Gower Bird Hospital - Rehabilitation & Monitoring

Sometimes people ask why we treat birds that are considered “pests” such as feral pigeons.

What we have learned by caring for these so called “pests”, such as diagnosing illnesses or injuries, wound management, housing, rehabilitation techniques and feeding preferences we can apply to other avian species.

The policy of Gower Bird Hospital is that every individual deserves the same treatment.

Another question, and one we often ask ourselves, is “are we interfering with nature?”

Every patient is recorded on Gower Bird Hospital’s database. We now have more than 20,000 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.


Problem  % Birds  % Hedgehogs
Unnatural injuries

Birds: from entanglement in netting, elastic bands, plastic, fishing line and hooks; flying into windows or powerlines; shot.
Hedgehogs: from entanglement in netting, elastic bands, plastic, fishing line; garden tools; burns from bonfires
33% 22%
Natural causes

Injuries from natural predators, illnesses, infections from natural wounds, congenital defects etc
20% 33%
Domestic pets

Cat attacks and dog bites (mainly cats for birds and dogs for hedgehogs)
16% 7%
Dependent young

May have been unnecessarily removed from the wild; nest destroyed by garden clearance. (Also in the domestic pets, natural causes or trapped categories)
15%  23%
Road traffic accidents
11% 9%

Poison/pollution  - Usually oil pollution
3% 1%

Birds in chimneys; hedgehogs in garden ponds, drains, swimming pools etc
2% 5%

Our success isn’t measured by how many wild birds and animals are released, but by how successful they are when released back into the wild.

When a patient is well enough to leave the treatment unit and go outside into an aviary, the rehabilitation starts.

Any bird must be assessed as physically and mentally fit before release back into the wild if it is to survive and potentially reproduce.

Different aviaries cater for different species. Water birds such as gulls, ducks and grebes, need access to water to wash and preen to ensure waterproof plumage.

Gulls in an aquapen

Gulls in one of the Aquapens -
the water is kept clean by skimming the surface water off through small overflow drains.

The concrete floors are covered with Astroturf to prevent callouses forming on the feet.

Outside aviary Land birds such as thrushes, sparrows and tits need an enviroment that emulates thier natural habitat. This is particularly important for reducing stress in adult birds whilst in tempory captivity and for the psychological and physical development of fledglings.

Our rehabilitation aviaries are camoufaged to give extra privacy to the birds inside.

Inside aviary

Inside one of the passerine hand-rearing aviaries

Behavioural studies

Gower Bird Hospital’s Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV).

The use of CCTV also gives an excellent opportunity to observe behaviour.

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 projects 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 weren’t 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 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 human traffic.

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 considerably.

All this may sound obvious, but without the CCTV, it would not have been observed and the improvements wouldn’t 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” gull’s 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 can’t 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.

Feeding a gullEventually 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 before release.

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 couldn’t 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 wing.

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 didn’t do this for birds that could hold their heads up as it didn’t seem necessary. Thanks to Matt’s research, all flat gulls now get pillows. This reduces stress, aids recovery and makes convalescence a lot more comfortable.


Lesser Black-backed gull recovering from botulism.

Post-release monitoring

When patients are released they often fly off never to be seen again. Is it surviving and behaving normally or will it be dead in a few days? Post-release monitoring is vital to ensure successful release back into the wild.

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 valuable information.

A transmitter was fitted to the tail feather of Matt’s gull. The gull stayed in the aquapen for a day so we could watch him through the CCTV to make sure he wasn’t 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.

The gull 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 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 Swansea.

                          Matt & receiver in Swansea
Matt and receiver in Swansea

 Another important part of post-release research is ringing the birds.

Gower Bird Hospital now has its own colour ringing scheme for herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls. These rings are clearly visible through binoculars.

This means the birds are identifiable by bird watchers and casual observers in the field.

One of our hand-reared Lesser Black-backed gulls in its second year photographed in Essaouira Morocco.Matt and receiver in Swansea

You can see the blue colour-ring with a white letter Y on its left leg. This colour scheme belongs to Gower Bird Hospital.

Matt and receiver in SwanseaA close up of one of our unique coded colour-rings.


Gower Bird Hospital relies entirely on donations. If you would like to make a donation online, click the button below. To send a cheque or donate by monthy standing-order, 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, Sandy Lane, Pennard, Swansea, SA3 2EW
Tel: 01792 371630        
E-mail: info@gowerbirdhospital.org.uk
Reg. Charity No. 1053912

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Pictures: ©   Chinch Gryniewicz
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