Monday, July 24, 2006

Corvid morning

It's been a long time since I've posted; my doctoral defense is this coming Thursday, and I've been hunkered down, alternating between feverishly preparing my presentation, and curling up in the fetal position, whimpering. The way I've neglected everything else in my life, it's a wonder I still have any friends left at all who are still speaking to me. But I need to write down what happened this morning, so I can stop thinking about it, and get back as originally planned to prepping for Thursday.

Ever wondered what you should do if you find an injured or sick wild animal? That was on my list to find out about some time in the indeterminate future in case I needed it, until a crow catalyzed that particular information need this morning. Skipping to the punchline, if you're in Redmond or Bellevue, Washington, near Microsoft, take the animal to Aerowood Animal Hospital, on 156th Ave. SE, just north of I-90. They have an arrangement with Sarvey Wildlife Center to take care of the animal until Sarvey picks it up for wildlife rehab. A big shout-out to both those organizations for the work they do, on not nearly enough resources--if you care about wildlife rehab, you might want to shoot Sarvey a donation, here.

Here's what happened, and what I learned from it.

I went into Redmond to run some errands this morning, and on the way back, I noticed what I thought was a dead bird in the turn lane of the busy street I was driving on. As I drove past it, though, I saw something funny out of the corner of my eye--did that dead crow just cock its head at me? That impression rubbed at me enough to where I had to turn around and go back to check it out. And it was true--the bird was lying calmly in the turn lane, cocking its head and opening its mouth, but not flopping around or anything. There was no safe place to park, so I pulled my car up on the sidewalk and got out.

This part of the story was wrenching for me--the bird was looking at me and cawing, and I couldn't get to it without wading into heavy traffic. And nobody stopped (with one exception, that I'll get to in a moment). I feel sorry for everyone who passed by and was so time-bound that they couldn't even stop to see if they could help. It would have made a huge time difference for the bird if someone could have helped me watch out for traffic and make sure not to get run over while I tried to rescue it.

Anyway, it was not to be, and so I had to try to do something on my own. Fortunately, while I was waiting for traffic to thin out, no one ran over the crow. We had to wait quite a while, though, before it was safe enough for me to wade out there with the only equipment I could dig out of the car, a walking cane and an old computer box to put the bird in.

When traffic slowed down, I went out in the road, and--using the cane---pushed the bird to the side of the road. That's when a motorcyclist stopped, and blocked traffic enough to where I could get the bird out of the road (thanks, motorcyclist, whoever you were!). He flopped around when I moved him, clearly unable to walk or fly, and it looked like a nictitating membrane came over his eye from time to time. I don't know whether crows have that membrane, but that is what it looked to me like was happening. I got the bird in the box, and then, not knowing what to do, took it to my cats' veterinarian.

That's where I learned about the arrangement Sarvey and Aerowood have--my cats' vet tech called ahead to let them know we were en route, and we set off for Aerowood. On the way, I told the crow that if he would just hang on long enough to get to care, I'd promise to see him through whatever it took, even if that meant taking care of him myself if he were unable to be released into the wild. Then I shut up, on the grounds that a large predator making unintelligible sounds while transporting it in a box is probably not reassuring to a stressed-out bird.

The bird was alive but definitely not doing well when I handed him off to the staff at Aerowood. I'll call Sarvey tomorrow to see if he made it. I probably won't end up having to take care of him, as I promised--he probably won't make it. If he does make it, he may be well enough to release into the wild, after he is rehabilitated, or he may be too badly hurt, and have to live in captivity. If he lives in captivity, he may end up living out his life at Sarvey or a similar rehab center as a wildlife ambassador for educational outreach. So the chances of my ending up with a pet crow are very low, but if it happens, I'll live up to it and learn avian care. And since I promised Mr. Raven I won't bring home any more cats or dogs until we move to a bigger place, I'll be keeping that end of my bargain as well.

Mr. Crow, I hope that, despite the odds against you, you make it! And as promised, here's what I learned from this morning.

Project Crow Rescue evaluation:

1) I was very ill-prepared for trying to rescue an animal, having only a laptop box and a walking cane in the car, and that only by chance. Time to invest in (at the very least) a sturdy container/carrier, a pair of heavy gloves, and an emergency leash to be kept in the car at all times. After Thursday, I'll track down whether any of the rescue organizations have a more structured list of emergency prep for the car, as well.

2) I lost time taking the crow to my vet; I hope that that time was not fatal to the crow. If I had known in advance where to take the crow, I could have saved about 20 minutes. Now I know where to take any wild animal if I find it in Redmond or Bellevue; after Thursday, I'll investigate the corresponding pickup sites for other areas where I spend a lot of time.

3) As opposed to losing time unnecessarily on 1) and 2), I lost a lot of time necessarily trying to secure the scene and not getting run over. One of the first things any good first aid course will teach you is not to become a victim yourself in trying to help someone. Securing the scene is always top priority. If the bird dies because I lost so much time trying to get to him, that is a sad thing, but unavoidable. Never get yourself hurt or killed trying to rescue a wild animal; if you can't secure a scene, don't do it.

4) I have to confess that my mammal-centrism played a role in not being willing to touch the bird--fur is safe and familiar, feathers are unsettlingly different. So I slid it into the box without touching it directly. Nevertheless, I still asked the vet staff whether I needed to know anything about taking precautions against wildlife-transmitted diseases, and I washed my hands very thoroughly before leaving the clinic. On my way to the clinic before I even dropped the crow off, I could already feel the tickle of West Nile virus starting in my throat, which should tip you off to what a phobe I am (there is no way I could be coming down with something that fast; I'm just extremely suggestible).

Tomorrow, I hope to find out if the crow made it, and I'll let you know. Now that I've gotten this out of me, it's back to work on my defense presentation.

UPDATE, 7/25: The crow didn't make it. He died at Aerowood before Sarvey could pick him up, of head trauma and dehydration--probably he had been hit by a car, and lay there in the sun for a long time. Bugger. At least he died safe, for what that's worth.

UPDATE, 7/25: I've verified that crows do, indeed, have nictitating membranes, so that is what I saw go back and forth over the eyes on this crow.


At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I thought you'd like to hear a crow story with a happier ending. Sometime in late July, my neighbor told me a crow had been visiting her yard frequently. One of his legs was injured, and he held it curled up into his body. He could fly but was pretty tipsy on the ground, not being able to use both legs for balance. He had been eating some bread that she put out for the birds. She was concerned that his condition was worsening. We live in Ithaca, NY, near Cornell. Through my affiliation with Cornell Plantations, I had learned of Kevin McGowan, who has studied crows for over 20 years and has a worldwide reputation as an authority on crows. Kevin and his team of researchers were excited to hear of this crow, as they had been treating what they believed to be the world's oldest crow (in the wild, not including crows in captivity), and the crow had escaped. Over the next couple of weeks, his researchers frequently visited my neighbor's yard with binoculars and telescopes trying to get a close enough look at the leg bands to be sure it was the crow they suspected. During these weeks, the crow's condition seemed to be slowly deteriorating, especially after rain which seemed to weigh him down and render him unable to fly until he was partially dry. He was also flying lower and shorter distances. One morning, I noticed him struggling through the grass where we put his bread and water. I approached cautiously, not wanting to panic him or cause him to struggle harder trying to get away from me. He seemed to be in great distress, so I backed off and checked him off and on from a distance. I thought he flopped over and was able to get within a foot or so of him before he tried to move away, making very soft and weak caw-ing sounds. I went to call Kevin McGowan after a brief conflict in my head (research? what's best for the crow? should it just die naturally?). Then I decided that it would be best to report the crow's condition. It seemed like only about two minutes before Rebecca, one of the researchers, sped into my neighbor's driveway, whipping off her coat as she tumbled out of her car, and asked, "Where is he?" He was at the next house, huddled in a corner. She scooped the crow up in her jacket, said it was in bad shape, having respiratory problems, said she was rushing it to the Vet School. "I'll let you know what happens," she called as she flew out of the drive. I didn't think I'd ever see the crow again. Several weeks went by with no word. This past Sunday I went out my back door and saw a crow about ten feet up in my willow tree, cawing at me. He took off as I approached, and I couldn't see its legs or leg bands. Under the branch was a large, black feather. I jokingly asked my cat if that was "our" crow. Imagine my surprise when, later that day, my neighbor asked if I had seen the crow! I had been away for a while and hadn't seen her since I had returned, so I didn't know that she had received an email from Kevin saying the crow was still alive and being treated, that they were making progress with the leg infection, and a rehabilitator was working with the crow. We are all very excited to have the crow back in our neighborhood. He seems to be flying well and comes several times a day for his favorite meal of white bread. According to Kevin, he is over 15 years old which makes it the oldest crow (being tracked) in the country. You should check out Kevin's website for a lot of interesting info on crows; they're quite fascinating creatures. I don't have the website address, but you can do a search from Kevin McGowan at Cornell University. I found your blog when I was searching for a story about this crow that my Mom, who lives about 200 miles from me near Albany, saw on her local news. I felt bad about "your" crow so wanted to share our crow's story.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Raven Travillian said...

Thank you! I do like that story, and appreciate your telling it for me. And I will look for Kevin McGowan's site, too.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Lindsay Lohan said...



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