Spoon-feeding a juvenile crow, origins unknown
For the past few years I’ve been doing this very thing at a local wildlife rehabilitation center - but we use syringes and forceps instead of flatware and the birds don’t perch on our hands, because the last thing you want, when caring for injured/orphaned wildlife, is to habituate them to people.
Many of them arrive looking more like homely baby dinosaurs than the elegant feathered creatures they will become. If they’ve been injured [usually the result of an encounter with a domestic cat], they’ll have wings or legs wrapped in tiny bandages, which might be even more pitiful than the sight of a puppy in an E-collar.
I am not an early riser by nature, but every spring I look forward to the beginning of baby bird season because, despite the irritation of waking early and dragging myself from the city out to the woods, I know that there are rows of baskets containing hungry baby birds waiting for me - their prehistoric bodies straining to raise their heads as high as they can, mouths open so very wide.
Each species of bird has a different colour on the inside of their beaks, perhaps to better command the attention of their parents. Robins’ mouths are marigold, crows are raspberry, Stellar’s Jays are strawberry, and the mouths of Cedar Waxwings have lavender stripes on the sides like little runway lights.
It wasn’t until I began volunteering that I learned that juvenile crows have bright blue eyes. It’s one of the most striking and beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Of all the birds I care for, they are the only ones who look you straight in the eye. We’re instructed not to hold their gaze because it’s another way that they might become habituated to people, but it’s challenging to look away when those intelligent blue eyes are staring right through you.
Then again, the self-denial is completely worthwhile when you get to take them away from the facility in little cardboard carriers and release them. You’ve watched them grow from utterly helpless and awkward little things into sleek, beautiful creatures who now want nothing to do with you. You open the box and they emerge, open their wings, and fly away without a single backward glance. Never has it felt so wonderful to be completely ignored.
[photo from the LIFE Magazine Photo Archive]