Garden birds

The majority of calls we receive during the Spring months are to baby or abandonded birds. Although some do need rescuing, many fledglings do not.
The majority of calls we receive during the Spring months are to baby or abandoned birds. Although some do need rescuing, many fledglings do not.

Every year hundreds of birds across East Sussex are picked up unnecessarily by member of the public and handed into veterinary centre or delivered to wildlife hospitals when they should have been left alone.

Baby and fledgling birds

Bird development stages
Bird development stages

It is very easy to assume a bird has been abandoned when you find it on the floor, but quite often it is a fledgling learning to fly. When a fledgling takes its first flight it is going to be unsuccessful, it is natural for them to spend 2-3 days on the floor sometimes before they can fly properly. Mum and dad will normally be near by but they do not always fly down to feed every few minutes as they are trying to encourage the youngster to fly. Both the youngster and the parents are good at hiding themselves.

Parent birds will encourage their young to disperse into different hide-aways where they will carry on feeding them. This is nature's way of spreading the risk of the youngsters getting taken by a predator. Clustered in the nest they would be easy prey for any bird or other animal that detected it.

This natural system of dispersal has worked for millions of years and has worked successfully. Some will be taken as these small garden birds form part of natures food chain, helping other wild animals and birds to survive. For this reason, young and fledgling birds should be left alone. However there are some situations of man-made origin that means you should intervene.

There are two stages at which birds are found. As a chick and as a fledgling.

If you find a fledgling (a feathered bird) you should leave it alone unless:

  • There are nearby environmental hazards like roads or pools
  • The fledgling is injured in any way
  • The parents have definitely been killed or incapacitated
  • The fledglings are of a species known to be ignored once they have left the nest prematurely, e.g. tawny owls, heron or swifts

This is a complex issue, some species of baby birds like ducklings and pheasant chicks are able to fed themselves straight after hatching but other species like moorhen and partridge need help.

You can reduce the chances of a young bird surviving by bring it into care and hand rearing. It is surprising how many avoid capture by cats and other prey by hiding in bushes and vegetation.

The risk of being caught by a cat or prey is frequently less than the risks of feeding it the wrong moisture content. Its mum is best at preparing the baby's food, we can only guess at what it is used to and can easily get it wrong.

DO NOT FEED MILK

Every year we get calls from people who have fed a baby bird milk. Birds do not have breasts and do not produce milk. This is bad for their digestive system. Seek advice as soon as possible.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REAR A BIRD ON ITS OWN

Every year WRAS is asked to take on birds which have been hand reared on their own or as a pair and have become domesticated. It is important that birds are not reared on their own but with others of their own species to ensure they learn life survival skills and compete for food. Handling should be kept to a minimum to ensure they are not tamed and can be released back into the wild.

Wing and leg injuries

Some fractures can be fixed depending on where they occur i.e. close to a joint. However sometimes a bird is so weak that it may appear to be unable to fly or use its legs however if no injuries can be found then it may just need rest food and water to build up its strength.

Eye and head injuries

Eye problems quite often occur along with collision injuries to the head. These birds may need help with feeding as they are sometime uncoordinated. Therefore need to be seen by a veterinary surgeon, in order to recover properly.

Mouth and crop problems

Pigeons and doves commonly get Trichomoniosis or Canker [a protozoa] in the mouth and crop you will see a thick yellow substance. These birds will be unable to feed themselves as the mouth gets blocked with the canker, they quite often get respiratory problems for the same reason.

DO NOT pull any of the yellow discharge away from the mouth /crop as this will pull away the tissue and cause bleeding. Treatment maybe needed for a week or more depending on progress. Antibiotic cover and vitamins will be needed.

Pigeons and doves also get a fungal disease called Candidaisis or "Sour Crop". This disease affects the Upper alimentary tract, you can see greyish white lesions in the mouth/ pharynx and birds become listless and may develop diarrhoea and vomiting. Young birds are more susceptible. These birds will need help with feeding until strong enough to feed themselves. This condition can be easily confused with Trichomoniasis or Vitamin A deficiency however it is possible that a bird will have both candidaisis and Trich at the same time and can be treated for both.

Cat attack victims

For many years it was accepted that a bird caught by a cat was going to die of shock within 48 hours. Since then rehabilitators have discovered that this is not the case and the "48 hour syndrome", as it was called, was in fact septicemia that killed the birds. This septicemia was shown to be caused by a bacteria Pasteurella multocida, a normal bacteria carried on a cat's teeth.

Further to this revelation it was also proven that even if the bird was thought to have been caught by a cat it usually succumbed to septicemia. Modern-day practices provide medication for birds both positively caught by a cat and those birds thought to have been attacked by a cat. A single intramuscular injection of long-acting antibiotic has markedly reduced the mortality rate. A single dose of antibiotics is not normally recommended but it was found that to continue a full course was often too stressfull for these small birds.

It is extremely important that a cat attacked bird receive antibiotic injection as a matter of urgency when you find one. Good veterinary centres will be more than willing to given antibiotic injections and hold the bird until WRAS or another organisation can collect the bird.

Feeding visiting birds

As a general rule WRAS does not believe in artificial feeding of wildlife visiting gardens. This can and has led to numerous problems and caused many arguements in residential areas which unfortunately always seems to lead to the wildlife suffering.

Rather than usuing bird feeders it is more advisable to plant bushes which produce berries, let the grass grow long in part of your garden to provide seeds, plant fruit trees and other plants which produce flowers which will attract insects. Using artificial feeders will encourage birds to breed to match the food source. One garden WRAS visited had over 10 bird feeders and over 40 blue tits visiting at a time - this is not natural and has only developed as a result of the artificial feeding. If this couple were to go into hospital, go away on holiday or move many of these birds would starve as a result of relying on this artificial food source.

The winter is the only time of year which WRAS feels it is sometimes necessary to help out wildlife. Ensuring there is access to fresh water. Bird baths and water bowls for wildlife will freeze over quickly, so please place out fresh water daily. It is best to do this in the morning and as dusk falls to give day time and night time animals a chance to get fresh water. You can also add a tablespoon of sugar to 2 pints of warm water let it dissolve and place out for them.

During snowy weather it is always beneficial to put out a small quantity of food some of the ground and some on a table. It is good to put out fruit and berries as these will contain vitimins and sugars which can help our wildlife survive.

Fish pond Heron deterrents

The use of home made deterrent can be fatal for garden birds. Strings stretched across fish ponds can be a serious problem for herons and other wildlife. Most trapped birds occur in locations where deterrents have been used and not erected or maintained properly. If you have a pond and you do not want herons taking your fish, try the old plastic heron trick. There are other products on the market like "Netfloat" which is a series of circular plastic disks that are joined together and placed under the water, stopping the heron taking any fish. A 3.5 x 0.5 metre section of pond can be covered for about £23.00 (www.netfloat.co.uk). You can also buy Scarers which have movement sensors and sent a 3 second jet of water in that direction but these cost about £50 (www.primrose-london.co.uk). Another product on the market is the "Oasis Brilliant Pyramid" which is left floating on the water surface. It shines, sparkles, and reflects the daylight so intensively, that herons are frightened by it. These costs arout £8 each (www.gardensite.co.uk). So there are plenty of alternatives to netting and line being erected. If anyone has any experience of these please contact us as we would be interested to know how well they have worked.

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