Hand-rearing of Crows, Jay, Magpie etc. (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Corvus monedula - Eurasian jackdaw, Corvus frugilegus - Rook, Corvus corax - Common raven, Corvus corone - Carrion crow, Garrulus glandarius - Eurasian jay, Pica pica - Black-billed magpie, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax - Red-billed chough.

These species are from the families Corvidae.

  • These species are easily imprinted and are then unsuitable for release.
  • Corvid chicks would normally be confined to the nest for four weeks and brooded for the first two weeks until their head and back feathers have grown. (B118.17.w17)
  • For Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax - Red-billed chough: contact "Operation Chough" scheme. 

Initial Care: 

General bird information:

  • On arrival any young bird should be weighed, warmed, and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration.
  • Cold, weak chicks may benefit greatly from a short period, for example 30 minutes, left in a dark cardboard box at 30-35C.(P19.1.w4)
  • The age should be determined if possible.
  • See: Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information. for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General altricial/semialtricial bird information

  • Young birds, particularly altricial or semialtricial unfeathered/poorly down-covered nestlings, have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.(V.w5)
  • A thermometer should be used, within the brooder box or beside the nest box, to indicate the temperature at which the chicks are being maintained.
  • Provide heat to a maximum of 95F directly under a heat lamp, with a temperature range such that the chicks can chose the position at which the temperature is comfortable. Ensure the minimum temperature is not low enough to allow the chicks to get chilled.

Corvid specific information:

  • An artificial nest may be constructed from a flowerpot with a cup inside formed from newspaper, lined with a piece of towel or paper towel for the feet to grip.
    • Nest size: for jackdaw or crow: 10-15cm diameter pot; for carrion crow or rook: 30cm pot.
  • Place pot inside a carton or box lined with paper or polystyrene as an insulating layer.
  • Additional heat may be provided using a heat lamp hung about 70cm above the nest.
  • Heat requirements may be judged by the behaviour of the chick: neck is withdrawn into the body if the chick is cold, neck is extended and feathers raised to expose bare skin on the back if too hot.
  • (B118.17.w17)


A variety of foods have been described for rearing corvids:

  • Caterpillars and grubs, scrambled eggs initially.(B118.17.w17)
  • Later same foodstuffs as adults: table scraps, insects, poultry pellets, fruit, meat (e.g. tinned cat or dog food, butchers' "dog sausage", day-old chicks).
    • For young chicks food should be finely minced.
    • Diet should be at least 50% protein.
    • Moisten food before feeding.
    • (B118.17.w17)
  • Dog food.(J34.9.w1)
  • Mixture of chopped chick, mealworms, minced meat and meat mix (canned cat food mixed with insectivorous diet and grain).(D24)
  • "St Tiggywinkles Bird Glop".(B151)


  • Chicks may be at risk of dehydration, particularly as they are being kept in a warm box.
  • Dipping alternate mouthfuls of food in water, shaking off excess, has been suggested. (P19.1.w9)

Feeding Frequency:

Corvid specific information:

Suggested hand rearing protocols include:

  • Feed little and often for very young chicks- ideally whenever the chick begs.
  • Every 2-3 hours for older chicks.
  • Always feed last thing in the evening.
  • (B118.17.w17)
  • Feed every 1/2 hour during the day (dawn to dusk).(J34.9.w1, B151)

Feeding Technique: 

Suggested feeding techniques include:

  • Mimicking the call of the parent to make chicks gape - chicks soon learn to respond to a sound associated with feeding. (B118.17.w17)
    • However this may increase the risk of the chick wrongly imprinting on the carer. (V.w27)
  • Place food inside the mouth when the bird gapes, taking care to avoid the entrance to the trachea.(V.w27)
  • Feed boluses of food mixture.
  • (B118.17.w17, D24)
  • Feed using a tongue depressor, covering the end with glop and depositing it down the throat. (B151)
  • Blunt-ended forceps may be used for feeding. (V.w27)


  • Small amounts at each feed initially. (B118.17.w17)


General bird information:

  • For young nestlings carefully remove the faecal sack produced after each feed.
  • Later chicks will deposit their droppings over the edge of the nest.
  • Frequent cleaning of the nest is required if soiling occurs due to e.g. loose droppings.
  • (B118.17.w17, B151, V.w27)


General bird information:

  • Regular weighing provides a good indication of growth, however a balance must be chosen between the frequency of weighing for accurate monitoring of progress and the stress which may be caused by repeated handling.
  • Individuals in a brood or being reared in a group must be individually identifiable in order to allow the progress of each chick to be monitored.
    • Temporary identification may be made possible using small colour marks applied to the feathers. An appropriate non-toxic material such as coloured correction fluid (e.g. Tippex) or nail varnish may be used for this purpose.
    • Alternatively, for larger chicks, lightweight leg rings made of flat plastic may be used. These are available in a wide variety of colours. Rings must be of an appropriate size and changed as the bird grows.
  • (B150.w2, V.w5, V.w26)


  • At about one month, chicks will be hopping about the nest and flapping wings vigorously.
  • Chicks are ready to leave the nest once able to perch on a stick steadily and no longer squatting down immediately when replaced in nest.
  • When perching all day move to a cage about 1 metre square, initially with nest in to allow chick to return to nest at night. Provide perches well clear of the floor to avoid damage to the tail feathers.
    • A wire cage is not suitable as there is considerable risk of feather damage occurring.(V.w27)
  • By three weeks after leaving the nest, chick will be becoming more active and exploring its environment.
  • At this stage transfer to a larger cage or aviary and provide food including favoured items for the chick to pick up.
    • It is important for the chick to learn to search for and find food at this stage.
    • (B118.17.w17)
  • Do not try to wean too early or stress-marks may form on the feathers, weakening them. (V.w27)
  • Provide a shallow bath during the day for fledglings to bathe in but remove this at night. (V.w27)
  • Wean onto tinned dog food with occasional day-old chicks or mice.(B151)
  • See: Feeding of Casualty Crows, Jays etc. for information on diets suggested for adults.
  • It is important not to move these chicks into a large aviary too fast as the chick may panic and flee to a position where being fed is impossible.


  • General bird information:
    • Move to an aviary for at least two weeks prior to release, to allow exercise, flying/swimming as appropriate and exposure to the weather.

Corvid specific information:

Different suggestions have been made regarding the age at which hand-reared corvids should be released:

  • Not suitable for release until 5-6 months old, at the end of the summer, after the first moult.
    • Allows to reach full growth and be flying strongly.
    • Also allows time to reach strength allowing normal competition with other crows, avoiding excessive bullying.
    • (B118.17.w17)
  • Release when at least three months old.
    • Allows time to strengthen and be able to stand up to bullying.
    • Preferably release in August/September.
    • (B203)
  • For Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax - Red-billed chough: contact "Operation Chough" scheme.
  • See: Release of Casualty Crows, Jays etc.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned or abandoned, injured/visibly unwell, or in immediate danger.
  • Unfeathered nestlings found out of the nest need to be replaced in the nest (if possible) or taken for rearing or euthanasia.
  • Rook chicks which fall to the ground while branching will not be fed by their parents and will require hand-rearing. (V.w27)
  • Prolonged dependence on parents after leaving nest.(B118.17.w17)
  • Considerable input of time and effort required for a prolonged period.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Easily tamed/imprinted to the point of not being suitable for release.(B118.17.w17, D24)
  • Prone to rickets.(J34.9.w1)
  • Risk of damaging bill if it is opened manually.(V.w6)
  • Too early release increases the risk of the juvenile being unable to cope with bullying from other birds of its own species.
  • Too late release increases the risk of the chick wrongly imprinting on humans and reduces the time during which the juvenile can learn to interact appropriately with other birds of its own species.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • No specialist equipment required for rearing.
  • Aviary required prior to release.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Initial time commitment for birds requiring frequent feeding is extreme and would be prohibitive for most people.
  • Rearing is not difficult; experience with hand rearing is useful and likely to greatly increase the success rate.
  • Care is needed to rear without imprinting on humans.
  • Preferably pass to an experienced rehabilitator.(D24)
Cost/ Availability
  • Total food cost over six months may be considerable.
  • Most food items should be available from pet stores and/or supermarkets.
  • Natural foods may be gathered e.g. from the garden.
  • Cost of construction of a suitable aviary may be considerable.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax - Red-billed chough) is listed in Schedule 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and must be registered with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (now DEFRA).(D31)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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