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Happy tale of ten tiny chicks

Ten tiny chicks, each around the size of a tennis ball, arrived at Gower Bird Hospital. They were quickly identified as goosanders and their natural history researched.

The goosander is the largest of the three sawbills found in Britain. Goosanders breed on the shores of lakes and rivers. They nest near the water, usually in a hole in a tree.

The chicks are semi-precocial. This means they can see, walk, swim and, to a certain extent, feed themselves immediately after hatching, but still need their parents.

As soon as the chicks hatch, they leave the nest and the parent leads them to the safety of the water. They remain with the parents who protect them and guide them to food sources.

Goosanders feed almost exclusively on fish – the beak has “saw teeth” along the edges to help them catch fish underwater.

Our ten tiny chicks had been found running along a road in Talley with no sign of the parent bird - the family must have become separated while trying to cross the road. Mr and Mrs Ackroyd from Aberystwyth spotted the youngsters and scooped them into a box.

Luckily they were on their way to Gower and were able to bring the birds to Gower Bird Hospital the same day.

On arrival, the goosanders were extremely distressed by their unfortunate adventure and in a very agitated state – burning off valuable energy trying to escape from the box. They were immediately put into a seclusion area with a heat lamp to provide warmth and a shallow pool of water so that at least they could drink while we prepared their food.

Having had extensive experience of raising mallards (another semi-precocial bird) we adopted the same approach with the addition of chopped whitebait and mini mealworms to the chick crumbs.

The goosanders were then left alone as much as possible to reduce stress – the last thing they wanted was a person looming over them, frightening them even more! A quick, quiet peek that evening showed them all snuggled in a group under the heat lamp, sleeping peacefully at last.

The next morning, some of the food had gone. We quickly weighed each one while cleaning the pool and putting in fresh food and were relieved to find they had all gained a little weight.Goosander

After a week in the “nursery” they were strong enough to try one of our outside aquapens with free access to deeper water and a covered heated privacy area to dry off and keep warm

The deeper water was much appreciated. They swam and dived – all good exercise to build up their muscle tone. As they grew they were able to eat whole whitebait, up to six bags a day! Frozen fish can lose valuable vitamins so special supplements were added to prevent any deficiencies in the growing birds.

Ten weeks later, they had developed all their feathers and thanks to the facilities and care at Gower Bird Hospital were in very good condition – completely waterproof, you can see the water “pearling” off the feathers in the photograph.

They were released at the lake in Talley where their parents had originally intended them to go. Within a minute of diving under the water, one of them surfaced with a fish in its beak and quickly ate it. The goosanders were back where nature intended, not tame and able to hunt for their own food.

One of the Goosander chicks, 10 weeks later and ready for release

Running up a £ 5,000 food bill

More than 90 different species of birds arrive at Gower Bird Hospital every year. Species range from wrens, tits, wagtails, song birds, woodpeckers, nightjars to all types of sea birds and birds of prey.

Gower Bird Hospital needs to have a large and varied larder. Whatever species of bird arrives it will need appropriate food immediately.

We always have a freezer full of food for sea birds and raptors, a stock of corn and various seed, special insectivorous feed, chick crumbs for ducklings and live food such as mealworms and waxworms is ordered weekly. Every year, the food bill alone is more than £ 5,000.

This young kestrel needs natural food – small mammals such as mice, shrews and voles, which we have to purchase from Specialist suppliers.

Problems of being on your feet

Any bird in the temporary captivity of our rehabilitation aviaries is spending a lot more time on its feet than it would in the wild, simply because it can’t fly away.

We are always aware of the foot problems this may cause and a lot of effort goes into providing appropriate perches – small springy twigs of varying sizes for smaller birds and thicker branches for larger birds.

Behaviour studies carried out by students from Swansea University have also helped greatly in the design of our aviaries. Students watch hours of video tape recorded through the CCTV system and note the behaviour of the birds.

For example, blackbirds would be quite interested in exploring their new surroundings when first put into a rehabilitation aviary, but after just three days would show signs of boredom and stress.

To relieve this stress, the aviaries are furnished with as many varying perches as possible – some high, some lower, some very thin and bendy, others more solid.

More plants and shrubs are grown in the aviary and food such as mealworms is scattered into leaf litter so the birds have to work to find it. The mental health of our patients is just as important as physical fitness.

Our aim is always to get them back to full health as quickly as possible so they can be released back into the wild.



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Gower Bird Hospital, Sandy Lane, Pennard, Swansea, SA3 2EW
Tel: 01792 371630        
E-mail: info@gowerbirdhospital.org.uk
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Pictures: ©   Chinch Gryniewicz
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