What To Do
Gower Bird Hospital - Rehabilitation & Monitoring
Equal rights to a good life
Sometimes people ask why we treat birds that are considered
pests such as feral pigeons, jackdaws and mallards. The policy of
Gower Bird Hospital is that every individual deserves the same
We have learned a lot from these birds diagnosing illnesses or
injuries, wound management, housing, rehabilitation techniques and
Just as our experience with mallard ducklings proved invaluable for
the goosanders, if a rare species such as a chough is presented to
the Hospital, we can draw on our vast experience of caring for
jackdaws and give it a real chance of recovery.
Another question, and one we often ask ourselves, is are we
interfering with nature?
Every patient is recorded on Gower Bird Hospitals database. We now
have more than 7,000 patients details on database and cause of
injury or illness is always noted.
As you can see from the table below, only 20 per cent of birds and
33 per cent of hedgehogs are suffering from natural causes, most
problems are caused through human activity.
Birds: from entanglement in netting, elastic bands, plastic,
fishing line and hooks; flying into windows or powerlines;
Hedgehogs: from entanglement in netting, elastic bands,
plastic, fishing line; garden tools; burns from bonfires
Injuries from natural predators, illnesses, infections from
natural wounds, congenital defects etc
Cat attacks and dog bites (mainly cats for birds and dogs
May have been unnecessarily removed from the wild; nest
destroyed by garden clearance. (Also in the domestic pets,
natural causes or trapped categories)
|Road traffic accidents
Poison/pollution - Usually oil pollution
Birds in chimneys; hedgehogs in garden ponds, drains,
swimming pools etc
|When a patient is well enough to leave the treatment
unit and go outside into an aviary, rehabilitation
starts. Any bird must be 100 per cent fit before
release into the wild if it is to survive.
Different aviaries cater for different species.
Water birds such as swans, gulls, ducks and grebes,
need access to water to wash, preen and ensure
completely waterproof plumage.
in one of the Aquapens - the water is kept clean
by skimming the surface water off through small
The concrete floors are covered with Astroturf to
prevent callouses forming on the feet.
Other birds need to forage in earth and grass and
all aviaries must be big enough for them to fly to
build up muscle tone. Part of the roof and walls are
covered to provide shelter from adverse weather. A
water bath ensures they can wash to keep their
feathers in good condition. Shrubs provide cover and
perching opportunities and the floor is earth with
bark chippings and leaves to forage in. The food
supply is topped up with earth worms, mealworms and
other food supplements.
A rose coloured starling, a rare
visitor to Britain was found in Horton, Gower.
Although quite weak on arrival at the Hospital, he
was quickly diagnosed as suffering from candida (a
fungal infection) in his mouth and prompt treatment
soon had him on the road to a full recovery.
Gower Bird Hospital specialises in the
rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned wild
birds and animals with the sole intention of
returning them to the wild.
Once outside in a rehabilitation aviary it is
still difficult to assess a patients true
If the bird can see you it will modify its
behaviour to disguise any weakness. This is because,
in the wild, a predator will pick out a weak
specimen as easy prey. Left alone, the bird will
relax and again limp on the painful leg, drop the
aching wing, close the sore eye or, if it is weak,
simply fall into exhausted sleep.
Standing next to an aviary and looking in causes
any species of wild bird to freeze or panic. This
doesnt give any useful information about its
behaviour and condition.
All our aviaries are fitted with CCTV cameras for
remote observation, enabling us to watch a patients
natural behaviour for hours and truly assess its
Gower Bird Hospitals lab with CCTV viewing
use of CCTV also gives an excellent opportunity to
Footage is recorded and studied, leading to great
improvements in aviary design and the mental well
being of our patients.
Students from Swansea University use the
facilities at Gower Bird Hospital to carry out
research projects. The welfare of our patients is
paramount. No experiments are carried out to induce
stress we record normal activities at the
Hospital and this behaviour is studied.
For example, hand reared blackbirds were observed
in one of our aviaries and it was noted through the
CCTV that staff walking past the aviaries would
frighten the birds. The birds would stop whatever
they were doing and take cover, remaining in hiding
for several minutes. While this was a good fear
response, it meant the birds werent feeding,
socialising and exercising as much as they should.
It was impossible to reduce the human traffic
passing, so fine green netting (used for wind breaks
in gardens) was fitted over the metal mesh walls of
the aviaries and shrubs allowed to grow up the
outside. This resulted in a much more secluded space
inside the aviary and the birds were much less
affected by passers-by.
Another important discovery was the amount of
squabbling over high perches. At the time of
recording only one or two of the natural branch
perches were high in the aviary, resulting in the
pecking order of the birds being a constant source
of aggression. Simply providing more high perches
for roosting restored equilibrium and reduced stress
All this may sound obvious, but without the CCTV,
it would not have been observed and the improvements
wouldnt have been made.
During 2001 we were able to fit a camera into a
privacy area in the treatment unit and for the first
time we filmed a flat seagulls recovery. A
flat gull is suffering from food poisoning and
appears paralysed no movement in their legs,
sometimes unable to lift their heads.
The normal procedure was filmed:
Initially the gull is tube fed with body fluid
replacement. As the bird gets a little stronger,
even though it cant stand, we put it into a
shallow bath of warm water for a few minutes where
it will drink for itself, eliminating the stress of
being tube fed. This also helps keep the feathers
underneath clean as there is usually a nasty build
up of green droppings. This goes on for a few days.
the gull starts to stand and eat and when strong
enough to walk is transferred to an outside
rehabilitation pool to gain strength and condition
This has always been a successful treatment, but
because the bird is only observed when having fluids
we thought it would be worth filming its recovery.
Our student Matt started the task of watching video
tapes of a mostly immobile gull for 72 hours.
The bird obviously couldnt tuck its head under
its wing to sleep because of the temporary
paralysis. We saw its eyes close, its head nod, its
beak drop to the floor and then it would wake with a
start. This carried on until its condition had
improved enough to be able to turn its head into its
The gull did not get any quality sleep for more
than 48 hours!
We already provided rolled up towels for very
sick flat gulls to rest their beaks on as they
obviously needed it, but didnt do this for birds
that could hold their heads up as it didnt seem
necessary. Thanks to Matts research, all flat
gulls now get pillows. This reduces stress, aids
recovery and makes convalescence a lot more
When patients are released they often fly off
never to be seen again. Is it surviving well or will
it be dead in a few days? Post-release monitoring is
vital to ensure successful release back into the
A tiny radio transmitter is attached to the
middle tail feather of the bird. This will naturally
moult so the transmitter is not a permanent
attachment, but stays on long enough for us to gain
A transmitter was fitted to the tail
feather of Matts seagull. The seagull (Fred,
as he was now nicknamed) stayed in the aquapen for a
day so we could watch him through the CCTV to make
sure he wasnt distressed. After a few curious
prods with his beak, he quickly settled down and
completely ignored the transmitter. Confident that
he was completely at ease, we released him at
Swansea Bay where he had been originally found.
Fred immediately soared into the air with
obvious relief at having his freedom again, then
joined a group of gulls already foraging on the
sand. The first day out he flew to a landfill site
at Briton Ferry (with Matt in hot pursuit!) and back
to Swansea in the evening to spend the night on top
of the Debenhams building. This became a daily
routine with other trips to various parts of
Matt & receiver in Swansea
We are pleased with all our post release
radio tracking projects so far, but this is an
on-going study as every species is different.
We would love to track gannets every
year young gannets arrive in an exhausted state.
After feeding and time in the rehab pens they are
released but what happens to such a specialised
bird? They are on their way to Africa for the
winter, so tracking them would be a very expensive
project, needing a boat and crew capable of
following their progress for a couple of months.
Maybe theres a bored millionaire out there who
would fancy this adventure?
In the meantime well carry on gathering all
the information we can.
Another important part of post-release
research is ringing the birds.
After a lot of hard work, Gower Bird Hospital now
has its own coloured leg rings for herring gulls and
lesser black-backed gulls. The rings are fitted by a
British Trust for Ornithology-trained ringer. Each
gull will have a normal BTO ring and a blue plastic
ring with a white letter Y which will be clearly
visible through binoculars. This means the birds
will be identifiable by bird watchers and casual
observers. We are looking forward to reports of
sightings so that we can understand more about what
our patients are getting up to after their release.
Gower Bird Hospital relies entirely on donations, if you would
like to make a donation on line, click the button below or complete
a monthly standing order to the hospital, please print our
donation form and
post it back to us. This form also includes the Inland Revenue Gift
Aid declaration that enables us to reclaim the tax that would
otherwise be kept by the treasury.
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Gower Bird Hospital, Valetta, Sandy Lane, Parkmill,
Swansea, SA3 2EW
Tel: 01792 371630,
Fax: 01792 371412,
Reg. Charity No. 1053912
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