This story comes from Emily Johnson, who is a sub-permittee for a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in Helena, Montana. Emily lives in Big Sky, three hours southwest of Helena, which shows you the distance you have to travel out there to find a rehabber (I was going to say “which shows you how spaced-out rehabbers are,” but that’s normally during the height of baby season.)

Not all injured birds end up winging their way back home again, which is the sad but true part of wild bird rehabilitating. Some, however, decide that captivity isn’t so bad, and can adjust to a new life. Such was the case with Russell A. Crow, named by his rescuer, a teenaged girl named Grace.

Grace’s high school is in Bozeman, Montana, next to a McDonald’s. Somehow one day Russell ended up standing in the parking lot between them, his wing broken and hanging. The high school lunch bell rang, and soon, so did Russell’s.

The sitting duck of a crow was surrounded by a group of teenagers who were not eco-friendly. They formed a circle around him, and when he tried to escape, “redirected” him with a good kick. Luckily Grace happened upon the scene, and like an avenging angel, broke up the circle, rescued the stunned bird, and called her mother. A short time later Russell rolled away, safe – if not sound – in the family’s station wagon.

Grace’s family didn’t know about wildlife rehabilitators, so they simply kept him in the safe haven of their fenced-in backyard, hoping with enough food and rest, he would recover on his own. Unfortunately, his wing healed in a crooked arc, grounding him for life.

Grace’s mother eventually heard about Emily, the crazy bird lady who lived nearby, and one chilly November day they delivered Russell to her. Grace and her family had lavished him with kindness and care, so despite his ordeal, he was a friendly, lively crow. Emily kept up the care, expanded his diet, and learned his quirks and preferences; among them that apples are totally unacceptable, good only for throwing. Although many injured wild birds cannot tolerate captivity, Russell was not one of them. He was placed in a wildlife center in Red Lodge, Montana, where he can live out his life, safe and protected, throwing the occasional apple, with other grounded crows for company.

Sometimes the human capacity for both cruelty and compassion can balance out in the life of a single bird.

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Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of Three Best Summer Reads of 2020.