ASCAR’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Crows and Ravens

What is a group of crows called, and why?
A “murder” of crows is based on the persistent but fallacious folk tale that crows form tribunals to judge and punish the bad behavior of a member of the flock. If the verdict goes against the defendant, that bird is killed (murdered) by the flock. The basis in fact is probably that occasionally crows will kill a dying crow who doesn’t belong in their territory or much more commonly feed on carcasses of dead crows. Also, both crows and ravens are associated with battlefields, medieval hospitals, execution sites and cemeteries (because they scavenged on human remains). In England, a tombstone is sometimes called a ravenstone.
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How do I get a pet crow or raven? Is there anyplace to adopt, catch, purchase one?
Crows and ravens are migratory birds and therefore protected by federal law. Unless one has a federal permit (these are difficult to obtain), it is illegal, a criminal offense, to keep a crow or raven. These laws are sometimes silly in application, (e.g. a game warden treating a kid raising an orphaned crow as a criminal), but in principle, they have a rational basis — to keep people from buying or selling native birds in pet shops, as was once a common practice. Also this protects birds from idle, would-be pet keepers whose intentions are good, but are so lacking in expertise that they end up abusing the animals.
With that said, ASCAR does not give out information about how to obtain crows – emphatically does not approve of people intentionally taking young crows from nests or buying from others who have done so.

However…

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How do I take care of a pet crow or raven?
Many people who come across orphaned, nestling crows have successfully raised them and greatly benefited from the experience. These are birds who have not yet passed the stage (3-4 weeks) when they can be imprinted. (Imprinted crows are the “tame” ones). They will eat readily and are easy to care for. Crows are omnivorous and will eat almost anything.
A good basic diet for hand raised young crows is a mix of oatmeal, ground up beef heart (lean, good insect substitute), yoke of hard boiled egg and avian vitamin supplement which is heavy on calcium (for bone growth). Put a gob of this mixture on your finger, insert into the gaping mouth of the bird. Get your finger well into the throat, since this simulates the parent’s beak and triggers the swallowing reflex. Young crows need to fed in this fashion until 5-6 weeks old. Thereafter, they will begin eating by themselves, almost anything. Work in as much wild food as possible.

Crows begin to fly sufficiently to be released at eight weeks or so. They should be released! ASCAR emphatically objects to crows or ravens (who can fly) being caged. Caged corvids become demented. They may appear tame and affectionate, but this is only the demeanor of a prisoner. Young birds who were imprinted, hand raised and then released will hang around the premises – being very entertaining throughout the summer, lighting on shoulders, rummaging through pockets, stealing earrings, trying to get in the house, etc. In September they will begin to drift off, hopefully joining and becoming integrated into flocks of wild crows.

It is sad when they leave because they are so affectionate (imprinted) and instructive…but look on the relationship as a memorable summer romance. Also, if you had not spent a lot of time and emotion raising a foundling, it would have been dead within a few hours of being ejected from the nest.

But – to repeat – without difficult-to-obtain permits, it is illegal to hold a crow or raven. We are against buying, selling or going out to intentionally obtain baby crows. With the understanding we do not promote criminal activity, ASCAR recognizes that many people successfully raise and benefit from foundling crows. They care for them at their own risk. They should never be permanently caged.

Addendum: An adult crow, or even young ones past the imprinting age, are among the most difficult of creatures to “tame.” They remain hostile and frightened no matter how much care is lavished. People who come upon an infant or injured adult crow, and do not want or know how to care for them, should take them to a licensed rehabilitator. Rehabilitators, by law, cannot charge for their services – see article in Smithsonian Magazine, February 1998 issue, by Bil Gilbert.

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What’s the difference between crows and ravens?
Ravens are about 1/3 larger than crows. They have somewhat heavier bills, more fan-shaped tails, sometimes they have a ruff (mane) of feathers around the throat. But essentially, crows and ravens are identical in color, shape – and most importantly – behavior.
Crows and ravens are competitors, and both species are seldom found in the same locale. Ravens are most often found in heavily wooded, mountainous, cold, or desert regions. Crows may be spotted in more temperate, mixed habitat areas.

Northern ravens (those of Arizona) are transglobal, and found around the world. There are 42 species of crows and ravens (corvidae) found in all parts of the world from the arctic to the tropics, excepting (for reasons known only to God) South America.

Most of them are very similar, predominantly black birds. The American crow is typical, and found throughout the United States, except Hawaii. Other US species include the fish crow (a bit smaller than the common crow) found mostly in southeastern coastal and riparian regions; the Pacific Northwest crows are much like the American crow, and, in fact, may be (according to one’s favorite taxonomist) only a subspecies.

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How long do crows live?
In captivity, both crows and ravens have been known to live for about thirty years – tops. In the wild, the average life span of a crow is 7-8 years.

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