving it a go’, even when expert help and advice is being at hand. Despite meaning well, it is sadly rather more often about the own ego than the genuine wish to give the bird the best possible second chance he or she deserves. One of the common mistakes being made is that the effort and financial implications needed to raise a corvid are often greatly underestimated, and so are the needs of a sentient being, who is being degraded as an object of experimentation.  Ever so often birds will be inadvertently imprinted on humans and prematurely released by choosing an insufficient release method, the wrong release site or the wrong release time.

Raising corvids as sole individuals without adequate company

Raising a nestling corvid by his or her own will without exception result in some degree of imprinting on humans, the human habitat or pets. However, it would be wrong and one of those mistakes to believe that imprinting is a negative or undesired feature. Imprinting as such is essential for life and survival. But the question is to whom the animal is being imprinted on. Birds are ‘hard-wired’ to many things in their future lives, but they also need to learn the art of feeding, catching prey or social interactions and behaviours from their parents. Songbirds can sing by default, but they do need to ‘learn the tune’ from those around them, those normally being their parents. Imprinting in animals in general can involve more than one sense. It can involve sight, sound and smell.  Furthermore, the imprinting becomes stronger when the animal is under stress, which is in no doubt a survival mechanism. Imprinting is an interaction between instinct and learning. The irreversible and species specific process of imprinting occurs only in a fixed time window. This is the critical period, learning after this period has different weaker effects. To counteract the risk of imprinting, company of a same or similar species bird is crucial, meaning that corvids in particular should never being raised by their own. As many of these young patients are in need of long-term rehabilitation, it is also crucial to understand and to recognise their social needs during the process of maturing, a process which takes many months if not years. One of the mistakes commonly made is that the importance of the help provided by releasable and also unreleasable wild adult birds is underestimated, or not utilised at all, which in fact is an essential tool to teach young birds necessary social skills and behavioural patterns they require for their survival.

Inadequacy of rehabilitation facilities

The fact that corvids should not be raised by their own, the species specific needs and the common requirement for long-term rehabilitation facilities with adequate company, which includes the interaction with unreleasable adult possibly disabled birds, is a challenge in itself, which is often completely ignored or at the very least underestimated. One of the common mistakes being made in this context is that the facilities provided are usually too small and inadequately equipped to be fit for purpose, which is leading often to injuries, chronic diseases like bumble foot or damaged plumage. Corvids are very inquisitive and destructive. The materials to be used in an corvid aviary have to be safe and need to be checked and monitored constantly for wear and tear to eliminate a potential cause of injury.  Although it is possible to combine different corvid species, one should always bear in mind, that the artificially created corvid society is a fragile and dynamic element, which needs constant monitoring and which is subject to frequent and sometimes rapid change at any time. Maturing, pair formation, hierarchical disputes, mood  and hormonal changes during breeding season and moulting are only a few of the causes influencing the stability of a mini flock. CCTV monitoring is an expensive but very useful tool, which allows undisturbed and unbiased observation of behaviour and social interactions between birds, allowing early interference before problems occur.  Sound knowledge and understanding of corvid species specific behaviour is the key, which unfortunately is often completely lacking, being ignored or at least regarded as unimportant.

Underestimation of the importance of hygiene 

The necessity of keeping a larger group of corvids in a confined area for a longer period of time harbours another challenge, which is to maintain a basic hygiene  and cleanliness system. The problem increases exponentially with the number of animals cared for and the good intentions to create a small artificial habitat, which should ideally allow the animals to behave and act naturally. It becomes apparent, when testing corvid patients, that almost all of them are carriers of coccidia and worms. Although it is possible to treat these birds individually, it becomes a bigger problem and challenge when birds are residing in a larger communal aviary, where flock treatment is the only option. It is also impossible and actually not advisable to completely eliminate these diseases, but is seems necessary to keep infection levels as low as possible. Therefore a larger communal aviary will always be a compromise between the ideal case scenario of a species specific nature habitat and a place which can be easily cleaned and maintained to minimise the potential infection risk due to the build up of infected faecal material in areas created for foraging and food caching as well as due to the run off of contaminated material into the surrounding environment creating a potential infection source for wild animals like ground feeding blackbirds or thrushes, but also hedgehogs and rodents.  This is in particular a problem with coccidia,  as the oocysts have resistant cell walls and are discharged unsporulated in the faeces. Oocysts do not survive well at temperatures below -30°C or above +40°C. However, within this temperature range oocysts may survive for more than one year and will sporulate or become infective in as little as 24 hours under optimum conditions in a humid environment between +25ºC and +30ºC.

Raising corvids on an insufficient or suboptimal diet

Although corvids are known to be scavengers and omnivores, the diet of the different corvids species does vary considerably, from species to species and over the seasons of the year.  Only about 40% of the rooks’ diet for example consists of animal protein, and those being mainly worms, bugs and larvae. They usually don’t eat carrion, as their beak is not designed and able to rip animal carcasses into manageable pieces. The remaining 60% of the rooks’ diet are plant-based products like fruits, seeds and vegetables. During the winter time, carrion crows prefer seeds, berries and carrion, whilst during the summertime they also do mainly live on animal protein like snails, worms, insects, small mammals and eggs. These species specific facts should be taken in consideration when creating the menu for corvid patients. Nestling corvids should be primarily fed on an insect or adequate animal protein based diet. However, despite the fact that nestling corvids are being fed snails and worms by their parents, these should not be fed to birds when hand raising them, as internal parasites like coccidia or round worms are likely to be transmitted. Tinned dog or cat food is not suitable either and will lead to severe digestive short and long-term problems. Additional vitamin, mineral and calcium supplements are recommended, as corvids are prone to develop calcium deficiencies resulting in rachitis and feather damage. Pellet producing materials like small pieces of fur or feathers should be mixed under the baby food when older than 2 weeks. When the birds are fledged, the species specific diet preferences become more important and should be accounted for.

Misinterpretation of species specific behaviour as imprinting or tameness

One of the most common mistakes made is the wrong interpretation of normal corvid behaviour, mainly due to lack of knowledge and experience, but also sometimes due to anthropomorphistic reasons. Corvids are highly intelligent, sentient and social animals, who are able to interpret good or bad intentions and behavioural patterns of other animals, humans included. There is a big difference between submissive behaviour in a captive environment and being genuinely tame or imprinted. Young corvid nestling and sometimes even fledglings have not learned yet to regard humans as dangerous entities and will cooperate eagerly when being fed. At that point in time the risk of imprinting is at the highest, but has not necessary happened yet. Adult corvids are also able to adapt very well to a captive situation, in particular when realising that the human caring for them is providing food and is easing the pain. They will remain calm when not being restrained and when a minimum amount of privacy is being allowed, at least as long as they are poorly or compromised due to their injuries. Long-term patients often form a close temporary and person specific bond with their carers, which is being cut when the animal feels ready to go. All these behavioural variations have nothing to do with imprinting or tameness and are simply signs of their amazing ability to adapt to these unique situations. It is important to recognise the difference, as this fundamental ability of a good rehabber will decide over the future and the chances of survival of the animal being cared for.

Underestimation of the importance of species identification and age

Animals are sometimes rescued unnecessary, with good intentions, but without good reason. A young bird alone on low-level branches or on the ground has not necessarily been abandoned, as the young of many bird species will spend a couple of days on the ground before their feather development is complete and they are able to fly. Parents will be close by and come to feed the bird as soon as it is safe. However, to make an informed decision, whether an animal has to be rescued or not, one has to find out what species he or she belongs to and how old the animal is. A healthy rook fledgling on the ground, who is unable to get to higher ground, will not be fed by his or her parents and will require help.  On the other hand, a healthy carrion crow fledgling on the ground, will usually be attended and defended by his or her parents. However, nestlings of any species, found on the ground, will not survive without human intervention. However, the degree of human intervention varies from stepping back and observing the situation, over taking a fledgling out of a danger zone and putting the bird back onto higher ground, to taking the animal in to human care. Species identification and establishment of the correct age are also crucial for the correct choice of release location and time.

Misjudgement of the importance of release area and timing

Hand reared juvenile corvids, but also all long-term patients having been in captivity for longer than 2 or 3 weeks, should always be soft released.  Juvenile corvids are not suitable for release until being 5 or 6 months old, which is usually at the end of the summer after their first partial post-juvenile moult. This allows them to reach full growth and to be able to fly strongly. It also allows enough time to reach enough strength allowing normal competition with other corvids, avoiding excessive bullying. The preferred release time in the U.K. is the end of August and during September. Please also note that an offence may be committed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival. This may include the release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, when being unfit, or when not having learned to hunt, or when done during the wrong time of the year.

Lack of knowledge of species specific behaviour and ecology

The most common mistake made is the wrong species identification combined with the lack of species specific knowledge. Rooks are breeding in colonies or so called rookeries, as they are very social and gregarious animals. Carrion crows are territorial and have well-defined breeding territories, which are very much fixed but tend to shrink and expand slightly during and outside the nesting season. This means that the territory holding pair is using a single nesting site, which will be defended against any intruders. Sometimes another so called third bird, usually offspring from the previous year, is allowed to stay in the fringes of the occupied territory, helping the territory holder pair to defend their grounds. Non-breeding birds form loose groups, which will reside in an unoccupied area. Outside the breeding season and during wintertime, crows become more sociable and tend to sometimes mix with rooks. When releasing juvenile birds or longterm patients, then soft release is the preferred option. For short-term patients or a hard release scenario, the release site should be chosen very carefully. The location where the bird has been found, might not necessarily be the best place for his or her release. Neither crows nor rooks should be released into an occupied crow territory, in particular not during the breeding season. An area inhabited by a non-breeding flock of crows or rooks would make an ideal place for a release. Soft release works best, when the release aviaries are located in an unoccupied crow territory, near a rookery or communal roost.

Misinterpretation of plumage aberrations and their consequences

Leucism is a general term for the phenotype resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation or migration. It is a condition in which there is a partial loss of pigmentation resulting in white, pale or patchy colouration of skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. Leucism can be caused by the reduction of all types of pigment, unlike albininism, which only affects the melanin production. Leucism is occasionally found in corvids, which can show a varying degree of white or pale feathers within an otherwise normal appearing plumage. These abnormal feathers are often more prone to wear and tear and make the bird potentially more conspicuous and prone for predation.

Besides primarily genetic causes, dietary deficiency caused by calcium or folic acid deficiency, or as found in Australian ravens due to a circovirus infection, can also result into this phenotype pattern. It has been also found that agricultural pesticides have a direct impact on reducing food and insect availability. Insects are an essential dietary requirement for almost all bird species, which rely on those for at least a substantial part of the nestling phase of their offspring. Pesticides lead directly and indirectly to the search for alternative and often suboptimal food substitutes and may also result into a progressive weakening of the immune system of adult and young birds, which increases mortality in general, but does more often lead to a varying degree of dietary deficiencies with subsequent plumage and skeletal aberrations.

Recognising the difference between inherited and acquired plumage aberrations is crucial, as acquired plumage problems can be corrected, whilst inherited causes cannot.

A Close Up Encounter Of Animal Awareness

Carrion crow Boing Boing at his arrival.

This short story of carrion crow Boing Boing’s first encounter with another crow unknown to him, whist being introduced into our communal aviary, nicely illustrates what animal consciousness or awareness is about. Animal consciousness is the state of self-awareness within an animal, or of being aware of an external object or something within itself.

Carrion Crow Boing Boing

Boing Boing is a now six year old male carrion crow, who came into our care four years ago, when he started to cause behavioural problems to his previous carers. Boing Boing has been hand raised after he has been found orphaned as a youngster, also being at the time in a very poor condition. He is not releasable and a permanent resident, as he is suffering of a scissor beak, which makes it impossible for him to survive in the wild. Boing Boing would not be able to eat carrion, as his beak disorder will not allow him to tear his food into manageable pieces. We took over his care at the time carrion crows usually mature, and when they commonly show behavioural issues, in particular when held in captivity without companions, adequate housing and mental as well as physical stimulation.

Carrion crow Chili
Carrion crow Chili

Carrion Crow Chili

Chili is a young dominant male carrion crow, who has been found together with his sister Pepper after becoming orphans following the destruction of their nest during a storm. Another sibling died during this accident, but Chili and Pepper luckily survived, despite suffering of starvation, injuries and infections. Due to Chili’s personality being characterised by a strong will and determination, he grew up quickly and took on the vacant position of the territory holder. His sister Pepper is rather the opposite of Chili, having had considerable problems with her legs caused by calcium deficiencies. She is very gentle and shy, but also very observant and clever.

Animal Consciousness And Awareness

When we introduced Boing Boing into the communal aviary, Chili immediately came, which was not unexpected, to greet the new arrival. Boing Boing announced himself with a cawing display usually used by dominant birds or territory holders when arriving at the communal roost. During this display head and neck are held forward whilst neck and belly feathers are raised. Wings are usually closed and the tail is fanned out slightly. Whilst cawing, the head will be slowly lowered until the beak is touching the belly, and at the same time the nictitating membrane is drawn across the eye. Then the head will be moved up again back into the normal position, and the display begins again. Chili replied to this demonstration by immediately sleeking down his feathers to appear smaller and less aggressive, meaning that both birds have, without any aggression or even fight, just addressed and clarified their position in their crow society.

Carrion crow Boing Boing sitting on a perch in our communal aviary.
Carrion crow Boing Boing

But this was not the end of Boing Boing’s and Chili’s first encounter and communication. Both birds sat silently on the perch next to each other for more than a minute. Boing Boing was intensely looking around taking all the new information in, whilst Chili seemed unable to take his gaze of Boing Boing’s beak. Eventually Chili made his move by approaching Boing Boing and by gently and carefully examining Boing Boing’s beak bpy using his own beak. Boing Boing didn’t move, he did not even twitch. He allowed Chili to examen his beak. After another minute Chili stopped his assessment, now obviously having satisfied his curiosity, and then he eventually moved away from Boing Boing and flew off to continue with his usual business.

Wildlife Rescue – A Privilege To Interact With Sentient Beings

Rook Teal'c in our outdoor release aviary.

The encounter I am writing about repeats itself often, but every time it is a completely new and unique event. We are getting a new rescue bird patient in and are treating the animal until he or she is ready for release back into the wild. Again and again we are astonished about how quickly we are able to establish a close relationship with the bird in our care. It is always the same ingredients it needs to gain each others trust: Respect, patience, understanding and love. This brief story is dedicated to all of our rescue birds, but in particular to Teal’c, a very close rook friend, who came into our care after we found him soaked, cold and orphaned sitting in a puddle on a busy main road on the Isle of Wight.

Teal'c is an orphaned rook fledgling, who recovered well after being found orphaned with signs of severe dehydration and starvation.
Rook Teal’c

Teal’c was very poorly when we took him in, and we actually didn’t believe that we would be able to save him. But Teal’c survived, grew up very quickly and made friends with all family members, but in particular with Kerstin and myself. His curiosity and urge to explore new unknown things was astonishing. Nothing would escape his notice. Everything had to be thoroughly checked and explored, which would eventually include ‘scientific’ tests like soaking and testing the impact of gravitational forces on objects of interest.

Communication Between Species

Teal’c was also very communicative, having used his language, but also beak, wings and feet to make sure his message has been understood correctly. It did always amaze us, when Teal’c was looking into our eyes and beyond, deep into our souls, as this was exactly how it felt like. He was ever so gentle, the way he communicated, showing the whole range of emotions a human could possibly show.

When he was young, it seemed that he had occasional nightmares, not being happy at all to be left alone. He had to be brought to bed, or his perch in the aviary. Gentle talking and stroking would calm him down. When he was sitting on our shoulder, then he would press his body, neck and head onto our body, until he was about to fall asleep. On the other hand, if he would not get the attention he wanted, then he would voice his disappointment and even get the odd tantrum, which also could include some gentle, well chosen, but surely noticeable physical enforcement of his desires.

Rook Teal'c is growing up quickly into an inquisitive juvenile bird.
Rook Teal’c

There are hundreds of situations and unique encounters we have had with Teal’c, but also with a variety of other bird species, all providing unequivocal proof of the highly developed intelligence and emotional life of birds in general and corvids in particular.

Time To Say Good Bye

Teal’c grew into a beautiful young Rook, far to quickly the time was passing by. He once managed to escape rather by accident then by will, but came back, as it was not the right time to depart. Late in September we eventually released the juvenile rook friends Sam, O’Neill and Teal’c. They went off together joining a local mixed corvid bachelor group. Before the three birds where about to depart, we looked again into each others eyes, and we all realised, our hearts heavy and filled with sadness, it was now the right time to let go. We knew, that we will never forget each other and that our unique bond will persist, despite us being physically separated and living our own lives.

Rook Teal'c after being released sitting in a tree and paying his previous home a visit.
Rook Teal’c

All three birds are occasionally visiting our garden, and their past temporarily home, whilst passing through on their way from the roosting trees to the fields. All three birds will start calling and interacting with us and old bird friends. But they will keep their distance, as it should be. Now they are free, back into the wild, where they belong to.