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Bird lover laments loss of her ravens and crows

Wildlife officials say a Palmdale woman violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 by keeping more than 20 blind or injured crows and ravens in elaborate aviaries inside and behind her house.

December 16, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Debbie Porter and Edgar, the raven, sing to each other. Porter is applying for a restricted species permit to get back and continue to rehabilitate hurt birds.
Debbie Porter and Edgar, the raven, sing to each other. Porter is applying… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

When is Edgar likely to return to his Palmdale home to live out the remaining 25 or so years of his life? Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

At least that's what state and federal wildlife officials have told Debby Porter about the future of the black raven named after poet Edgar Allan Poe that she raised by hand at her Antelope Valley home.

Wildlife officials say Porter violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 by keeping Edgar and 20 other blind or injured crows and ravens in elaborate aviaries inside and behind her house. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents seized the birds in the outdoor aviary Aug. 29 but left Edgar behind because he is an African pied-crow and brown-necked raven hybrid, not a North American migratory bird.

But shortly after, Porter says, a state Department of Fish and Game warden ordered her to hand over Edgar as well because she lacks the proper permit to keep him.

Instead of turning Edgar in, Porter sent him into hiding.

"The state game warden threatened me with a misdemeanor citation and said Edgar would have to be euthanized," Porter said. "A misdemeanor doesn't mean that much to me, but I don't want Edgar euthanized."

Porter is a 59-year-old former stuntwoman who has appeared in such films as "RoboCop 2," "Friday the 13th," "Another 48 Hours," Clint Eastwood's "City Heat" and "The Dead Pool" and on TV series such as "The Fall Guy." "I was working as an extra and I saw people getting paid for doing pratfalls and I said, 'I can do that,' " she explained.

She is also an animal lover who has owned dogs, cats, rats and pigs and has rescued about 30 injured birds over the last eight years. She bought Edgar for $2,000 in 2006 from a center in Alabama when the bird was 6 weeks old.

Injured birds and those born in captivity become reliant on humans and are unable to forage for food by themselves, Porter said.

Edgar warmed up to her immediately, she said. Soon he learned to talk with her, squawking "hello" and "what?" and singing an aria along with her. He learned to come when called and mischievously pick up items with his beak and fly away.

Porter purchased her Palmdale home in 2008. She said she chose it after polling neighbors about whether they would object to her bird-rescue work.

Before moving in, she had the newly built home modified, converting the dining room into two enclosed aviaries and replacing the carpet with an artificial parquet-like floor covering.

She spent $9,000 to build a 140-square-foot concrete-floored aviary in her backyard. It is equipped with water misters to keep birds cool in the summer and a wood-burning fireplace to warm them in the winter. Divided into two spaces, it has double doors that prevented the ravens and crows from flying out when she entered the cage to feed them.

According to Porter, the pair of federal wildlife agents spent five hours rounding up the six crows and 14 ravens.

"They didn't know how to catch them. I showed them how to throw a towel over them so they wouldn't panic and fly into the side of the aviary and injure themselves," she said.

The two federal agents told her that she could keep Edgar because he was a nonnative raven, Porter said. But state Fish and Game had a different view.

Ironically, Porter was in the process of applying for a wildlife rehabilitation license for herself when her birds were seized. She said she was working with a rehabilitation specialist at the time of the raid.

State and federal wildlife officials declined to discuss Porter's case.

But it's common for people to obtain permits to take in sick and injured birds and to keep birds for educational purposes, said Roger Turnell Jr., a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He cited the San Diego-based nonprofit Project Wildlife, which cares for about 10,000 wild animals yearly, as an example.

Porter said she intends to continue seeking a permit or waiver to return Edgar to his home, which is decorated with toy crows, a poster of birds sitting in a tavern called "crowbar" and a street sign that reads "crow crossing." A large black statue of a black raven juts from the wall next to the door.

Porter has hired a lawyer and created an online petition demanding that she be allowed to keep Edgar. It has been signed by nearly 1,800 people worldwide, which gives Porter hope.

As Poe put it, "but the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling ..."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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