The Story of Lil’ Crow


September 18, 2015 10:07AM

Like many Americans, my Labor Day involved a decision about a bird. Mine, however, was not whether to fry it or grill it. Rather, my bird was an adolescent crow that ended up in my yard with a broken wing, “Lil’ Crow,” as he was named by my tender hearted seven-year-old son.

This episode of American life actually began a few days before Labor Day when Lil’ Crow first appeared in our yard visibly injured. Notwithstanding a broken wing, Lil’ Crow appeared otherwise healthy, running around my yard at a surprising clip. Lil’ Crow’s other major problem was the harassment he received from the other crows in his flock. Apparently, it is common crow behavior to kill a wounded member of the flock, or “murder,” as a flock of crows is appropriately named. Seriously, look it up.

I figured nature would run its course. Yet, defying my expectations, the next morning I woke up and there Lil’ Crow was, in my kids’ playhouse, desecrating it like Axl Rose at a hotel room. When I approached him, I took my dog, Gus, and his “Chuckit!,” really just to try and clear away the merciless other crows. Lil’ Crow panicked, jumped off the side of the playhouse, over the fence and, in an display of aeronautics worthy of Capt. Sullinger, managed a sort of controlled crash into my neighbor’s yard and quickly scampered away. You can’t save them all. I figured the issue was settled.

Not so. On Labor Day, I awoke to find that Lil’ Crow had managed to overcome the fence separating my neighbor’s yard from ours and was once again being subjected to the ritualistic abuse of the other crows, This is where it gets real. My son, concerned about Lil’ Crow’s condition, now going on at least three days of injury, approached Lil’ Crow to attempt to feed him. Gus, although he is 12, is still a Jack Russell, then promptly mauled Lil’ Crow. Lil’ Crow was only spared by the timely intervention of my son. Gus dropped Lil’ Crow and my son then went inside to cry.

I then was summoned and found, miraculously, that Lil’ Crow was spooked, soggy, and ruffled, but otherwise none the worse for wear. But the matter had finally come to a head. Lil’ Crow wasn’t going anywhere and I couldn’t have any more episodes of Animal Kingdom go down in front of my son or, worse, his little sister. Lil’ Crow had to be caught.

What ensued was a chase scene where I did my part to play the role of Roscoe P. Coltrane. Only at least Roscoe could say that the Duke boys had a souped up Dodge Charger and explosive arrows. Lil’ Crow was down to one wing, and his brain is the size of a grape. I eventually wrangled Lil’ Crow into a dog crate, the less that is said about the specifics the better, and was confronted with the question of what to do with him.

We had the recently been to the wonderful aviary for rehabilitating birds at Radnor Lake state park. I wasn’t sure if they accepted crows but it was the only place I knew to start. The park was, astonishingly, open on Labor Day. The rangers weren’t available but they promised to call back. In the meantime, the lady I spoke with gave me two numbers: Tennessee’s wildlife agency and a private nonprofit specializing in wildlife rehabilitation. I called both agencies and left a message.

The nonprofit called me back later that day. We made arrangements to deliver Lil’ Crow for treatment. Lil’ Crow was soon bundled up and delivered and our minivan still smells like bird.

I realize this is not Democracy in America, and I’m not de Tocqueville, but this little incident sheds a bit of insight on the current state of the American experiment. Here are my takeaways:

First, we have too many laws in this country. For all the internet research I did trying to figure out what to do with Lil’ Crow, one thing was repeated over and over. Migratory birds like crows are protected and it is illegal to keep one without a permit. I understand why we shouldn’t be keeping wildlife as pets. But this is a crow, not a bald eagle, and an injured one at that. It’s really a crime to keep a hurt crow? Not only that, when we dropped of Lil’ Crow, we asked about bringing our kids along. We were told no, because you need a separate permit for that, too. A Cub Scout troop can’t even come visit a recuperating crow? Is there really even a place you can get, not one, but multiple variants of crow-related permits? Whether it is a crime to keep a hurt crow, even temporarily, before delivering him to someone with the proper permit is a question I did not explore. The absence of willful intent was probably my only legal defense short of expecting my son to take the charge for me, sort of the way Snoop recruited juveniles in The Wire.

Had the nonprofit turned Lil’ Crow away, I’d have been out of options. The words, “give me liberty or give me death,” being more than just words to me, I suspect I would have been forced to care for Lil’ Crow had it come to that, in an act of civil, crow-related disobedience. And so what? What was the worst that could happen if I’d cared for an crow unlicensed? Lil’ Crow’s situation was already terminal. Would it really have been preferable for me to have just thrown Lil’ Crow out into my backyard to be hunted down by a gang of the other stronger, healthier crows like Rue from District 11? I don’t think so. Won’t someone think of the crows!

Second, how about the performance of a private, nonprofit entity whose concern and capacity extended even to a poor crow in need? Lil’ Crow seemed like a decent enough little (lil’) guy to me, but he’s not exactly a California Condor. I remain pleasantly astonished at the sheer breadth of American generosity, extending even to indigent crow care. Speaking of de Tocqueville, American philanthropy fascinated him as well. Since the time he was writing in the 1800s, the number of nonprofits devoted to charitable causes has exploded. For all the carping you hear these days, this aspect of the American character appears alive and well. For this, all of us, and one, little (lil’) crow, should be grateful.

The next time someone accuses you of a lack of compassion when you don’t agree that the government should intervene to solve this or that problem remember all this. The government isn’t the only game in town. You can disagree about how a problem should be solved and still care. Some might argue that a preference for a non-governmental solution is evidence of concern. Given the government’s track record, we ought to seriously consider this position. It’s worth pointing out that in the matter of Lil’ Crow, I called three numbers: two were government and one was a nonprofit. One government number never called me back. The other did, but only to tell me they couldn’t help. The nonprofit called me back on a federal holiday and agreed to care for our crow free of charge.

There’s another benefit to all of this that tends to get unmentioned in these sorts of discussions. We donated $100 when we dropped off Lil’ Crow at the nonprofit. That is, we gave it voluntarily. We (more “I” than “we”) would probably pitch a fit if someone tried to add $100 to our yearly taxes to provide health care to crows, but writing this check wasn’t hard. Consider this: charity softens hearts; coercion hardens them. This whole episode wasn’t just good for the public interest in wildlife protection. It was good for us.

In closing, I still feel pretty good about the American character and its commitment to humankind. Our leaders ought to question if we need to be forced to care for others. And governmental welfare agencies have a way of crowding out true philanthropies. It troubles me that Obamacare threatens to do away with nonprofit hospitals, and the continuing need for organizations even as venerable as Alcoholics Anonymous is not beyond questioning. The opinion page of the Washington Post is openly questioning the need for tax exempt status for churches by arguing that the government should be handling social services. Can nonprofit charities endure? When they come for crow related charities, it’ll be time to break out the pitchforks. But I just don’t think this is a battle we can lose. Americans are that decent. I have more important things to worry about. Like whether Febreze can get out the smell of bird out of car upholstery.