I Am Not A Baby Crow!

Alright, it’s time for me to say something about baby crows as I’m greatly saddened when I see photos being passed around as “cute baby crow”.

Here’s the first offender that is not, I repeat NOT a baby crow:

NOT a baby crow, not even close.

The bird photographed above is a baby buff-banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis), and isn’t even remotely related to a corvid.

Another offender:

Also NOT a baby crow!

This bird is a corn crake (Crex crex) chick (thank you Sheri, Melissa Penta, Tammy Campbell and Pete).  Another bird nowhere near related to a corvid.

I can tell these aren’t baby crows because I know what baby crows look like and have extensive experience with them, but how about for other people?  Well, your first big hint is the fluffiness.  The fluff, or down, that you see is indicative of a precocial bird chick.  There are two kinds of hatching development types that occur in birds; precocial and altricial.  Precocial chicks are those that can walk, have down, open eyes, and are ready to eat on their own within hours of hatching.  Some of the most well known examples are chickens, geese, turkeys, quails, pheasants, waders, and ducks (among others).  Crows (in fact all corvids) have altricial young which are naked little jelly-bean monsters with closed eyes upon hatching and are reliant on their parents/family for weeks to months to nearly a year (depending on the species).  When altricial birds emerge (fledge) from the nest they are (or very nearly are) the size of their parents!

So here is a real baby crow:

A young baby crow, only a few days old. Photo by Melanie Piazza at Wild Care.

They start off rather not-cute, but they get cute fast, in my opinion.

A real baby crow!  This bird is about 24 days old.

As you can see, from the photo of a baby crow that is only a few days old to one that is 24 days old, they grow rapidly.  A 24-day-old crow is still in the nest (the one photographed above fell out, and I put him back in!) and can’t fly.  The 24-day-old is still growing its flight feathers and tail and will not start to fly until it’s about 35 days old or older.  Notice the older baby has his nasal bristles, a distinct crow beak (even at only a few days old), highly scaled legs, solid (not downy) body feathers, and a pinkish gape (“lip” structure at the base of the mouth/bill).  Baby crows also have blue eyes, which I adore:

Blue eyes of a baby crow. In some species (Australia for example) some baby crows start with dark brown eyes and they become blue as they grow older. In the case of the American crow (photographed) the blue eyes slowly turn to a dark brown.  Note the pink gape at the base of the bill.

Blue eyes on a baby common raven.  Also note the pink gape and mouth.

When people start to actually see baby crows on the ground in the spring and early summer, foraging with their families, they are the size of their parents.  A big tell that the crow you are seeing is a baby is that it will have a bright red/pink mouth.  As crows grow up their mouths turn all black.  When they are babies, their mouths are bright red!  Here is a photo of a baby crow, who is fully flighted and has fledged from the nest, begging for food from a family member:

A baby/fledgling crow (pink mouth) begs from a family member.

Baby crows are not fuzzy fluffballs, but they are still rather adorable.  The best way to experience their cuteness is to watch their silly behavior, something I’ve been doing for years for my research.  Their behavior and antics are a lot of fun.

Here’s a video I took this past summer of three siblings dutifully destroying local foliage in an effort to learn about the world around them (and having fun!).

 

Final note: If you do happen to ever find a baby crow, please refer to my colleague Dr. Kevin McGowan’s website on what to do!  Note that crows are federally protected in the United States and are not legal to own as pets.

33 thoughts on “I Am Not A Baby Crow!

  1. Sheryl

    Great post, thanks Jenn. It’s been driving me nuts seeing the first little chap all over the internet referred to as a baby crow, but I haven’t been able to offer an explanation of what it really is. I’ve linked to you post from @corvidjournal on Twitter in the hope it will help dispel this myth.

  2. mthew

    The old phrase “naked as a jay bird” should come to mind here. Another corvid, another altricial bird.

    In the city, I’ve gotten the cliche “have you ever seen a baby pigeon?” more than once. Why, yes, I have, but I turn the question around and ask: “how many baby birds of any species have you ever seen?” They’re supposed to be hidden away and inaccessible, being virtually defenseless. Precocial birds, especially really obvious mallards, have set a pattern for the otherwise unknowing. More education is necessary. But the cute-ification of so much of nature, especially on social media, doesn’t help in the least.

    This is a great blog, though. I found it via the “crowebinar” last night.

  3. Melissa Penta

    That second, unidentified, chick has been identified as a Corncrake. I figured I’d post that here since I linked to your post in the replies. It was in a Facebook ID group and the argument was if it was a baby crow/raven or chicken. I immediately thought of this post 😀

  4. Tammy campbelC

    The chick on the bottom is a corn crake,which is also a type of rail.It is native to the UK.

  5. The Corvid Blog Post author

    As to the other species, the bill length and striping is right for a Virginia rail or water rail. Note the chick photographed only has a white tip and a shorter bill. But I am no expert on rails! This is just the best ID I have, and the most similar.

  6. Shelaine

    “Federally protected” What exactly does that mean? Because I used to live in auburn ny where the crow population was so large, the city told people to hunt them

  7. The Corvid Blog Post author

    First off, the population of crows in Auburn is not any larger than it “should” be. Auburn, NY simply has a winter roost (that usually gathers near the prison). Roosting is a winter behavior that brings crows together, so can artificially make the population seem out of control. I assure you, it’s a natural crow behavior that happens yearly and does not mean there has been a spike in the population. For more information about roosts, please check out this post. All of those photos are actually taken in Auburn 🙂

    Now on to what it means for crows to be federally protected. Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which means it is unlawful to kill, harass, and own parts of or take feathers and eggs. However, crows are a bit of sticking point in the MBTA. Most states have a season on crows, and those seasons rarely have daily bag limits. You can shoot crows with a small game license, or if you consider them to be a nuisance. What it amounts to is this, you can shoot all the crows you want, but you can’t keep one as a pet or nurse a shot one back to health without federal permits. You also can’t have feathers or body parts, unless you have a valid small game license. So you can shoot one to get feathers, but technically you can’t jut pick feathers up you find int he forest. I’m not a big fan of this grey area.

  8. Cheri Howe

    I found a blue eyed with a broken spine , took her to Wildlife rehab in Mn Roseville, they did not know at that time they were protected ,,I was very upset,and concerned about this little one,she stared at me in the eyes the entire drive…for two hours.

  9. Joyce Mastro

    I find it ironic that crows are federally protected in the United States (“…and are not allowed to be kept as pets.” ), yet there is open hunting on crows in several states at specific times of the year. (Maine, for instance). I’m sure this started with farmers complaining about crows destroying their crops, but not everyone who hunts crows is a farmer.

  10. Moira

    Thank you for this very informative and well-written article. I had no idea about altricial versus precocial chicks, and that makes so much sense! Renee & Jim are my teachers and former advisors, so I have a special place in my heart for Corvids.

  11. Moira

    Thank you for the article. It was very well-written and informative. I had never heard of altricial versus precocial chicks before. As Renee and Jim are my teachers and former advisors, I have a special place in my heart for Corvids.

  12. Irene Coleman

    Thank you for this post!! I know it’s old but as a person new to bird watching, I found it facinating & very educational!! ☺️

  13. Pat Henson

    Loved the video of the three juvies taking apart the local foliage. They are such destructive, yet highly intelligent little buggers!

  14. Susan Doyle

    OK, I have been trying to figure this out for years…so what is the difference between ravens and crows?? You of all people might be able to help me. I have gotten numerous and unbelievable answers, so I am turning to you for the final word! I have many people waiting on your answer,here! Thanks, and I am spreading word of your blog to all my corvid-loving friends!

  15. Joe

    Thank you for straightening that out for us. Most of us in the public aren’t educated in the study of birds ( what is the title of a Bird Expert?).

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