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Not to be indelicate, but some people feed their kids all kinds of crap.
Take this young crow here, who doesn’t look destined for stardom. He fell from his nest and was taken home by a passerby, who thought he was kinda cute and decided to take him home and become his mother. But eventually he started making a big mess and looking a little moth-eaten, so she finally felt it might be time to contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
“You’ve had him for two weeks?” I asked. “What have you been feeding him?”
“Bread and milk,” she replied. “Sometimes a little chicken.” Responding to the scary look on my face, she added defensively, “That’s what I read on the internet.”
It boggles the minds of wildlife rehabilitators that this bread-and-milk thing still exists. Let’s be logical: birds don’t have mammary glands, nor are beaks conducive to stealth nursing from cows, goats, dogs, or whatever lactating mammal happens to be passing by. Plus … I mean, seriously … nestling birds can’t fly, which is why they’re in the nest, so they wouldn’t be able to get to the mammal in the first place. We can twist our brains into pretzels trying to follow the logic here, and it does us no good.
Bad diets result in poor feathering, severe calcium deficiencies, and birds who look like the one above. A young owl or hawk fed bread and milk will die fairly quickly. If you squirt any kind of liquid down a bird’s throat you’ll probably drown him, or at least give him a good case of pneumonia. So the best thing to do when faced with a cute little orphaned birdie is to hand him over to a wildlife rehabilitator, who will fill him full of good food, vitamins, make sure he has company of his own kind (see left) and eventually get him back into the wild, where he belongs.
The rescuer’s role doesn’t have to end abruptly, however. If you are drawn to wildlife, hand the critter to the rehabber and ask if s/he needs a volunteer. If you’re rewarded with a blinding smile, you might end up entering the world of wildlife in a way beneficial to all three of you – you, the rehabber, and the wildlife.
The crow in the first photo, BTW, received good food, megavitamins, and three crow buddies, underwent a feather makeover, and now lives happily with his adopted family somewhere in the woods behind my house.