The Year of the Corvid

So every year around April I start to talk about how much I love baby magpie time. I think everyone in rescue knows how much I love raising these little birds. They are so intelligent and are a quick study so you have to keep them wild and best with more than just one so they bond with each other.

This year though…… it has also been the year of the weird beak.

Already I have Yoda and Obi (two magpies) and the Crowne (a baby crow) with scissorbeak. I have never seen it so often before. Yoda also has only the one eye – she didn’t lose one it just never developed.

They all gape for food and eat well when fed with tweezers but it remains to be seen whether their beaks will impede them in picking up food. You might think it definitely will – but I’ve seen pigeons manage with the strangest beak injuries so I rule nothing out.

Corvids are my favourite type of bird due to their adaptability and uncanny intelligence. They are puzzle solvers, gift givers and they recognise people who are kind and pass information on to each other. Crows even mourn their own dead.

Despite all this they DO NOT make good pets – not really. Every year we have people contacting us asking if they can adopt a crow. Sometimes, if they are experience, this is an amazing thing, but other times it’s a worry. Do people really think that having a crow as a pet is plain sailing? I read goodness knows how many posts on rescue forums about people finding baby corvids and keeping them to raise themselves – this leads to imprinting / taming and in a high percentage of circumstances when the finder no longer wishes to keep the bird a rescue will have to start the long and arduous process or re-wilding the bird.

My raven, Velvet, is a great example of why corvids are terrible pets – and she was actually captive bred and trained for TV work. She has a beak that is huge and the power behind it to do a lot of damage. Velvet has made many a grown man cry. She is wilful and a free spirit who wants to do what she wants and pretty much when she wants. For a treat she might play ball and obey a few comments (always with the air of someone who was going to do it anyway). Their diet is unpleasant both before and after consumption. A corvid will hide food so it rots and attracts flies – subsequently maggots to double their food supply. I have learned the hard way that you don’t always find these food stashes in a timely manner. I once removed a framed picture from my wall and found a pate of rotten meat stuck to the wallpaper and the source of the smell I’d been fighting for days.

Their poop is wet, squirted and genuinely odorous due to the diet. They don’t respect clean clothes, upholstered furniture or carpet. They do like wallpaper – or they like ripping it off and shredding it all over the floor. They like hiding food in the pages of your books and magazines if you take your eyes off them – so forget getting to know what happened on page 102 of the thriller you are reading.

Their favourite hobby is destruction and they can do this anywhere at any time. If I put Velvet outside for some sunbathing she will proceed to dehead each of my plants right in front of me. If I go to move the plants she’ll be waiting for this game to commence so she can give my hand a nice hard nip to show her disapproval.

You can train corvids but it isn’t easy. It looks easy when you see how well behaved they are – but it’s hours upon hours of work with no let up. The second you stop the training the bird will go back to doing whatever it wants.

Oh and the noise – if you get a jackdaw baby and think it’s cute you will definitely change your mind at 5 in the morning when it starts literally screaming for food with the persistence of an alarm going off.

Despite all this they are amazing birds and intriguing in a number of ways. They are myth and legend, immortalised in works of art and featured in films and television series. I remember reading about a Crow Cafe in London – crows and ravens brought for people to meet and learn. It’s something I would love to do up here if there is ever a venue willing to let me and my corvids in after the above!

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