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:
The bird photographed above is a baby buff-banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis), and isn’t even remotely related to a corvid.
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:
They start off rather not-cute, but they get cute fast, in my opinion.
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:
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:
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.
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.