Saskatoon

Mortimer the raven is a crow; owner allowed to keep injured bird

Evangeline MacKinnon was relieved to find out that the bird she rescued was a crow and not a raven. Having a crow as a pet does not break Saskatchewan's Captive Wildlife Regulations.

Evangeline MacKinnon says her crow Mortimer will need surgery on his wing

It was obvious to several people that Mortimer was a crow and not a raven. Evangeline MacKinnon says she first thought the bird she rescued was a crow, but then a conservation officer told her it was a raven. (CBC Saskatoon)

It's good news for an animal typically considered a bad omen. Mortimer the raven is actually a crow, and that means Evangeline MacKinnon doesn`t have to turn him over to be euthanized.

In a case of mistaken identity, or mistaken species, Mortimer the crow will be free to live with MacKinnon in his new home.​

"I'm very, very, very happy about this," she said. "I'm happy that he gets to stay with us, that I don't have that fear of him being euthanized anymore."

Mackinnon and her partner Devin Holdner rescued the injured bird in November after finding it with a broken wing under a tree on Wilson Crescent in Saskatoon. 

Evangeline MacKinnon started a GoFundMe to help pay for the looming ticket. Now that she is not facing the fine she is offering to refund people but says there will be a cost associated with the surgery that Mortimer requires. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

Earlier this week she found out that someone had reported her to Saskatchewan Environment, which resulted in a conservation officer coming to her home. According to MacKinnon, the officer told her she had a raven which meant under Saskatchewan's Captive Wildlife Regulations she would have to surrender the bird to be euthanized or face a $2,000 fine.

"I said look at the size of him. He's small, like, I'm pretty sure he's a crow. And he said ' No, no he's a raven. You can tell by the beak,'" said MacKinnon.

"I had a professional come in to my house and tell me that I was wrong, that it was a raven."

When CBC Saskatchewan first published the story a number of people commented that Mortimer was, in fact, a crow and not a raven.

#CrowOrNo?

One of those to comment was Kaeli Swift, whose PhD involved studying crows and corvids at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Swift said she plays a game on Twitter each week called #CrowOrNo, in which people post pictures of what they think to be crows, ravens or other members of the corvid family. The aim is to familiarize people with the bird and highlight what differences there are between them, as well educating people about the species. 

One big indicator is the size of the bird. Swift said when she saw MacKinnon holding Mortimer it was pretty obvious that the bird was a crow. She said that the perceptible size difference between someone holding a crow or a raven would be as apparent as someone holding a grapefruit or a mandarin orange. 

"Ravens are about two-and-a-half times the size of a crow. They are enormous birds," she said. "It's not a raven."

Another tell was the lack of hackles, which are special feathers that ravens have on their throats. "They're really, heavily textured versus crows have more traditional boy feathers on their throats. They're really fine and smooth," said Swift.

"If you look at a side-by-side, between a crow and a raven those feathers will be really obvious to you." 

Kaeli Swift says there are number ways to tell if a bird is a crow or a raven but the size and presence of hackles is the surest way to differentiate the two. (AP)

Swift added that from what she had seen Mortimer was not a small or young raven, either, since hatch-year corvids — those born in the current year — would have already grown to their full size. That would mean the hackles would have been fully formed and the size difference would have been clear. Mortimer is a young bird, though, according to Swift. His mouth lining is pink, and once he reaches sexual maturity that lining will turn black.

Jan Shadick with Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation came to MacKinnon's home to assess Mortimer and found that the bird's broken elbow could be operated on. Mortimer will never fly again, but with the surgery the bird will hopefully be in less pain.

Nevermore will the fate of Mortimer be uncertain. Evangeline MacKinnon says she's been in touch with Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation to learn how to care for the bird. (CBC Saskatoon)

MacKinnon is getting ready to care for her bird and Shadick was able to give her some ideas for how to care for a crow. Soft and flat areas for Mortimer to walk on are needed, as is a wooden block for him to sharpen his beak on.

Swift said she can understand why someone would want to keep a crow as a pet and sympathizes with MacKinnon wanting to keep Mortimer. However, she said keeping a crow can be far more challenging than people might think.

"It requires a lot of resources and it's often very difficult for people who don't have that experience, who don't have access to those resources to do it in a way that maintains the bird's mental and physical health," said Swift.