Last week, we brought a magpie home. It wasn’t there as we went to our local shop, which is just across the road, but on our way back, it was sitting on the grass verge, by a busy road, concussed, bleeding, and helpless. Michael said, ‘That bird is not right.’ And yes, he wasn’t. He needed help.
I asked Mike to step back, then snuck up and pounced on the bird. And sometimes there is a need for speed, but that bird wasn’t going anywhere. It didn’t even flinch. As I carried it, I thought it had died. His left eye was closed, and I couldn’t see what was happening to the right one. It wasn’t struggling or even reacting to surroundings. And it was bleeding out of his head. I had no clue about birds and even less about corvids. I have no idea whether it’s a he or a she. Apparently, it can be very hard to tell. But he looked like a Brian, so for now, our Brian is a he.
Things to consider
If you’re considering looking after an injured corvid, the first thing to understand is that they are not your average birds. Corvids are among the most intelligent of all non-human animals, which means they are very high maintenance. If you’re tempted to keep your patient as a pet, you need to know that they do not make good pets, especially if they’re taken out of the wild, but even captive-bred corvids are not for the faint of heart. These birds can be a challenge even for an experienced and well-prepared owner; they will not be content living in a cage and need plenty of space; they are inquisitive and energetic, and they will peel your wallpaper, hide your most precious possessions, and poop on everything else. Please consider the ethical side: this is a wild animal. It is sentient and intelligent, and it does not belong to you. Consider the legal side too. It is illegal to keep any wild species of bird unless it’s captive-bred and fitted with a closed ring to prove it. If you’re nursing an injured wild bird to health, you can only do so with the intention of releasing it into the wild once it is fit for release. Helping an injured bird with the intention of taming and keeping it in captivity is an offence.
We’ve been learning. Fast.
A week on, Brian is looking and feeling better and we have learned a thing or two about rescuing birds, and corvids in particular.
What we know at the moment is that he will not be fit for release until after his next moult, when he changes his primary flight and tail feathers. This will not happen until the summer of 2020 because he’s in his first year, and corvids don’t moult until they’re in their second year. After that, he’ll need to learn to use those wings and build up his muscles. It will definitely be a soft release for Brian, and the process can take several months to complete. This means that potentially, Brian will not be released until late autumn 2020. If he’s not ready for the release at that time, his release will need to be put off until the end of the breeding season, and he will not go back in the wild until autumn 2021. So far, we haven’t been able to find an experienced corvid rehabber who will take him on. However, at this time, it is not a priority, and if we found a rehabber for Brian, he would not be able to leave here until he has recovered from his head injury because if he doesn’t, he may be permanently disabled, and a release will not be an option.
If Brian ends up staying with us, he’ll most definitely need an avian friend, preferably of his own or related species. He will need large indoor quarters. He will need a spacious outdoor aviary. He will need a lot of time and commitment on our part. Because now we saved him we are responsible for him.
Brian needs help. Please sponsor him so we can continue caring for him.
Be prepared. We weren’t.
I thought Brian was okay because he was standing on his feet, and if it wasn’t for Michael, who happens to know a lot more about birds than I do, I may have walked past him. I learned that many major wildlife protection organisations advise leaving young birds where they are so their parents can continue caring for them and that it is not always the right course of action—in fact, it seems it is almost never the right thing to do. I learned that corvids are the world’s smartest birds. I learned that their bad reputation is unjustified. And I learned that I wasn’t prepared to help a bird, and especially a magpie.
If, like me, you would help an injured bird if you found one, don’t wait until you do. Research local organisations who may be able to help you and keep their details at hand. In the case of corvids, not every wildlife rescue will take them in, and if they do, they are not necessarily equipped or experienced enough to do the right thing by them. When you have an injured bird and its life depends on you, that bird may only have hours or minutes before it’s too late for it. So, be ready.
Here are a few links and articles you may find helpful if you have picked an injured bird or are considering nursing one back to health. I will continue updating this list as I find useful information.
- Wild Birds and the Law by RSPB
- Corvid Isle: an excellent guide on caring for wild corvids, inc. nutrition and enrichment, and why it is important to find an experienced corvid-friendly rehabilitator if you can
- Guidance on Keeping Wild Birds or Animals
- Finding a Baby Bird by Wildlife Welfare
- How to Find a Corvid Friendly Wildlife Rescue or Rehabber by Corvid Isle
- First Aid for Birds by Corvid Isle
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