Crows as Pets: Is It Legal to Have a Pet Crow?
Can I Keep a Crow as a Pet?
I know, I share the fantasy: A crow would be SUCH a COOL pet! But not only is owning or keeping a crow as a pet illegal, it's also unethical, impractical, expensive, and risky to the crow's physical and mental health. Each of these ideas is explored fully below.
Is It Legal to Keep a Crow as a Pet in the US?
In the US, all migratory birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Although crows don't always migrate (only the ones who live in the coldest places do), every type of crow you might find is listed on the Department of the Interior's Federal Register of Migratory Birds. So this means that it is indeed illegal to take/possess, export/import, transport, sell/purchase, or trade any crow or any part of a crow (including its feathers) or their eggs or nests, without a permit. It's also usually illegal to hunt, kill, capture, or take them without a permit.
But what if I find the crow injured and nurse it back to health?
You are never supposed to take a crow in, no matter what, even if it's wounded. Even if the crow approaches you, first! If you find a crow that needs help, call your local Wildlife Protective Services.
But what if I find an abandoned crow that needs help?
First, you don't know for sure that crow was abandoned. It might be a fledgling whose parents are out foraging for food to feed it. It is always illegal to keep or contain a native crow, no matter how much you want or care for it. If in doubt, call your local Wildlife Protective Services.
What if I break the law and take a crow as a pet?
You could be charged with a felony for the possession of a crow. It's unlikely (but not impossible!) that they'd press criminal charges, but you'd probably at the very least be fined and penalized. After all, the laws are there for a reason. Hopefully, they'll make you stop and think your motives through. A crow is a wild animal, not a pet. By taking it out of its habitat and away from its family, you'd be endangering the bird.
Taking a wild thing and putting it into a cage is simply unethical and unkind. Especially a small cage, especially without the constant care and supervision it would need, and especially since you won't be able to offer it medical treatment (no vet would risk their license to treat your illegal crow). So if it ever got sick, it would be entirely your responsibility.
Do Crows Make Good Pets?
For a long list of reasons—both practical and ethical—crows do not make good pets. I know it's an extremely alluring fantasy: You could train it to sit on your shoulder! You could teach it to recite poetry by Edgar Allan Poe!! Maybe it would even go on walks with you!!! But this is one of those fantasy vs. reality situations, and maybe you've been watching too many movies. The realities of crows as pets are explored below.
Why Crows Do Not Make Good Pets
- Owning a crow is illegal in every state in the US.
- It's morally dubious to take wildlife out of its natural habitat and keep it in cages.
- Experts who deal with crows in wildlife preserves compare taking care of crows to taking care of human infants. That's an infant that never grows up (and it might live 20 years in captivity).
- A crow would need constant care, entertainment, feeding, and supervision for the duration of its life.
- Crows are omnivorous scavengers, so you'd be hard-pressed to feed it the wide variety of fresh foods it needs every day. And it wouldn't be cheap, either.
- Crows are extremely social creatures, so if you weren't going to be home every day, you'd need to arrange for company (like a babysitter or another crow or two).
- Crows are extremely active and curious creatures and could get easily bored without constant interaction and innovation. They'll need new things, new toys, new activities, new playmates, and new sights to keep them from going nuts.
- Crows would need a custom cage that allowed them to exercise and fly. At the very least, they'd need to stretch their wings and hop around. They'd need access to the outdoors and fresh air, too. I imagine this cage would cost quite a bit and would require a lot of real estate.
- Medical care would be a major issue since no vet would risk their license to treat your illegal crow. So if it ever got sick, it would be entirely your responsibility (and fault).
So, to summarize, taking a crow as a pet is like kidnapping a child, one who can't ever become independent in captivity. Not only that, but a crow might live 20 years, so you'd have a very long, difficult, expensive, full-time job tending your hostage.
Would a crow be happy as a pet?
You might try to convince yourself that you'll make a better crow family than a crow would and that your home will be more comfortable than a crow's natural habitat. But you'd be fooling yourself for selfish reasons. Crows are extremely intelligent and social creatures. Without friends and freedom, a crow is likely to get bored and depressed.
How can I get closer to crows without owning one?
You could become an accredited Wildlife Rehabilitator or volunteer at your local Wildlife Protection Services.
Or, instead of trying to own and possess it, you could simply befriend the crow and let it live its natural life, in the wild, with its own crow family. Crows are friendly, charming, and make great company. Although they don't make good pets, I do heartily recommend getting to know the friends in your neighborhood. I've spent many years now engaged in a very rich, very fulfilling relationship with the families of crows that live in my area. Read How to Make Friends With Crows for more information.
What If You Find a Baby Crow?
Baby crows are so smart. They quickly learn whom to turn to as parental figures and fall in love (which is another way to describe imprinting in birds). Baby crows imprint very quickly, and this is why people who work with wildlife always hide their faces when they handle baby crows.
It's very important not to allow a baby crow to imprint on you, because if they do, they will be at a disadvantage. They may develop unrealistic expectations of humans and even learn to approach random people, which certainly puts the crow at risk.
To learn more, read What to Do When You Find a Baby Bird.
What about you?
Would you ever own a crow as a pet?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Joanna Fonté