Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

I’m in shock. I just got a call from the vet. He said, “How are you?” I said, “I’m upset about the crow.” He asked, “Do you want some good news?” I said yes, thinking my parrots’ yearly tests have come back satisfactory. Instead, he said, “The crow is not dead.”


He went on to explain that they did not put him to sleep right away, as soon as I left, like I thought they would. In the  meantime, while they were waiting to do the procedure, Phil was charming everyone, like he does. The vet decided to x-ray him one more time, just for his own education, to see if the object had moved in any way. he wanted to see if possibly an easier surgery could be done, and he would do it for free (thinking that it was cost that caused me to chose euthanasia, which it was not).

No object showed up on the x-ray. He had pooped it out, just like they told he he would not be able to do.

I’m on the phone, saying, “what?” “what?” and he said, “It’s true. You can come pick up the crow any time. I tried to call you earlier but there was no answer. I left messages. I was trying to get in touch with you”

So for almost 24 hours, I cried over this crow, when he was playing at the vet’s office, landing on people’s heads, stealing pens, and eating them out of house and home.

Today I am going to go pick up that naughty crow who caused me so much grief and headache and puffy eyes from crying

I want to thank you all who wrote such kind messages to me. They made me feel so much better when I was in the depths of regret, sadness and second-guessing.

Can you believe this?! I think I have a name for the crow now: Lazarus.



Goodbye, Phil, my dear Crow

The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly.

A few weeks ago we got a young crow who was no doubt a human imprint. He was found landing on people’s heads out in someone’s yard. They called us, and brought him to us. It was true. He was very, very tame. Often, people raise baby birds they find and then let them go free. The danger is they become ‘imprinted’ on people, and consequently don’t “know” that they are a bird, and instead identify with humans.

He was a 6 month old, fully grown Fish Crow. Smart as a whip, beautiful, with iridescent jet black feathers, inquisitive eyes, and the tiniest vestige of the ‘gape flange’ that identified him as a youngster.

We hoped he was merely a little tame, not a true ‘imprint’, and put him with another young crow. it didn’t work: he was too tame. So, we decided to enter him into our education animal program. We keep a few animals for education purposes. These are animals who cannot be released, but who have the temperament to deal well with life in captivity. ‘Phil’ this crow seemed to prefer the company of humans so we thought he’d do well. (The people who brought him named him Phil – we never got a chance to give him our own name). My boss assigned him to me and told me to get him ready for education outreach programs.

I had recently attended a few lectures on Operant Conditioning and read loads about it – particularly how using positive reinforcement is the best was to train an animal. In this way, the animal has the choice to participate in training, and if he does, he gets a coveted reward. There is no force. If the animal wants the reward, he does the behavior. So, I decided to teach this very smart crow with positive reinforcement.

In 2 weeks, he learned ‘step up’, ‘come here’ , ‘feet’ (meant, “give me your foot, and I’ll touch it, and later start to put your anklet on), and most importantly, “crate’. I had to teach him how to go into a crate without fear. To start, 2 weeks ago,  he wouldn’t go within 3 feet of it. In the last few days, I was able to put a treat in his crate, say, “Crate!” and he’d go in and get it. A total success.

I introduced him to all the volunteers, who loved him. The other night, when he was a bit tired, he allowed me to scratch and pet under his beak, where he had lots of new feathers growing in, for an hour. He was sleepy and accepted this affectionate touch.

This morning I started his normal training session. We did all the things he knew: step up, come here, crate. We had been working on putting his anklets on (so he wouldn’t dangerously fly away when he was out). I gave the command ‘feet!” and he’d let me put the anklet around, but not fasten it yet. I rewarded him with a piece of food, for small increments of success.Previously, I used an anklet that was just leather. The one I really wanted to use had metal grommets on it, so I introduced that one today. I said, “feet!” and put the anklet around his little leg. He snatched the anklet and flew away with it.

“Hey! You naughty crow!” I said, “Come here!” and he landed on my arm, anklet in beak, but he was positioning it in his mouth like he wanted to swallow it. “Don’t swallow that!!” I said, and tried to get it from him. He flew away. I said, “come here!” again, and he landed on my arm. Again I tried to grab it from him, and he flew away. Then I lunged for him. I chased him. I tried to grab him in the air. Finally, he landed on a high perch, and *triumphantly* swallowed the anklet. It was gone.

I called the vet. They said to bring him right over. I hoped it was still in his crop – that would be easy to get out. I got him there in 35 minutes. I had to break his trust and GRAB him and shove him in his crate, the very thing I had not wanted to do.

When we got there, the vet took x-rays and said the anklet had passed through his crop, through his proventriculus, into his ventriculus (the crop is the storage place under a bird’s chin, the proventriculus is the first stomach and the ventriculus is the second stomach.) The vet said the only option to get this thing out is surgery – major stomach surgery. There was no way to mechanically pull it out through the beak or vent. He gave it to me straight. It would be painful for the crow, risky, and with a long recovery period that may or may not work. The vet said we could do the surgery or euthanize him.

So, this crow would have gone through hell, and, he would probably suffer greatly, for weeks of recovery and pain,   and not trust humans again. Trusting humans was his only chance of a ‘happy’ life, as an education bird. After this, he’d be in limbo – not a normal crow, but not trusting humans, either, after the pain and confinement he’d have gone through.  so he’d not trust crows, and not trust humans. He’d be a lost little soul. Mainly, though, the major surgery of the stomach is risky and greatly painful for the bird. He’d have weeks of pain and suffering. ( I worked SO hard to get him to trust that I would not hurt him, no matter what, and if he complied with my wishes, he’d get treats.)

I believe it would have been selfish on my part to put him through that. I could have said, “No, I WANT you to be my friend, and I will make you go through that ordeal because if you are not here, I’ll  miss you.” But, I thought about it, and because I loved him so dearly, I chose not to put him through that suffering, and chose euthanasia.  I have been crying all day. I loved that bird so dearly. He was a bright little spark who gave me such a privilege for a few weeks, to glimpse into the world of crows. Every volunteer who met him loved him. I am so sorry little crow, if I failed you. I know humans failed you. it was humans who raised you to be a human imprint, and that’s why you didn’t know you were a crow, and were nonreleasable.  I won’t forget you, and I will dedicate my future work with birds to your memory.

Education, another thing we do

In addition to helping sick, injured and orphaned animals, as one of the ONLY organizations dealing with wildlife issues in the area, we get a lot of calls and emails about so-called ‘nuisance’ wildlife.  You have my sympathy if a squirrel gets in your house and you can’t get him out: they can cause loads of damage. But if you call me and say, “There is a large raccoon in my tree! I called the city and they are closed because today is a holiday!” I will say, “Ok, what is your question?” and the person will cough and sputter and exclaim, “WHAT is my question?! I want to know how to get rid of him!”. Then, I have little sympathy. It’s a wild animal. They live outside.  You will encounter them. I can’t stand when people think that merely SEEING a wild animal is a problem requiring a phone call to someone who will ‘take it away’.

My friend Lori had a funny answer to such a potential call: “Is the tree in your living room? If not, the raccoon is where he is supposed to be, doing what he is supposed to be doing!” That made me laugh.

Anyway, when I got the following email, I sighed:

An Opossum appeared in our yard early this morning. We would like to know if you know of anyone who can capture the creature and remove it to a better location than on our lawn.

Where exactly is a better location than your lawn? That’s where wild animals belong: outside. Anyway, I half heartedly wrote the following reply, not thinking it would have any effect. (I suggest a ‘wildlife exterminator’ as a shock tactic only):

Thanks for contacting us. By the time you receive my reply, your opossum may well be gone, but in case he isn’t, I hope you will consider just leaving him alone. Opossums are harmless, non-aggressive (they will run away from you, perhaps growl, but won’t attack unless handled or cornered), are not prone to carrying rabies , and have many benefits, including eating slugs, snails, cockroaches, carrion, etc. Opossms are North America’s only marsupial, and the earth’s oldest mammal.  They are a part of nature’s ‘clean up crew’ . And unless your lawn is in your house, he is exactly where he is supposed to be – outside, where wild animals live, all around us.

Oppossums are nomads, meaning to they don’t stake up a territory and stay there permanently – they are always on the move. The reason they would stay in one place for a long time is if there is a steady food supply. So, if you or your neighbors are feeding cats or dogs outside, that will bring the possums and raccoons closer to you. Remove the food, the animals leave.

We do not advocate trapping and relocating wildlife. It’s unlawful unless done by a licensed person, and it’s cruel: you could be separating a mother from her juveniles at this time of year, or placing the oppossum in an unsuitable place where he could starve before finding food. Also, it’s futile – if your property is attractive to ONE oppossum, other possums will like it too.  Removing him is like putting up a ‘vacancy’ sign. The best way to keep wildlife further from your house is to ensure all trash is secured, and no food is left outside. There are other methods to use for territorial animals.

If you are still concerned and want him removed, you’ll need to contact a wildlife exterminator. You can find one with a google search.

I hope you’ll consider co-existing with the wildlife that is all around us. If you have any questions about any species, you are always most welcome to contact us.

So, I was shocked when I got a reply from her:

Thank you, sincerely, for your prompt and informative response to my email.
I will co-exist with the opossum; the thought of a wildlife exterminator makes me want to cry…I could not consider it.  Having gained additional knowledge about the opossum with the help of BING, and your enlightening words, below, I wish the little guy/gal a happy life!
Thank you so much for caring.
So it is a total win. She learned about oppossums, and decided to co-exist with our wild brethren. Now, if I can only get her to do something about using BING…still, can’t win ’em all.

Basement Intruder

He’s flyin’ in your windows…snatchin’ your rodents up…tryin’ to take ’em so y’all need to hide your rats, hide your mice…

Yesterday I rescued an owl intruder who was stuck in someone’s basement, amongst loads of boxes. But he didn’t come in through the window

The only tiny window was closed. He got in through some kind of duct, but we’re not sure.  And he was trapped for 2 or 3 days. There was only one way out – for someone to catch him and escort him out.

The guy who called said the owl was ‘big’. I asked, “Fire hydrant or coffee can’? -Two size comparisons for the 2 most common owls around here: Great Horned and Screech. Depending on which type of owl it was, it could be a simple rescue or a scary one.  Great Horned Owls are nothing to mess with. Their amazing knifelike talons are attached to some of the strongest feet out there:500 – 1000 psi of crushing power.  Screech Owls, on the other hand, are tiny little meanies. The guy couldn’t tell me if it was a coffee can or a fire hydrant, but he said, “It’s big. Like 14 inches”. He was too scared to even go near it himself.

So I brought my supplies for a Great Horned. A huge net, and a huge box, duct tape and heavy duty gloves. I brought a small net, too, so he could help me direct the owl into my big net.

I went into the basement and…this little guy was staring at me (note the window behind him, which he did NOT enter through. It’s sealed shut)

It was a Screech. Screech Owls are about 6 inches tall. One point of this story is to always estimate down when a man describes in inches how big something is.

The owl looked at me, then flew off, flying beautifully around the boxes, banking corners like the expert flyer he is. I went upstairs to get my smaller net, and the homeowner called out, “Don’t forget to close the basement door…” and the owl flew up, into the living room, then into the kitchen, onto the countertop. He was cornered, and I grabbed him. The homeowner was impressed. Really impressed. But honestly, I could teach anyone reading this how to do it in 5 minutes.

The owl was clacking his beak at me, telling me emphatically, “Put me the *@&@$% down!” and I examined him quickly. I could see into his mouth. He had viscous, stringy saliva from the tongue to the roof of his mouth, a sure sign of dehydration. He had been in the basement 2-3 days. So I put him in a box (a huge box, the one I had brought for a Great Horned!) and took him to the clinic, where I injected fluids under his skin (Sub-cutaneous) to re-hydrate him quickly, and put him in a quiet, dark enclosure with a mouse for his dinner.  The next morning, he looked bright and alert and he had eaten the mouse. So he is ready to be released. I’ll update when we release him tomorrow!

Update: He was released and flew away beautifully, back into his territory!

American Bittern

We recently received an American Bittern. He is a wading, fishing water bird similar to a heron. Things to know about Bitterns: they have  a spear on the end of their faces, for fishing, and they can literally take an eye out (and they would love to – they go for anything shiny, like fish or the human eye), and they make a noise that sounds like the scariest monster ever.

This guy was thin, dehydrated and has a problem with one of his leg joints. We gave him fluids and tube feeding, and the avian vet will look at his leg. I think these pics are amazing showing the precautions we had to take, and yet, he’s just a scared bird in a totally alien environment. I’ll keep you updated.