If you see a flightless crow or magpie perching on your planter, or hopping across your lawn or driveway — hands off.
It probably doesn’t need your help, said Carol Kelly, executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre.
About a dozen concerned Central Albertans called Kelly one recent day to express concern for birds they believed to be injured because they couldn’t fly away when approached by humans.
After a quick assessment of each situation, Kelly assured the callers the birds were perfectly normal juveniles who probably hopped out of their nests before they had perfected their flying skills.
“This is the time of year for it,” she added.
Young crows, magpies, chipping sparrows, bluejays, owls and robins are known to regularly leave their nests before they can fly so they can strengthen their legs and wings in preparation for takeoff, said Kelly.
“Some owls are even called ‘branchers’ because they are seen sitting around on branches.”
The best thing residents can do for these young birds is to leave them be, as their parents are still looking out for them. Kelly said the only other thing homeowners can do is keep prowling house cats away.
“The biggest problem we have in Red Deer and around Central Alberta is cats roaming,” added Kelly, who wishes every municipality would enact a cat bylaw to make it illegal for cats to prowl outdoors, killing millions of wild birds.
Sometimes Central Albertans have brought in young animals or birds they think are injured to the centre and Kelly has asked for these to be returned to the same spot where they were found, so they can be reunited with their parents. Occasionally, one of the young birds actually is injured — as in a time someone brought in a chipping sparrow that had hit a window. Kelly said the bird recovered after a few hours.
She took it outside the nature centre, knowing a family of chipping sparrows had located in a nearby lilac bush. Sure enough, as soon as the adult sparrows heard the cheeping baby, they flew out to greet it and took over its parenting — even though it wasn’t theirs.
“I don’t know if they can’t count or they don’t care. They just accepted her,” said Kelly, with a chuckle.
She’s disheartened to hear some people say they have no use for crows or magpies because of the unmusical cawing sound they make. Kelly believes the intelligent, social birds are misunderstood.
Magpies have been known to gather and have “funerals” when one of their number dies, she said. And crows stay with their parents for up to five years. They often migrate back to the same place and help them raise new generations of young.
Anyone with questions about wildlife is asked to call Kelly (at 403-728-3467 days or evenings), preferably before bringing an animal in to the centre.