In October 2004, Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center treated a black crow with a unique condition, especially for a wild bird. The crow was suffering from nicotine addiction.
Before coming to Greenwood, the crow had spent five months with a well-meaning caretaker who made three near-fatal mistakes.
First mistake: He assumed a crow on the ground is a crow in danger. Not always true. Young birds often spend time at ground level, away from the nest, as they learn how to fly. Greenwood often advises that these nestlings can be picked up (gently) and placed back in their nest (carefully) with no harm done.
Second mistake: He took the wild crow home—illegal in Colorado—and fed him like a human. Instead of the specialized diet of meat and vegetables Greenwood had waiting for him, the crow was subjected to an unhealthy buffet of bologna, hot dogs, Fritos, peanut butter and pasta.
Third mistake: Cigarettes. For five months, the crow shared space with two smokers. By the time Greenwood received the call for help, the crow had developed a physical dependency on nicotine.
On his first day at Greenwood, the crow presented symptoms of malnourishment and the beginnings of nicotine withdrawal. And he had fallen far behind in a crow’s natural learning curve. Having spent five months away from his family, at a crucial time in his young life, he was in danger of never learning how to live as a wild crow.
Greenwood staff named him Sam. Sam the Crow spent his first week at Greenwood in the Intensive Care Unit. Greenwood’s ICU afforded him room to roam. But instead of reveling in the extra space, he spent most of his time on a perch, feathers puffed, convulsing from nicotine withdrawal. Staffers knew that only time—and treatment—would save him.
As Sam slowly recovered, he had one more obstacle to overcome. The black crow was beginning to think he was a duck. After five months in unfit environs, Sam lacked social skills. Instead of learning from his own family of black crows, Sam began to mimic the actions and sounds of the mallard duck across the hall.
Greenwood’s foster care coordinator moved Sam out of the ICU. The crow’s new home would be an outdoor aviary, close to a flock of wild crows, but still separated from them. It gave Sam his first chance to get accustomed to a crow’s social structure. After a few months safely socializing with his own kind, a rescued and rehabilitated Sam was able to leave Greenwood’s care in April 2005.
Since then, Greenwood staff have spotted the tell-tale band on the crow’s leg as he frolics—without Fritos, without cigarettes, and without believing himself to be a duck—among his new flock.