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Come over to the library, as the crow flies

Crows Ed and Ebeneezer teach kids why they shouldn’t be pets. - Courtesy of Elena Fox
Crows Ed and Ebeneezer teach kids why they shouldn’t be pets.
— image credit: Courtesy of Elena Fox

Imprinted by humans, Ed and Ebeneezer become avian teachers.

Ebeneezer and Ed became teachers, but not by choice.

It was about survival. Because the two crows had been kept by people as pets, they could no longer manage in the wild.

“(Ed) doesn’t know he’s a crow. He was taken when he was too young as a baby,” said Elena Fox, volunteer wildlife rehabilitator at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, formerly the Island Wildlife Shelter.

Ed was nursed back to health at the shelter after suffering a broken leg, but then it was found that he had been “imprinted” by his contact with humans.

“He was fine,” Fox said, “except somebody had done this to him.”

On Feb. 5, Fox presents the wonder of the remarkably intelligent crows – a species that has been known to fashion its own tools – at 3 p.m. at the Bainbridge Library.

Ed and Ebeneezer will be there, too, in cages.

“They are absolutely fascinating and marvelous creatures, but if you care about them at all, they shouldn’t be in cages,” Fox said.

But, it is precisely because these two crows were kept by humans that they must live out the rest of their lives – perhaps another 20 to 30 years – in those cages.

Crows are protected by the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to possess living crows or their bones, eggs or nests. Any impact on the migratory bird population in one country will affect another country when they fly to their seasonal homes.

Despite that, fascination with crows and cultural lore tempt people to take baby crows as pets, which is ultimately damaging to the crow’s quality of life, Fox said.

Ed was brought to the shelter in 2001 with an injured leg.

That was soon mended, but Fox said being “imprinted” means Ed doesn’t react to other crows or have natural instincts to survive in the wild.

Ebeneezer was also kept as a pet and so became “habituated”; that is, she is used to living with humans. She has an injured wing that prevents her from flying.

The shelter kept the crows as long as federal law would allow to treat injuries, normally 90 days, but the only choices then were to release them, destroy them or put them in a bona fide educational program to teach people they should not be used as pets.

Unable to find a program willing to take the crows, Fox decided to develop a curriculum – which must run 12 programs a year – and save the crows herself.

After 10 months of applications and paperwork, she received permission to keep Ed and Ebeneezer, who live in Fox’s back yard in an enclosure sized to minimum federal requirements of 9 feet tall and 16-by-8-feet square.

The caged life is especially hard for crows.

“Birds, owls, fly to get around, but crows very clearly fly for fun,” Fox said, recalling the acrobatic flying of crows or seeing them jump off Madrona trees by the ferry.

“This is a marginal life for them,” Fox said.

Crows in the wild are highly social creatures with a typical family group of 10 to 12. Children crows live with their parents until they are 3. During that time, they help care for the fledglings of the mated pair in the family, Fox said.

Roosting groups may include hundreds of crows.

Thus, if a baby crow does accidentally fall out of the nest, she advises people to leave them alone as a member of the family soon will be by to pick it up.

In her talk, Fox will discuss what to do when you find a wild creature that appears injured.

To satisfy her crows’ social needs, she talks and plays with them for at least 30 minutes in the morning and evening. Otherwise, the crows become lonely and despondent to the point of becoming aggressive.

Having this pair of crows, both around 5 years old, is a long-term commitment as they have a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years, Fox said.

If she ever goes away, she will have to first train a crow-sitter and get him or her approved by the government.

Much better is to let crows be crows.

The way Fox explains the life of a captive crow to children is, “It’s kind of like putting you in your house with a wonderful playground and giving you all you want to eat and toys, but you can’t leave. You can’t choose your own friends.”

* * * * *

Caw of the wild

Elena Fox presents a program on crows, “Sharing the Wild,” at 3 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Bainbridge Library. Geared to elementary school-age children. For more information, call the library at 842-4162. Those interested in having Fox and her crows present their program may contact the West Sound Wildlife Shelter at 855-9057.

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