Crows are ubiquitous birds that can be found throughout the United States (U.S.) and in many countries. If you've ever thought about having one as a pet, there's more to owning one than simply taking a wild crow in.
Can You Have a Crow as a Pet?
It's illegal to own a crow as a pet in the U.S. Crows are covered under the federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918, which makes it not only illegal to own one, but also to hurt one or damage any, except in a few specific circumstances where the crows are causing a hazard to health, property, or an endangered species. There are very few cases where you can obtain a permit to care for one.
Obtaining a Permit to Care for a Crow
Under the Migratory Bird Act, a Federal Migratory Bird Rehabilitation permit allows you to take control of, transport, and temporarily house a sick, injured, or orphaned crow. To apply for the permit:
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- You must have 100 hours of hands-on experience rehabilitating a crow. Twenty hours of the 100 can be seminars and courses related to rehabilitation.
- You must have a facility that is appropriate for a crow, and you will have to submit photographs and diagrams with your permit application. The minimum standards can be obtained through the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
- You can apply for one permit per physical address. If you are caring at more than one location, you need to list them on the permit.
- You can only keep the crow for 180 days. If it needs a longer rehabilitation period, you can request an extension at least 30 days before the permit period ends.
- You must also have a state permit or license for rehabilitating migratory birds if your particular state requires one.
- In special circumstances, a facility may be allowed to keep a crow for educational purposes if the crow is not able to be successfully returned to the wild due to injuries.
What if I Find an Injured or Orphaned Baby Crow?
If you do not have a permit to care for the crow, the best thing to do is contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You can find a state-by-state list on the Humane Society of the United States website. If you decide to care for the crow on your own without a permit, it can be confiscated by federal authorities if someone reports you, and you can be fined.
Are Any Crows Legal to Own?
There are a few species of crow that you can keep that are not native to the U.S., and thus are not covered by federal law. Some species of crow that have been kept as pets are the white-necked raven and the pied crow, as well as a hybrid of both birds. These birds are very similar to the American crow, other than they have some white plumage on their bodies rather than being solid black. These birds are hard to find as they're specially bred, and you can expect to pay around $2,000 to $6000 for one.
Do Crows Make Good Pets?
If you do decide to bring home a non-migratory U.S. crow as a pet or end up caring for one through a wildlife rehabilitation facility, crows can be very difficult birds to keep as pets. They are incredibly intelligent and wildlife rehabilitators have described caring for them as caring for a small infant that lives for 10 to 25 years or more. There are numerous difficulties involved in caring for a crow.
They Are Wild Animals
Crows are not domesticated and have a great deal of difficulty transitioning to a life where they cannot fly freely. They're also very intelligent and have even been known to use tools. Combining their wild nature with their smarts, and they can quickly become stressed out and engage in neurotic behaviors when kept in captivity. They are also known for being very destructive and for having a sharp and strong bite that can damage small bones.
They Can't Live in a Cage
Crows cannot adapt to a cage the way that a parrot can, as they do not climb the way a parrot does. Crows use their feet to hop from place to place and this isn't possible in a cage, even a large parrot cage. They only do well in a large aviary, and even that is difficult for them to adapt to.
Crows Are Hard to Feed
Crows require an omnivorous diet, which means you'll need to feed them both meat, insects, fruit, green vegetables, and necessary vitamins and minerals, including calcium. You cannot feed them birdseed or pellets, and it will be difficult on your own to prepare a balanced diet for them. Some crow owners feed their crows dog and cat food, as well as whole mice and insects.
Crows Are Social
Crows need the company of their own kind to be happy. While they can interact and bond with humans, they are much better off mentally when kept in a group of crows. Living alone without other crows, even with other animals and people as company, is a sad life for a crow.
Crows Are Loud
Crows can make a lot of noise, and it's often not pleasant. Unlike a songbird, crows make loud "croaking" noises, and calling out to other crows is a deeply ingrained behavior. They can also make these loud noises when they're stressed, hungry, or excited. Crows are also known to mimic sounds, and may even appear to reproduce human speech.
Veterinary Care Will Be a Problem
Most veterinarians will not treat a sick crow. This can actually cause them to lose their license to practice because of federal law. If you have one of the legal species, such as the hooded crow, you may find it very hard to find a veterinarian who is educated in how to care for this species, because they are not commonly kept as pets.
Getting a Pet Crow
If you really love crows and find them fascinating, you can "legally" keep them by creating a habitat in your backyard that is hospitable to crows so you can enjoy watching them in the wild. Or consider volunteering at your local wildlife rehabilitation facility and undergoing training to become a rehabilitator yourself. It's a wonderful way of experiencing a wild bird like a crow while helping injured animals in need. Crows are incredibly intelligent birds with unique personalities, but these very qualities make them difficult to keep successfully as pets.