What To Do
Gower Bird Hospital - Birds
The Battle for Survival
Every spring and summer around 500 young birds are brought to
Gower Bird Hospital. We have been raising nestlings and fledglings
every year for more than ten years and learned a great deal in this
Raising a nestling or fledgling is not just feeding and
releasing. To have a real chance of survival in the wild, the birds
must be able to function in exactly the same way as their wild
If a bird becomes tame it can grow up to
believe that humans are its parents. This will often result in the
bird having problems socialising with its own species and even
looking at humans as possible sexual partners.
If it is a
large bird such as a buzzard or crow, there is a real danger of
injury - the bird will try to land on your head and a beak or talon
could take an eye out. Often the bird is rejected by its own kind as
it doesn't communicate properly so it will be attacked as the wild
community realises that it doesn't fit in.
It can be a real
problem if a single nestling or fledgling arrives, as it needs the
company of its own species to avoid becoming dependent on us.
Fortunately, Gower Bird Hospital receives so many different patients
that a single individual can be introduced into a similar age group
already at the Hospital.
Each species has its own natural
history - what does it feed on and what is the normal behaviour of
the species? How does it find food in the wild?
young blackbird exclusively on cat food and then releasing it will
probably result in it looking for cat food in the wild instead of
its natural food source.
At Gower Bird Hospital, every effort
is made to provide as natural an environment, with the correct food
source, as possible.
Birds on a Learning Curve
Some birds are altricial - born blind and bald - they need
constant attention from the parents to survive. After three to four
weeks in the nest they fledge but are still dependent on the
The parents continue to feed the youngsters and at
the same time teach them how to find food such as insects, worms,
fruits and carrion.
We have no option but to hand-feed these
youngsters and it would be very easy to produce tame birds, which
would have a much lower chance of survival when released.
avoid this we have a strict protocol of not talking to the birds at
all and as soon as they have enough feathers to keep themselves
warm, the substitute nest is moved into an outside aviary. It is
important that they see the sun rise and set, experience different
weather conditions, hear natural sounds and see a natural
As much natural food is supplied as possible and
the aviaries are designed to attract insects inside.
birds fledge out of the nest, we continue to hand-feed for a few
days but also keep an eye on them through the CCTV cameras.
When we see the youngsters foraging and finding food for
themselves we stop hand feeding and supply earthworms, mealworms and
extra insects such as grasshoppers and fruit flies.
Brood to perfection
important consideration is how many broods are raised per
year. Birds that raise just one brood every year (such as
the jackdaws and bluetits pictured here) are more
susceptible to becoming tame. The youngsters spend a long
time with their parents, forming a family group.
Birds such as housemartins and blackbirds have second
and third broods in the same year. These youngsters
become independent much more quickly and it is important to
stop hand-feeding as soon as possible to allow this natural
independence to develop.
Jackdaw nestlings are
another routine admission at the Hospital. Nests are often
built on chimneys and many nestlings arrive as a result of
chimney cleaning. This could easily be avoided by fitting a
cowl on the chimney to prevent the nests being built.
Once they are feeding independently in the rehabilitation
aviaries, they are left well alone, but spend a little
longer in the aviaries before being released as a group.
BLUETITS also raise one brood a year.
The youngsters fledge after 15 to 23 days in the nest. Again,
it is vitally important not to talk to these birds while
feeding them and they are moved into a rehabilitation aviary
as soon as possible.
Adult Birds have special needs
Adult bird casualties are already equipped with the skills
needed to survive in the wild. The capture site is a vital
piece of information.
An adult bird will know its own territory and should always
be released where it was found to have the best chance of
Gower Bird Hospital's minimum contact policy is just as
vital for adult birds as for nestlings and fledglings. All
wildlife has a healthy, instinctive fear of people and an
already ill or injured bird needs peace and privacy to
Again, a good understanding of the individual's natural
history is essential. What does it eat? How does it feed?
What sort of habitat does it require?
Herons, for example are very easily unnerved and their
immediate reaction to being startled is to fly away.
Obviously, while in temporary captivity at the Hospital they
can't fly away so their next reaction is to vomit any food
they have eaten.
We provide a seclusion area at the Hospital for these
nervous birds with a small pool for the heron to wade and
find the freshly defrosted fish supplied.
Staff enter once a day to medicate and replenish fish and
fresh water. Observation is through the CCTV system, causing
no disturbance to the heron, ensuring it recuperates as
quickly as possible.
Water birds always need our aquapens - aviaries with pools
and shelter areas. Free access to water is essential for
keeping plumage waterproof and also for the birds to simply
rest by floating on the water, taking the weight off their
Small injuries to the feet can result in bumblefoot - a very
painful infection which can spread into the bone and is very
difficult to treat. Therefore we cover all hard, flat
surfaces with Astroturf to prevent callouses forming on the
In the wild, gannets dive at tremendous speed from high up in
the air straight down into the water to catch fish.
The beak has no external nostrils because of the extreme
pressure when they hit the water. When handling a gannet the
beak is very powerful and could cause serious injuries to an
Some people make the mistake of taping the beak closed to
prevent injuries. One poor gannet arrived at Gower Bird
Hospital having been put into a box with its beak taped,
resulting in the poor bird dying of suffocation before it
Gannets arrive at Gower Bird Hospital, usually with no
injuries but very thin and exhausted. They spend time in an
aquapen, sometimes having to be hand fed whole mackerel
until they start eating the fish for themselves.
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
Reg. Charity No. 1053912
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Pictures: © Chinch Gryniewicz
Text © Gower Bird Hospital