You may think that the right thing to do for a starving wild animal is to offer it food, but reintroducing food too quickly or providing the wrong food can have disastrous consequences. When an animal has been without food for some time, there are many things that could make their situation worse, including well-intentioned people providing them with food. Often the food we have at home is not appropriate for wild animals. For example, breads, crackers, and other processed human foods are unnatural and often harmful by themselves, because wild animals’ bodies often cannot process them, the calories from these foods are often very poorly absorbed, and these foods also can cause impactions. Similarly, every mammal’s milk is different, so cow, goat, kitten, and puppy milks are not appropriate for wild animals and can cause life-threatening diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.
Even appropriate foods can cause harm. If an animal is severely malnourished, they can also suffer from “refeeding syndrome,” which is when food is introduced too quickly after a period without nutrition, causing a shift in electrolyte levels that lead to serious complications like seizures, heart failure, and even death. There are other potential medical consequences to feeding as well, including aspiration pneumonia, gastrointestinal distress or blockages, and crop damage. Feeding can even worsen traumatic injuries, for example feeding an animal with an injured jaw injury could displace the jaw further.
When we received this American Crow, we took a blood sample to help determine how severe its condition was, and immediately began stabilization procedures, which includes rehydration, heat support, and a slow, carefully controlled reintroduction of calories. Once the bird was a little stronger, we began investigating why the bird might have been doing so poorly in the first place, through diagnostics like a fecal exam and x-rays. What we eventually found was an old eye injury, which left the bird with severely reduced vision and prevented them from navigating and finding food in the wild, leading to their severely weakened state. Unfortunately, as the injury was healed, we were unable to restore the bird’s vision. Since the bird could not survive in the wild, and as a wild animal it would be inhumane to keep in captivity, we ultimately decided to provide humane euthanasia.
American Crows are very intelligent, large, all black birds with long legs, thick necks, and a heavy straight bill. Crows belong to the bird family called “corvids” which include jays, magpies and ravens. They are widespread and occur year-round over most of North America. American Crows are a common sight in many habitats, from forests to beaches, to our city centers! They are one of our most common urban wild animals in Portland, and one of the most common patients at our Wildlife Care Center. They are highly adaptable animals, and will live just about anywhere that offers reliable food sources, although they do seem to avoid the desert. They typically forage on the ground, and eat a variety of foods including: seeds, insects, small animals (mammals, birds, and reptiles), fruits and vegetables, nuts, carrion, etc.
American Crows are really interesting because they have complex social structures. Crow families (parents and multiple generations of offspring) will have established territories during the breeding season but during non-breeding season will gather in large communal roosts (sleeping areas). If you’ve seen the thousands of Crows near downtown Portland in the winter, this is what you’re seeing! Right now, we are approaching American Crow breeding season. Healthy fledglings are found on the ground every year because this is how they learn survival skills and how to fly! This is a completely normal and essential part of their life cycle. It can be tricky to tell injured adults from young from afar, since young Crows are often around the same size as their parents. Two signs that you’ve found a fledgling crow are their blue/light grey eyes (instead of black) and the insides of their mouths are pink (rather than dark grey or black). Young crows are often watched over by their family, who bring them food; these family members can be loud and raucous, leading some observers to assume that they are attacking the fledgling when in fact they are feeding or protecting them.
What to Do If You Find An Ill, Injured or Orphaned Animal
- If you find a young Crow on the ground, and it is fully feathered and able to stand/hop/flutter, there is no need to intervene unless they are in immediate danger. In that case, simply move them to somewhere safe nearby (on top of a bush, lowest tree branch) but no more than 100ft from where you found them. Just be careful; crows are known to dive-bomb people who come too close to their babies!
- Very young Crows, which are unable to stand and have fewer feathers grown in, can fall from their nests as well. In most cases, it is possible to successfully renest healthy nestlings that have fallen, either by putting them back into their original nest or by putting up a surrogate/replacement nest. Call our Wildlife Care Center for further instructions on this process.
- If an animal is visibly injured, has been in contact with a cat, or is definitely orphaned, the best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.
Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email email@example.com and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.
Unfortunately due to COVID-19 we had to operate our Wildlife Care Center this past year with about 20% of our normal staffing and with about a 25% increase in our annual patient admissions. We were left with the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue providing follow-up updates on patients brought into our center so that we could focus on the daily care of the animals. And while we simply cannot write a story about each animal, our goal for this fresh and bright new year is to show you what we can: in the form of a weekly patient update! Check in every Thursday for our “Patient of the Week”; with information on the species, the circumstances that brought the animal in, and preventative advice so you can be a better steward for our wildlife!
If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.