Gower Bird Hospital - Research

Gower Bird Hospital carries out research into the best ways of caring for sick and injured birds and mammals.
Below are some of the procedures we are using.

A helminth egg (Syngamus trachea) from a blackbird (Turdus merula).
A Helminth egg

Bringing science and compassion together to benefit wildlife, conservation and society

Gower Bird Hospital is always looking for ways to improve facilities for patients. We have made tremendous progress since registering as a charity in 1996.

We have always kept meticulous records. Every patient’s details are recorded on database enabling us to answer questions and predict trends.

More than 1600 patients are brought to Gower Bird Hospital every year and as much history as possible is noted. So far, the first fledgling to arrive is always a blackbird in early February!

The microscope is another very useful piece of equipment. Samples of all bird and hedgehog droppings are looked at and parasite burdens monitored and recorded.

We are in the process of compiling an extensive range of photographs and video recordings which will be useful to wildlife hospitals everywhere.

The CCTV system is invaluable when assessing patients’ fitness. All wildlife will be wary of predators, and people are seen as predators by most wild birds.

If a wild bird can see you it will try to disguise any weakness – in the wild a weak specimen is always targeted as easy prey. Standing next to an aviary and looking in will produce three different behaviours: the bird will hide behind the privacy screens provided, remain absolutely still or panic and hurl itself at the aviary walls trying to escape, and in the process may cause itself an injury.

None of these actions give us any idea of the true condition or posture of the bird. Left alone and observed through the CCTV, the bird will relax and may drop a painful wing, close a sore eye or lift the weight off an aching leg.

When we see the bird is showing no signs of discomfort, has a normal posture as well as behaviour, its on its way to becoming fit enough to be released.

Hedgehogs also hide their injuries when frightened. An infra-red camera was set up in one of our local soft release pens.

All activity in the pen was recorded onto video using timer switches. The door of the release pen was open and the hedgehog under observation was going out to forage for food and returning to the safety of the nest box for the day.

Watching the recordings we could see that the hedgehog was limping badly on one of its back legs. We took the hedgehog out of the nest box to examine it, and because the hedgehog was frightened by the disturbance it showed no sign of a limp – the hedgehog even ran across the lawn. Without the CCTV, we could not have known the hedgehog was in trouble.
Simon in the lab.                            

Increasing our knowledge

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 experiments are carried out to induce stress – we record normal activities at the Hospital and only this behaviour is studied.

We simply wouldn’t have the time to do all this vital but time-consuming work ourselves, but we do spend a great deal of time supervising the students and organising projects which are beneficial to both students and Gower Bird Hospital.

One student has studied more than 1,000 hours of video recordings of hedgehogs over-wintering at the Hospital. These are young hedgehogs too small to hibernate.

Like many other wildlife hospitals, our protocols were to keep hedgehogs together in a designated room. We provided environmental enrichment by using dry leaves and bark chippings on the floor, a selection of nest boxes and different foods.

As hedgehogs are normally solitary animals, we were worried that close confinement with others, even if siblings, could result in stressed hedgehogs.

We had already observed signs of sustained fighting and bullying – this simply wouldn’t happen in the wild as the hedgehogs would always be able to move away from each other. Our concern was that the unnatural confinement might be leading to aggressive behaviour and chronic stress.

The hedgehog room was flooded with infrared light and four cameras recorded the hedgehogs' activities. Different groups of hedgehogs' were filmed – all-male, all-female, a mixture of sexes, different sizes.

The study showed that group housing conditions significantly altered the hedgehogs' behaviour patterns. Housing individuals in groups resulted in undesirable characteristics, including less weight gain, less time nesting and anti-social behaviour such as fighting.

From a welfare perspective the results suggested that housing hedgehogs alone is the most appropriate practice.
A still from the infrared CCTV, the screen has been split into four to record as much hedgehog behaviour as possible.

Disease surveillance

Wildlife rehabilitation centres are an untapped resource for research and research material.

Potentially hundreds of thousands of wild animals are admitted every year into rescue centres across the UK. Many of these animals may die or will have to be euthanased due to the extent of their injuries. Instead of being disposed of they could be playing an important role in disease surveillance and environmental monitoring.

When things start to go wrong in the environment it often manifests with casualties turning up on the doorstep of these organisations.

With some basic training to enhance what many wildlife rehabilitators are already doing, an early warning system for changes in the state of wildlife health and diversity of disease in the UK could be developed.

Gower Bird Hospital has been engaging in research and supplying research material to demonstrate the usefulness of such centres in disease surveillance and environmental monitoring.

As an example of disease surveillance the centre supplied 4% of birds and 25% of the avian species for the surveillance of West Nile virus in British birds for the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency Diseases of Wildlife Scheme.

Another example is material supplied for environmental monitoring projects. 15% of the animals in a study on the accumulation of anticoagulant rodenticides in hedgehogs came from our centre, representing 100% of the sample from Wales.


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.

Home | Archives | Articles | Birds | Contact | Education | Projects | History | Links | Mammals | News | Rehabilitation | Research | Support Us | Talks | Thanks | What To Do | Admin

Gower Bird Hospital, Sandy Lane, Pennard, Swansea, SA3 2EW
Tel: 01792 371630        
E-mail: info@gowerbirdhospital.org.uk
Reg. Charity No. 1053912

The pictures and the text on this website are not in the public domain and must not be copied or used in all or in part without prior written permission from the copyright owners.
Pictures:    Chinch Gryniewicz
Text Gower Bird Hospital