When Greenwood gets a murder (group of Crows) it starts to feel like Halloween at the center. This isn’t because Crows are spooky, rather, our staff dons some odd additions to their typical uniforms. Masks that imitate the bird are worn when animal care staff are feeding and cleaning to prevent habituation to humans while they are in their formative stages of development. They are adorned with shiny black beaks and iridescent feathers. Sometimes you might hear a light “CAWW” from underneath their mask.
Imprinting is an important trait for birds like crows that are in the Corvid family. They are social birds that need to be able to recognize their own species in order learn vocalizations and behaviors. If a crow were to become too habituated to humans, they would not be able to return to the wild. They wouldn’t fit in with fellow crows and would look to humans for food.
Crows are extremely smart birds. They can recognize individual human faces. This trait has helped them become even more suited for urban environments because they can discern who is friend or foe. But for wildlife rehabbers, they don’t want to be labeled as “friend” because they take on the role of their caretaker for the short time they are at the center. If the crows were to grow up thinking of them as such, they wouldn’t know how to find their own food in the wild. Ergo, Mardi Gras masks.
With a new crow aviary being constructed on the Greenwood grounds, we will be able to rehabilitate even more of these intelligent birds. They will have room to build relationships with others of their own species. This is important for Crows because of their structured social lives. Crows roost together and communicate often to warn for predators or help raise fledglings.
While fledglings are in our care, it’s important for us to look like them. With more space in the crow aviary, it seems we might have to hold a fundraiser just to for more Mardi Gras masks!