Today’s Guest Post post is by Lisa Beth Acton, a wildlife rehabilitator in Accord, NY. She has a captive-bred education bird named Xena, a Eurasian Eagle Owl. Lisa brings her to all kinds of gatherings to spread the word of wildlife (see Xena’s Facebook page). 

You all know how it goes, the phone rings and the caller says I have these baby birds…

But this one was a bit different. The caller had three baby Common Ravens from a nest he was ordered to remove and destroy at work. He refused to harm them, so was left no choice but to bring them home and care for them. He meant well, but his research told him to feed them Exact parrot formula – which is NOT a diet for ravens.

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He and his wife had been feeding them on a regular schedule. They were not aware of wildlife laws, and thought they could raise and release them. After a week their son came to visit them; their son knows my husband, and asked if we could take them. At 10 PM we received the already open-eyed and somewhat imprinted ravens. The two older ones were in pretty good shape, but we were not sure the third would make it. She was open-mouth breathing, and we believed she had aspirated formula. We took her to the vet and put her on medication, and somehow she pulled through.

We decided to raise them, and hoped they would wild up quickly if we followed the protocol for avoiding imprinting. During feeding we wore black hoodies and ski masks and fed them with puppets, drilling a hole through the beak of the raven puppet for the tweezers. Once they started self-feeding and we put them in the flight, we spent very little time near them other than delivering food and water while wearing masks. They did very well, even enticing the resident ravens to fly down for visits.

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We started feeding mice, mealworms, and even some wild bird mix and leftovers, as they are scavengers. We released live mice into the flight so they could learn to catch and kill live prey. Anyone who is tempted to raise a crow or a raven needs to know that 1) it is illegal to do it without a license, and 2) if you don’t follow the protocol (ski masks and puppets, and NEVER raise one alone) followed by a large flight cage and live prey, you cannot release them – they will never make it in the wild.

Release day came. It was great! They flew in and out of the flight, then roosted in the flight at night. We would close the flight around 10 PM to protect them from predators, then we’d get up at four in the morning to open the door again. It all seemed to go so well. But then raven chaos began.

They rarely left our property, and went into distructo mode. Oy ve! We scaled back the food to encourage them to forage – and they did, for all the garbage they could get their beaks on. They would chow down on the edible part, then bring the garbage home and throw it in our yard. They’ve done a great job of cleaning up the neighborhood, but our yard looks like the town dump.

We live in upstate New York and have few neighbors. Once they realized food was coming from inside my house, they began waiting on the roof and would fly around screaming when I came out. They bring us gifts daily – garbage, of course, marbles they surely stole from some poor child, water bottles, even car parts. Mind you, we cannot touch them or even get close to them. They don’t want anything to do with us except for the food we leave for them. They cache it everywhere. My husband found little raven scratches all over the hood of my new car, opened the hood, and found a dead mouse stuck carefully in the edge of it. They pulled the wicks out of all our citronella candles, and even managed to pry the cap off our chimney. On the positive side, they did a great job of cleaning our gutters, pulling out all the pine needles and leaves and eating the bugs.

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A few weeks ago squirrel was hit by a car in front of my house. They immediately went to investigate it, and quickly learned to move when cars were coming. I was still afraid for them, though, so I picked up the dead squirrel with a piece of rebar and put it in the woods. Thank God I only have a few neighbors. Seriously, who runs around with roadkill on rebar?

The next day they walked up my driveway with their own dead squirrel. I don’t know where it came from, but they were very proud of themselves.

They have a schedule. If I am not outside by 8 AM with food, they sit on the windowsills, screaming and pecking at the windows. They figured out how to ring the wind chimes by the door, they hang over the edge of the roof and pull the chain so it rings.

They are such smart creatures. Lately they have been spending more and more time away from my house, they don’t go near any of my neighbors, and lately they’ve started avoiding me as well. They still bring me daily garbage gifts (but not when I’m in the yard), and they only come to eat the kibble and mice I leave them when I’m not around. In the evening, they roost in the pines near my house.

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It’s been quite an adventure raising and releasing them, and I’ve learned so much. For a while I was afraid they were too friendly and might turn to humans if they needed food, but I’ve seen no sign of that. Lately they’ve been avoiding me altogether.

Did I mention they picked the heads off every single flower in my garden? Today they left me someone’s shredded mail, a water bottle, and a beer can. I want to tell them next time, I’d like the beer to be full and cold.

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Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a licensed wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on one occasion (well … maybe more than one) she has received a little brown job, 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 runs Flyaway, Inc. out of her home, and has been caring for injured and orphaned wild birds for 20 years. Why go birding when you can just stroll through the house? Honestly, though, she is wildly envious of birders and their trips to exotic locales. She is the author of Flyaway, her bird-rehabbing memoir, and Hawk Hill, a children's book, and is the sole parent of two teenagers. Never a dull moment.