Cuervo, it’s not just for breakfast anymore

A few lucky Peace River Wildlife Center supporters and home renovation do-it-yourselfers got a sneak preview of our latest education bird recently at the Punta Gorda Home Depot’s Hurricane Awareness Event.  A huge supporter of non-profits in the community, Home Depot holds quarterly events to showcase local organizations and help educate the public.

The new face in the crowd this past weekend was a fledgling fish crow that came into PRWC with a missing wing tip on one side, a healed fracture in the other wing and a skin infection.  Since the bird will obviously never be able to fly, we thought we would give him (or her) a chance to see if he wanted to be an education bird.  He has been recovering from his other wounds with remarkable speed and seems quite content and calm around crowds of people as well as dogs and cats. 

The fish crow is one of the more abundant birds in our area of southwest Florida.  It is similar to the American crow, which is found throughout the US, but our fish crow is smaller and has a more nasal voice.  The fish crow is found only along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, generally inhabiting areas with salt or brackish water, and up into the Mississippi River region.  It is similar in appearance to the Northwestern crow, found only along the Pacific coast from Alaska to northwestern Washington state.  Another relative is the common raven, which is one of the most widespread birds in the world, seen in parts of North and Central America, North Africa, Europe and Asia.  While we do see the occasional American crow, Northwestern crows and ravens are not found in this area.

Like other members of the corvidae family, crows and ravens, the fish crow is a true omnivore; it eats carrion, insects, grains and fruit.  As an inhabitant of coastal areas, it is also fond of crabs and small fish, from which its name derives.  It is quite infamously known for its predation of shore bird nests, eating both eggs and small nestlings when possible. 

An intelligent species, the crow has readily adapted to living near people in both urban and agricultural settings.  It is equally adept at raiding curb-side trash cans and cleaning up waste grain after the harvest.  When food is abundant, the crow will cache items for future use in a tree crevice, within Spanish moss or on the ground, even using a large leaf to cover its booty like a pirate hiding his treasure.

These social birds will flock together in large groups, a “murder” of crows, including many other fish crows as well as an occasional American crow.  They can even band together to ward of predators such as raccoons, hawks and owls, by mobbing—flying at and around the intruder, dive bombing it, making loud vocalizations and defecating on it.  (Sounds like a Counting Crows concert I attended once, but that is a story for another time if you are lucky.  Or, if you are really lucky, never.)

Crows are also great mimics and can be taught to “talk.”  PRWC has had other resident crows over the years that greeted visitors with numerous words and phrases.  Our current resident crow, Spirit, loves to say “hi” to people as they approach his habitat.  Our previous resident crow, Lorne, had a vocabulary large enough to get me into trouble.

While checking on a patient in the outdoor woodflight cages one day, I got locked in by a volunteer cleaner who didn’t realize I was still out there.  I could hear visitors talking on the other side of the privacy fence that separates the rehabbing birds from the public.  I called out to them numerous times, telling them I was locked in a cage.  I knew if I could hear them so easily, they had to be able to hear me.  When my repeated pleas were ignored, I climbed the side of the cage and peered over the top of the screened area.  There I spoke directly to the ladies.  When I finally got their attention, they claimed they thought it was Lorne talking.  Note to self, do not teach birds to say, “I’m locked in a cage, please let me out!”

Our new crow will have blood drawn to determine its sex and then we will name it.  At the moment I am leaning toward Cuervo.  As a name, not the beverage, and not because of my hard-partying days as a UF Gator.  (Consistently one of the top party schools in the country!)  Cuervo is the Spanish word for crow.  And also because I am partial to tequila, thank you for asking.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

PRWC's new fish crow ready for his close-up
PRWC’s new fish crow ready for his close-up
PRWC's new fish crow education bird at Home Depot
PRWC’s new fish crow education bird at Home Depot