Wildlife rehabilitators are not known for our bling.

First of all: most of us don’t have much, because we spend all our money on gauze, antibiotics, and frozen rats. Second, even if we do, we have discovered through bitter experience that jewelry can either be snatched or, like very small guns, used against us. As for nice clothing … right! People who work with wildlife wearing nice clothes? LOL.

“Oh my, where do I start?” asked Marge Gibson, when I asked a group of bird rehabbers about their bling experiences. “Earrings are toast with my Wood Duck and Wild Turkeys. Anything shiny is exciting for Sandhill Cranes, including the shimmer at the end of shoestrings. And parrots = 🙁 .”

wildife jewelry

“Everyone takes a grab at the necklace I wear,” said Donna Osburn, noting
that although her cockatiel is obsessed with her silver feather earrings, the only wild bird ever interested in them was a Brown-headed Cowbird.

“My unreleasable Turkey Vulture grabs earrings, necklaces and buttons,” said Eileen Wicker. “And if your ears aren’t pierced, he’ll pierce them for you. He does lips, too.”

Unreleasable American Crows are notorious jewelry thieves. “They’re excellent nose ring removers,” said Jodi Swenson, adding that they’re not so good at giving them back. “Mine nabs my necklaces,” said Jules I.K., while Michele Wellard’s prefers to make off with her hairbands.

My own parrots have taught me to avoid wearing jewelry unless I’m far from home. But once I was all dressed up and walking innocently across my yard – nowhere near a bird, or so I thought – and the worst of my five just-released young crows blazed up behind me, touched down on my shoulder, pulled an earring from my ear, and disappeared. Moral: they’re everywhere.

“I once had a Wild Turkey run up to me, grab my favorite silver Lia Sophia bracelet, rip it off my arm and scatter the beads all over,” said Jean Soprano. “ I had to scramble to get them back before he swallowed them.”

Speaking of which, Michele Wellard had an imprinted young Fish Crow she was teaching to be an education bird, part of which entailed getting him used to wearing leather anklets so he wouldn’t fly away during outdoor programs. The day she tried a new pair – with grommets – he grabbed one, flew to a high perch, and swallowed it, thus stealing his own jewelry.


Michele rushed him to the vet, where x-rays revealed the anklet had passed through his crop, through his proventriculus, and into his ventriculus. The vet believed there was no way he could pass it, so the only options were risky, painful, long recovery-time surgery, or euthanasia. Michele, who had fallen wildly in love with the crow, decided she couldn’t put him through the surgical ordeal. The next day the vet called and said they had taken one more x-ray before euthanizing him, and had discovered the anklet was gone. It seems he had regurgitated it as a pellet.

“I cried over that crow for almost 24 hours,” said Michele, “meanwhile he was at the vet’s office stealing pens, landing on people’s heads, and eating them out of house and home.”

Monte Merrick’s friend Vann Masvidal once found a rhinestone in a Brown Pelican‘s poop, and Maren Scott’s unreleasable Quid Poe Crow popped the diamond out of her ring and presumably ate it. Maren never did find it, although she certainly looked. Rehabbers spend a lot of time looking at bird pellets and doo, although normally not in search of gemstones.

Sometimes jewelry can be dangerous. I once took in an injured Red-tailed hawk who had plenty of energy and was definitely not happy to see me. He flailed as I wrapped a towel around him, and managed to slip a talon beneath my gold wedding ring. At the time I happened to be trapped in unholy matrimony, and suddenly found myself bound to yet another angry, hostile creature by the same damned ring.

Wow, I thought. Wildlife rehab can be so metaphorical.

Little did I know how often this happens to other rehabbers (most of them very fond of their wedding rings). “I had an evil-tempered Great Horned Owl – is there any other kind? – who looped both a front and a back talon under my wedding band,” said Kathy Hershey. “I was alone, and I had to distract him and pull the talons back without him regripping and grabbing a finger. It was the longest ten minutes of my life.”

Another Great Horned Owl snagged his talon under the wedding band of Vonda Lee Morton’s vet. “He had a death grip on that ring,” said Vonda. “Now my vet always removes her rings before the exam.”


Sharron Montgomery went through the same thing with a badly-behaved educational Bald Eagle named Booker T. “She grabbed at my bare hand and hooked a talon under my ring,” said Sharron. “I had to hold her legs with my gloved hand and shout for help, before she either broke my finger or ripped it off.”

Ah, rehabbers, we know how to have a good time.

“Raccoons are worse than birds,” said Gay Frazee. “They yank out hair clips, untie your shoes, pull off your glasses … but it’s all extreme fun.”

Next week: when birds steal non-jewelry items. Bonus topic: wearing live wild birds instead of jewelry.

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 their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.