The death of one of this springs baby crows, & the horrific reality of avian pox. (Specifically, ‘wet pox’)
Last week, as per usual, I was watching the crows. Among their many activities (eating, playing, taking, mobbing, walking, insect extermination, etc), there is the crow congregation at the top of the highest tree.
There has always been six crows, occasionally eight, but, always six.
I only counted five.
Five? Hmmm, where is that sixth little feathered onyx gem?
I scanned the treetops. Nope.
I grabbed the camera, zoomed in, scanned the length of the hemlock trunk (sometimes there is a rogue crow in the lower branches).
Finally, along the furthest stretch of lawn, I saw him in the tree line. He was meandering along the edge of the woods. I was relieved, smiled, watched him for a while. I noticed he didn’t have as much pep in his step, but, it was a pretty hot day, so, I didn’t put a hell of a lot of thought into it.
Fast forward the next day…
Hmmm…repeat the previous day until I spotted him near the front of the tractor on the far edge of the driveway.
I definitely found it odd that when his family flew off, he didn’t follow.
I did some shit around the house, painted, etc…
Later in the afternoon, I heard a caw-caw, and went to the window to crow watch.
He was in the driveway, where I feed the birds.
I noticed a whitish thing near his eye, or I thought might ‘be his eye’…
Like, maybe was an injury…?
I grabbed the camera, and from the view I had, my untrained eye thought he was the victim of a cat/dog/raptor attack.
I was so overcome with anxiety.
I am quite familiar with them all, and was certain that he was one of the babies.
A million things flooded my brain…box trap, wildlife rehabber, bird first aid, help don’t interfere, etc…mostly etc
Keep in mind, all of these thoughts are flooding the active brain of a physically crippled chick.
Ain’t like I could leg it & chase to catch him…
So, I kept an eye on him.
I found the contact info for wild bird rehabilitation, I called several, left messages for all but one.
Why? Their answering message was for REMOVAL of ‘pest’ birds. Assholes.
Only one returned my call, & it was when I was in the woods with Rommel.
I kept checking for him, seeing when his family came, and when they left, he remained.
I asked my guy if he would try to get close, maybe catch him to bring him to a rehabber, or….something
[its illegal…to even try to help. It’s illegal to even have crow feathers in your possession]
I am thankful that they are well protected under the migratory bird act.
And? I am looking into becoming licensed for bird rehabilitation.
So, long story short….my guy said he would also keep an eye on him, and when he was outside, he saw the long distance neighbors cat prowling nearby to where the crow baby had last been seen.
This prompted him into action. He made an attempt to catch him unsuccessfully.
He explained to me that he followed the walking crow several hundred yards, the closest he was able to get was almost 5′.
He said, finally, the crow flew when he seemingly ‘had to’. He flew a short distance into a tree, and he flew awkwardly.
I worried…I’m a spaz anyway…but, how would he fly the distance in the evening to make it all the way back to roost with his family? How would he make it alone, with no protection in numbers, no warmth from the other feathered bodies huddled on branches? How would he, in his weakened state flee from an owl? Or, that fucking cat?
The next day…
I saw him in the driveway. He just stood there….stood very still….for long periods. Eventually, he would scrutinize the ground, grab some food, tilt his head back, letting the food roll into his throat.
I heard his family off in the distance, they were making their way to the driveway, and the hemlock, and the yard.
He was still standing there when they finally showed up.
I watched closely as I wanted to see if they interacted with him, or if they avoided him.
I’ve read a lot about behaviors toward those injured…essentially, the injured animal is an easy target and the others know this.
I watched the first crow swoop down, land, adjust wings & tail before making the crow walk to the food. The second, the third….the fourth….the ‘sentinel’ [I named him] stays atop the tree, while all the others eat, play, explore. Since the beginning….
No one seemed to pay any real attention to the injured baby. He even walked nearer to one of them and ate beside them.
Then, the sentinel sounded the warning and they all flew away cawing….except for him. He just stood there.
I saw that fucking cat, he was behind the tractor. Around 8-10 feet from the baby.
I grabbed two canes and a flannel shirt and went out…I walked around & behind the tractor, avoiding the driveway. The cat started bounding across the lawn toward the woods in the direction of his home.
I came around the tractor, and saw that I was walking parallel with the baby.
He saw me and froze.
I walked closer, he walked very lethargically toward the tree line.
My heart was in my throat…I felt so helplessly crippled in my attempt to help him…
As I got nearer, the baby released this desperate strangled cry. My heart sunk.
He was cornered & couldn’t fly.
I began walking down the small hill toward him.
My MS robbed me of my balance (among many other things), so even with two canes, I am wicked unsteady.
Put me on a hill? Oh, bastard.
I started to feeling like I would topple forward and fall or hurt him, but I kept walking.
He hopped into the tall grass, and he tried to struggle, but he was so weak….such a heartbreaking and pitiful sight.
I actually threw my shirt in his direction, and couldn’t believe it landed on him.
I dropped my canes and crawled as fast as I could the rest of the way.
I carefully wrapped the shirt around him loosely.
I could feel the heat of his body.
I knew I couldn’t walk and carry, but I was quite a distance from the house.
My guy had gone to the city to pick up some snacks because his parents were visiting later.
So, I cradled him in one arm, and crawled with one hand.
He only struggled once, around halfway to the garage. That was it.
Once inside the garage, I closed the door, and sat on the stairs holding him.
Around 5 minutes [thankfully] later, my guy came home.
I told him I caught the baby & he couldn’t believe it….me either, really….at least not then.
He got a pet carrier from the garage rafters and he helped me put the baby inside.
He stood, seemed a bit panicked, but was quiet.
We got him water and some peanuts.
I went inside and called the rehabber again…no answer.
I grabbed a flashlight and went to inspect the damage from the injury.
He stood with his sleek black back to me.
I talked softly to him, as I shined the light on his face where I though he had been attacked.
He wasn’t attacked.
The poor little shit was riddled with pox.
All around his beautiful mahogany eyes….under his perfect wings…his legs and feet were swollen and covered with hideous pox.
This disgusting virus had destroyed his health and his beauty.
That’s why a crippled chick was able to catch him….he was filled with infection, he was weakened.
A once strong, free, & proud bird, now reduced to this mucous filled, scabby death sentence.
I read there is no treatment.
…if they survive, they’re forever immune….
Dry pox is common, and survivable…
Wet pox is not common, and their clock is ticking…
Treat the lesions with warm water and iodine…
Give them immune boosting supplements….
The boom in popularity of ‘backyard chicken coop’ hobbyists has caused crows to be hit hard by avian pox….
Runoff from coops into waterways where crows frequent, crows eating contaminated chicken feed, mosquitoes that bite an infected fowl in turn bite a crow…blah blah fucking blah
My neighbor…the one with that fucking cat…has a backyard chicken coop.
There is no way to say with any certainty…
All I am certain of, is that he died later that night.
I buried him under a small white pine tree on the furthest side of the lawn.
For the last few months I was filled with delight watching the crow babies play there.
I cried. I was sad.
I am still sad.
I’ve watched the five now, like a hawk…no pun intended. I scanned all of their faces, their legs & their feet for any whitish signs, misshapen toes, heels….
And today, after the 4 family members had all eaten in the driveway & then flew off to walk the lawn…
Finally, the sentinel swooped down.
Black splendor, always watching for danger, it was his turn to eat.
I zoomed in with the camera…
And on his magnificent head?