For the Birds: Nestling crows leave home before they can fly

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Carl the Crow calls for his mother

By Christine Southwick
Photos by Peggy Bartleson

Do you have a crow on the ground, making a loud noise? Unless you see blood, or a hanging wing, it is probably not injured. It is most likely a nestling crow which has left its nest before it can fly. Most crows leave the nest early for safety reasons. Nests, with their “feed ME” sounds, are lures for predators — raccoons, hawks, owls, eagles. The sooner nestlings are strong enough to leave their nests and hide, the more likely that they will survive.

Feed me!
Carl the crow begging parent for food

And do not fear; the parents are watching, dive-bombing cats and other dangers, and feeding their youngsters on a regular basis. Sometimes a couple of youngsters will hang together, but more often they will go their separate ways, thus increasing their probability of survival. The parents know where each is, and are feeding them appropriately.

Don’t let the nestlings’ size fool you. When they leave the nest, they are 80% or more of their adult weight. Their legs are already adult size, and their wing feathers are nearly full grown. But they are still babies. They will often tip side to side as they walk, making them look a trifle drunken. Part of the problem is that they don’t have their tail feathers yet to act as their rudders.

Carl being fed by his parent

The pictures are of a neighborhood nestling. I first saw it five afternoons ago. The first neighbor didn’t know what to do, but had put out some tuna fish. Baby crows have to have the food stuffed down their throats—so putting out food won’t help nestlings.

The next morning that baby had moved across the street, near a house with a known hunter cat. The parents dive-bombed that cat until it started lying elsewhere. Now the little crow is staying at a house where the owner watches daily, but doesn’t crowd it. The parents feel comfortable in the yard, and Carl the crow (that’s what the neighbor calls it), struts around more steadily every day, and hides in the flowers at night.

Still no tail feathers - Carl is grounded

It still doesn’t have tail feathers yet, but will soon.

Remember, most birds found walking about on the ground are not abandoned, and don’t need human “help”. Keep your pet away from the area that the bird is staying, and wait about a week. It will fly away then.

More info about baby crows and what/what not to do, here.

Find more For the Birds columns HERE

Reprinted from 2014 and 2019


Anonymous,  June 23, 2023 at 11:41 AM  

Thanks for this primer! I didn't know the bit about not trying to feed toddler birds with a can of tuna! (Or that they don't have tail feathers, etc.) Good to know!

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