Today I met a fledgling crow who could almost but not quite fly, who use entirely unafraid of me, and whose parents had no concern about my presence. As a result, I was able to take a number of closeup pictures.
With this little bird's help, let's talk a bit about crow anatomy.
People sometimes ask about birds' ears. They indeed have ears, but you usually can't see them under the feathers. Here you get a very clear view.
People also sometimes have the idea that birds' knees bend "backwards" compared to ours. Indeed it looks a bit like they do—but what we think of as their knees are actually their ankles. Their knees are usually buried deep in the feathers. But here you can see the knee clearly.
Of course, there's the matter of eye and beak color. The babies have beautiful blue eyes and pink gapes, both of which turn dark as the birds mature. Compare:
The eyes of adult American crows aren't really black, though. In the right light you can see that they are a beautiful rich brown.
On a fledgling, the inside of the bill is bright pink. On a one-or-two-year bird, it is beginning to turn dark. On an adult, it's black.
(Among ravens, but not American crows, gape color indicates dominance rank.)
People sometimes ask about crows' eyelids. They have two different covers for the eye, an inner translucent nictitating membrane homologous to our plica semilunaris (twitter.com/DorsaAmir/stat…
), and a true eyelid like our eyelids. Below, the eyelid and the nictitating membrane.
The eyelid closes largely from the bottom, upward. The nictitating membrane from the front, backward.
And like people, crows can wink. Even baby crows.
How do you tell if a bird is a fledgling if you can't get close enough to see the beak or eye color? Other than their dead-giveaway begging vocalizations and general clumsiness, the tail length is definitive. Fledgling crows are shaped more like dippers than like crows!
Many birds have rictal bristles, whisker-like feathers around the gape of the bill and around the eye. You can see both clearly here. Corvids are distinguished by extensive rictal-bristle mustaches on the top of the bill, as well. Even this fledgling has a thick layer of these.
I hope you've enjoyed these photos of a fledgling crow as much as I enjoyed getting to know this bird and taking its picture.
I would have moved away immediately if this bird or its parents had shown any distress, but as a campus crow it was not fazed by me at all.
Finally, if you are fortunate enough to encounter a fledgling like this, what should you do?
Usually nothing; let it be.
Kaeli Swift @corvidreseaerch explains: corvidresearch.blog/2015/05/28/hel…
.@ZeroStateReflex has posted some lovely footage of baby crows in a Seattle backyard. It's worth seeing and hearing these birds in action:youtu.be/cKmP47X4DBM
The babies grow so fast. @kris0723 took these two pictures of a fledgling today. Clearly this bird is at least a few days older than the one that I photographed yesterday. Look at the sleeker, less fuzzy plumage, the darker bill and eye color, and general differences in shape.
Since people have become so fond of this sweet grumpy baby crow, I wanted to offer a few more pictures. Here's a very similar expression to the one that started off the thread, maybe a shade more annoyed and a shade less disappointed due to the upward tilt of the head.
Folks cleverer than I may be able to turn this into an appropriate meme.
I find it hard to believe that this is a real bird rather than an adorable cartoon.
Here's a meme template for you all:
A somewhat older fledgling. Kaeli @corvidresearch or other members of #birdtwitter, can you tell us anything about the "spikes" lining the bird's palate?
Earlier in this thread I pointed out the ear on our fledgling crow. One rarely gets a clear view on an adult bird, but the ear is quite apparent here.
An even better look at the corvid ear.
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