Dunnock Ali

Dunnock Ali

Admission – 23/08/2017

Ali is an immature dunnock, who has been brought to us, after being caught by a cat. Ali has been admitted with severe shock symptoms and had to be stabilised before a full assessment could be made. It took nearly 24 hours for him to recover from the shock inflicted by the cat attack. The full assessment revealed several bruises, puncture wounds, lost tail feathers and a sprain injury of his right leg. Dunnock Ali has been treated for shock, pain, bruises and the potentially fatal pasteurella multocida infection caused by the cat attack. In this context it is important to understand, that all birds, in fact all animals, who have been caught by cats, have to be treated with antibiotics, even without showing any external signs of an injury. These animals will be otherwise killed by an overwhelming systemic infection or septicaemia, which would occur in birds within 72 hours post cat contact.

Dunnock Ali

As Ali’s leg symptoms didn’t improve despite treatment for trauma and nerve injury, we decided to tape the foot to assist the healing process. Four days later the tape has been removed and a brief assessment showed the return of the full functionality of foot and leg. Ali has been kept a few days longer indoors in a so called flexarium, which is a soft fabric mesh indoor aviary allowing him to exercise safely without damaging his plumage further, which is a common but avoidable problem when active birds like him are being kept for rehabilitation in the wrong environment like a wire cage.

Update – 01/09/2017

Today dunnock Ali has been moved into a large communal outdoor soft release aviary, where he will stay until he has acclimatised to outdoor temperatures and has had enough time to exercise and regrow his traumatically lost tail feathers. This will also give him a good chance to improve the waterproofing of his plumage, which is another often underestimated factor before being soft released. Soft release is the preferred release method to be used for hand-reared birds, juveniles or long term patients.

Dunnock Ali

These birds are being kept in a specially designed species specific aviary, which will then be opened to allow the birds to leave in their own time. Support feeding will be provided and the birds are also able to return whenever the feel the need to. This way theses birds are given the best posibble chance to successfully return into the wild and to be re-integrated into their respective bird societies. 

Update – 18/09/2017

Today dunnock Ali has been successfully soft released. Stay safe Ali!

Dunnock Ali

The Remarkable Story Of Jackdaw Nestling Kojak

Jackdaw Kojak and jay Alyona

Kojak, a nestling jackdaw, has been brought to us after being found on the ground, for reasons unknown to us. He might have been the runt of the brood,  thrown out of the nest by his own kind, but he was lucky enough to have been found and rescued by a very kind and compassionate person. However, we have also learned over the past weeks, where we had the privilege to care for him and to get to know each other, that being the runt doesn’t mean at all that the bird concerned doesn’t want to live. Kojak has got the spirit of a fighter, whilst also being a very gentle and loyal soul. 

Jackdaw Kojak

He came to us almost dead with signs of severe dehydration, starvation, and malnutrition with poor plumage development and splay legs. Kojak’s leg muscles where severely atrophic, which made it impossible for him to stand up properly, to walk or to keep his balance. Due to a severe electrolyte imbalance caused by dehydration and starvation, he developed seizures and other neurological symptoms. After days of intensive treatment, sleepless nights and a life-threatening relapse, we eventually managed to stabilise his condition, which was the crucial moment when things started to improve.  But not without Kojak’s help and strong will. We would not have been able to save his life without his own determination and help.

Jackdaw Kojak

Kojak was determined to get stronger, to walk and to fly. Thanks to his healthy appetite, and a specially designed diet, he started to put on weight and to become stronger allowing him to exercise. And that is what he did. He was exercising and practising all day long until he was strong enough to stand up and to walk. He exercised his flight muscles until he was able to lift off. But he didn’t do all this alone. He was inspired and helped by another patient, a jay nestling we named Alita, who came to us as a very poorly orphan as well, and was of roughly the same age as Kojak. Both birds got on very well and soon ventured out together to explore their outdoor rehabilitation and recuperation aviary, encouraging each other to take on the next hurdle.

Jackdaw Kojak

Then the time came for Alita to say good-bye, to get her second chance in life and to be soft released. It took Alita a while to make up her mind, but eventually she left. She still visits the area and occasionally her old friend. Both birds seemingly knew that from now on they have to look forward, into their very own futures, after having spent a short but important period of time together, a period of time which helped both birds to find their place in their respective worlds. By accident, at almost the same time a new patient came to us, a juvenile jackdaw we named Benno, who suffered a badly fractured wing. And within a few days, both birds bonded, almost as they would have waited for each other.

Jackdaw Kojak

Kojak’s journey hasn’t come to an end yet, as he still has got some smaller issues to overcome. But since we know him now that well, we are confident that these issues should not be a problem for him, in particular not with the help of his partner Benno. All it needs is time, trust, love and determination. 

 

Pet Cats And Their Impact On Wildlife

Juvenile green woodpecker

According to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) cats kill an estimated 55 million birds in Britain every year and such a predation could be contributing to long-term declines of garden birds. Cats also pose a significant threat to endangered mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Studies have shown that alone the presence of cats in the garden is causing directly and indirectly the death of nestling birds, as parents are disturbed, nestlings are not fed sufficiently and third party predators are invited for a free meal.

Robin fledgling
Robin fledgling

Cats are domesticated animals. They are not a natural predator in our existing ecosystem, as they have been brought in existence by humans. It is estimated that UK households owned approximately 10.3 million cats in 2006, strays not being counted. Trap – Neuter – Release programmes are supported by several charities. However, these programmes are only partly addressing the impact cats have on our wildlife, as most neutered stray cats will be returned to ‘the wild’. With regards to wildlife conservation, it would be more efficient to stop breeding and selling cats completely and to focus on a foster system taking care of the existing cat population, to basically get all feral cats off the road.

Cats and Wildlife – eBook

Birds caught alive and being seemingly uninjured should not be released. Please contact an experienced bird rescue immediately, even if the bird seems to be healthy and uninjured. Due to bacteria (Pasteurella multocida) within a cat’s claws and mouth it is essential that the caught bird is seen and treated with antibiotics straight away. If the bird is left for too long, there is a risk of a fatal infection (septicaemia).

Goldcrest fledgling
Goldcrest fledgling

These are sad but proven facts. Fortunately there are solutions available a responsible cat owner can adopt. So what can be done? The best and safest option for a cat and for wildlife is to keep your cat indoors, or in a sufficient stimulating outdoor enclosure. Cats can also have a good time in the garden in a supervised fashion, or even be trained to be walked on a lead. In other words, the cat flap has to go. Collars fitted with bells or ultrasonic devices are widely recommended, but their effectiveness is questionable. To make them work at all bells need to be changed frequently, as cats are able to learn to adapt their movements to avoid to make any noise. As these collars serve the purpose to make cats more obvious to birds, they may simply provoke even more alarm calls during the nesting period, resulting in a higher nestling mortality as mentioned above.

Blackbird fledgling
Blackbird fledgling

It is also recommended to spread out bird feeders so that feeding flocks might spot a cat more easily. The more birds you attract to your garden, the less likely cats are to catch them as there are more pairs of eyes keeping watch. Chicken wire can be placed around nest boxes and thorny vegetation can be planted to help protect nesting birds. In addition, ultrasonic devices, which are triggered by the cat, can help dissuade cats from using certain areas of a garden. Make sure feeders are not too close to possible cat hiding places. If the lid of a bird box is not secure, the nesting family becomes a target. Check twice when you are siting a nest box. Make sure it is not accessible to cats from a branch or the top of a wall.

Great tit fledgling
Great tit fledgling

One of the things you can also do to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cat at least in at night. Sunset and sunrise are the times of day when cats like to go hunting most. These are also the times your cat is most likely to be run over. That way you do our wildlife and your cat a big favour.

Finding The Optimal Diet For Corvids

Carrion crow Amor

Although corvids are generally known as scavengers and omnivores, the diet of the different corvids species does vary considerably, from species to species, and over the seasons of the year.  Only about 40% of the rooks’ diet for example consists of animal protein, and those being mainly worms, bugs and larvae. They usually don’t eat carrion, as their beak is not designed and able to rip animal carcasses into manageable pieces. The remaining 60% of the rooks’ diet are plant-based products like fruits, seeds and vegetables. During the winter time, carrion crows prefer seeds, berries and carrion, whilst during the summertime they do mainly live on animal protein like snails, worms, insects, small mammals and eggs. 

Carrion crow Amor

Hatchlings And Nestlings Up To 3 Weeks

When raising hatchling corvids it is important to feed a purely insect based diet for the first two weeks of their lives. Ideally these birds should be fed on an insect mash consisting of the following ingredients:

  • Frozen fresh insects like crickets and wax worms
  • Mineral and vitamin mixture like Korvimin ZVT+Reptile (WDT)
  • Boiled egg yolk
  • Soaked NutriBird Bird Complete pellets (Versele-Laga)
  • Minced beef
  • Small amounts of feathers and fur should be added to the mash occasionally, but only when the bird is older than 2 weeks, which will help to produce pellets

Alternatively one can also create a baby food mixture (Modified recipe,  original recipe by Samantha Bedford of Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue) based on the following ingredients:

  • 2 parts ground up (80%) chicken biscuits (Applaws Kitten Food Chicken)
  • 1 part Hagen Tropicana Breeding Mash
  • 1 part Heath’s Prosecto Insectivorous Soft Food
  • Dried ants, flies and daphnia
  • Korvimin ZVT+Reptile by WDT (Nutrobal for Birds by Vetark)
  • Bene-Bac Powder for Birds and Reptiles by PetAg (AviPro Plus by Vetark)

Carrion crow Amor

Nestlings Older Than 3 Weeks

When the bird turns 3 weeks,  we would start reducing the amount of mash and introduce soaked cat biscuits in addition to the mash fed, which are of an ideal consistency and therefore easy to use for hand feeding. GoCat Chicken and Duck Complete pet food for adult cats (Purina) is well suited for corvids, as it provides the needed high protein contents required. It contains 20% rehydrated meat and animal derivatives, with a minimum 4% chicken and 4% duck (30.0% protein, 10.0% fat content). Tinned dog or cat foods are not a suitable diet for corvids and will most likely cause diarrhoea.

Carrion crow Amor

Fledglings

When the birds have fledged, a broader variety of food items will be added to the daily corvid menu, which will be provided in addition to hand feeding in a dish to encourage self feeding. Food will be supplemented with Korvimin ZVT+Reptile by WDT (Nutrobal for Birds by Vetark) to avoid a calcium deficiency. Alternatively one could also grind thoroughly cleaned empty snail shells, which make a good cheap, natural and easily digestible calcium supplement. The basic diet plan for all corvid species consists of:

  • Soaked cat biscuits (GoCat Chicken and Duck Complete pet food for adult cats (Purina)
  • Minced beef
  • Vegetables (fresh corn or maize, corn on the cob or peas)
  • Fruits (berries, grapes, apple or pear)
  • Scottish Rough Oatcakes
  • Good quality bird food seed mix enriched with peanuts, suet pellets and dried meal worms
  • Live meal worms (larval form of the mealworm beetle – tenebrio molitor) and wax worms (larval form of the wax moth – galleria mellonella)
  • Dead or frozen fresh insects like crickets, calci–worms (larval form of the black soldier fly hermetia illucens) or natural pinkies (larval forms of bottle flies)
  • Hazelnuts or walnuts for jays
  • Occasional food items in particular for crows include dead mice, day old chicks, raw pigeon eggs and cuttle fish bone

Worms and snails must not to be fed to corvids, although being part of their natural diet, as they are carriers of coccidia and worms. Although birds are being encouraged to feed themselves, assisted hand feeding needs to continue until the birds are completely weaned. Fledglings should also be moved into a suitable and spacious aviary, where they can learn to forage and are able to cache food.

 

Top 10 Mistakes Made In Corvid Rescue And Rehabilitation

Carrion crow Chili

During many years of corvid rescue and rehabilitation we came across a number of serious mistakes being made by presumably experienced and unexperienced individuals or rehabbers alike. We would like to share our observations and experiences in the hope that these sometimes fatal mistakes will not be made again, hopefully saving the lives of many corvids in need of help.

Overestimation of one’s own capabilities

Raising an orphaned baby corvid is often seen as easy and very tempting, in particular as the finder is often ‘persuaded’ by the cute and interactive attitude of baby corvids. Lay people, but sometimes even rehabber with some degree of experience with other bird species, ever so often get into the trap of ‘giving it a go’, even when expert help and advice is being at hand. Despite meaning well, it is sadly rather more often about the own ego than the genuine wish to give the bird the best possible second chance he or she deserves. One of the common mistakes being made is that the effort and financial implications needed to raise a corvid are often greatly underestimated, and so are the needs of a sentient being, who is being degraded as an object of experimentation.  Ever so often birds will be inadvertently imprinted on humans and prematurely released by choosing an insufficient release method, the wrong release site or the wrong release time.

Raising corvids as sole individuals without adequate company

Raising a nestling corvid by his or her own will without exception result in some degree of imprinting on humans, the human habitat or pets. However, it would be wrong and one of those mistakes to believe that imprinting is a negative or undesired feature. Imprinting as such is essential for life and survival. But the question is to whom the animal is being imprinted on. Birds are ‘hard-wired’ to many things in their future lives, but they also need to learn the art of feeding, catching prey or social interactions and behaviours from their parents. Songbirds can sing by default, but they do need to ‘learn the tune’ from those around them, those normally being their parents. Imprinting in animals in general can involve more than one sense. It can involve sight, sound and smell.  Furthermore, the imprinting becomes stronger when the animal is under stress, which is in no doubt a survival mechanism. Imprinting is an interaction between instinct and learning. The irreversible and species specific process of imprinting occurs only in a fixed time window. This is the critical period, learning after this period has different weaker effects. To counteract the risk of imprinting, company of a same or similar species bird is crucial, meaning that corvids in particular should never being raised by their own. As many of these young patients are in need of long-term rehabilitation, it is also crucial to understand and to recognise their social needs during the process of maturing, a process which takes many months if not years. One of the mistakes commonly made is that the importance of the help provided by releasable and also unreleasable wild adult birds is underestimated, or not utilised at all, which in fact is an essential tool to teach young birds necessary social skills and behavioural patterns they require for their survival.

Inadequacy of rehabilitation facilities

The fact that corvids should not be raised by their own, the species specific needs and the common requirement for long-term rehabilitation facilities with adequate company, which includes the interaction with unreleasable adult possibly disabled birds, is a challenge in itself, which is often completely ignored or at the very least underestimated. One of the common mistakes being made in this context is that the facilities provided are usually too small and inadequately equipped to be fit for purpose, which is leading often to injuries, chronic diseases like bumble foot or damaged plumage. Corvids are very inquisitive and destructive. The materials to be used in an corvid aviary have to be safe and need to be checked and monitored constantly for wear and tear to eliminate a potential cause of injury.  Although it is possible to combine different corvid species, one should always bear in mind, that the artificially created corvid society is a fragile and dynamic element, which needs constant monitoring and which is subject to frequent and sometimes rapid change at any time. Maturing, pair formation, hierarchical disputes, mood  and hormonal changes during breeding season and moulting are only a few of the causes influencing the stability of a mini flock. CCTV monitoring is an expensive but very useful tool, which allows undisturbed and unbiased observation of behaviour and social interactions between birds, allowing early interference before problems occur.  Sound knowledge and understanding of corvid species specific behaviour is the key, which unfortunately is often completely lacking, being ignored or at least regarded as unimportant.

Underestimation of the importance of hygiene 

The necessity of keeping a larger group of corvids in a confined area for a longer period of time harbours another challenge, which is to maintain a basic hygiene  and cleanliness system. The problem increases exponentially with the number of animals cared for and the good intentions to create a small artificial habitat, which should ideally allow the animals to behave and act naturally. It becomes apparent, when testing corvid patients, that almost all of them are carriers of coccidia and worms. Although it is possible to treat these birds individually, it becomes a bigger problem and challenge when birds are residing in a larger communal aviary, where flock treatment is the only option. It is also impossible and actually not advisable to completely eliminate these diseases, but is seems necessary to keep infection levels as low as possible. Therefore a larger communal aviary will always be a compromise between the ideal case scenario of a species specific nature habitat and a place which can be easily cleaned and maintained to minimise the potential infection risk due to the build up of infected faecal material in areas created for foraging and food caching as well as due to the run off of contaminated material into the surrounding environment creating a potential infection source for wild animals like ground feeding blackbirds or thrushes, but also hedgehogs and rodents.  This is in particular a problem with coccidia,  as the oocysts have resistant cell walls and are discharged unsporulated in the faeces. Oocysts do not survive well at temperatures below -30°C or above +40°C. However, within this temperature range oocysts may survive for more than one year and will sporulate or become infective in as little as 24 hours under optimum conditions in a humid environment between +25ºC and +30ºC.

Raising corvids on an insufficient or suboptimal diet

Although corvids are known to be scavengers and omnivores, the diet of the different corvids species does vary considerably, from species to species and over the seasons of the year.  Only about 40% of the rooks’ diet for example consists of animal protein, and those being mainly worms, bugs and larvae. They usually don’t eat carrion, as their beak is not designed and able to rip animal carcasses into manageable pieces. The remaining 60% of the rooks’ diet are plant-based products like fruits, seeds and vegetables. During the winter time, carrion crows prefer seeds, berries and carrion, whilst during the summertime they also do mainly live on animal protein like snails, worms, insects, small mammals and eggs. These species specific facts should be taken in consideration when creating the menu for corvid patients. Nestling corvids should be primarily fed on an insect or adequate animal protein based diet. However, despite the fact that nestling corvids are being fed snails and worms by their parents, these should not be fed to birds when hand raising them, as internal parasites like coccidia or round worms are likely to be transmitted. Tinned dog or cat food is not suitable either and will lead to severe digestive short and long-term problems. Additional vitamin, mineral and calcium supplements are recommended, as corvids are prone to develop calcium deficiencies resulting in rachitis and feather damage. Pellet producing materials like small pieces of fur or feathers should be mixed under the baby food when older than 2 weeks. When the birds are fledged, the species specific diet preferences become more important and should be accounted for.

Misinterpretation of species specific behaviour as imprinting or tameness

One of the most common mistakes made is the wrong interpretation of normal corvid behaviour, mainly due to lack of knowledge and experience, but also sometimes due to anthropomorphistic reasons. Corvids are highly intelligent, sentient and social animals, who are able to interpret good or bad intentions and behavioural patterns of other animals, humans included. There is a big difference between submissive behaviour in a captive environment and being genuinely tame or imprinted. Young corvid nestling and sometimes even fledglings have not learned yet to regard humans as dangerous entities and will cooperate eagerly when being fed. At that point in time the risk of imprinting is at the highest, but has not necessary happened yet. Adult corvids are also able to adapt very well to a captive situation, in particular when realising that the human caring for them is providing food and is easing the pain. They will remain calm when not being restrained and when a minimum amount of privacy is being allowed, at least as long as they are poorly or compromised due to their injuries. Long-term patients often form a close temporary and person specific bond with their carers, which is being cut when the animal feels ready to go. All these behavioural variations have nothing to do with imprinting or tameness and are simply signs of their amazing ability to adapt to these unique situations. It is important to recognise the difference, as this fundamental ability of a good rehabber will decide over the future and the chances of survival of the animal being cared for.

Underestimation of the importance of species identification and age

Animals are sometimes rescued unnecessary, with good intentions, but without good reason. A young bird alone on low-level branches or on the ground has not necessarily been abandoned, as the young of many bird species will spend a couple of days on the ground before their feather development is complete and they are able to fly. Parents will be close by and come to feed the bird as soon as it is safe. However, to make an informed decision, whether an animal has to be rescued or not, one has to find out what species he or she belongs to and how old the animal is. A healthy rook fledgling on the ground, who is unable to get to higher ground, will not be fed by his or her parents and will require help.  On the other hand, a healthy carrion crow fledgling on the ground, will usually be attended and defended by his or her parents. However, nestlings of any species, found on the ground, will not survive without human intervention. However, the degree of human intervention varies from stepping back and observing the situation, over taking a fledgling out of a danger zone and putting the bird back onto higher ground, to taking the animal in to human care. Species identification and establishment of the correct age are also crucial for the correct choice of release location and time.

Misjudgement of the importance of release area and timing

Hand reared juvenile corvids, but also all long-term patients having been in captivity for longer than 2 or 3 weeks, should always be soft released.  Juvenile corvids are not suitable for release until being 5 or 6 months old, which is usually at the end of the summer after their first partial post-juvenile moult. This allows them to reach full growth and to be able to fly strongly. It also allows enough time to reach enough strength allowing normal competition with other corvids, avoiding excessive bullying. The preferred release time in the U.K. is the end of August and during September. Please also note that an offence may be committed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival. This may include the release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, when being unfit, or when not having learned to hunt, or when done during the wrong time of the year.

Lack of knowledge of species specific behaviour and ecology

The most common mistake made is the wrong species identification combined with the lack of species specific knowledge. Rooks are breeding in colonies or so called rookeries, as they are very social and gregarious animals. Carrion crows are territorial and have well-defined breeding territories, which are very much fixed but tend to shrink and expand slightly during and outside the nesting season. This means that the territory holding pair is using a single nesting site, which will be defended against any intruders. Sometimes another so called third bird, usually offspring from the previous year, is allowed to stay in the fringes of the occupied territory, helping the territory holder pair to defend their grounds. Non-breeding birds form loose groups, which will reside in an unoccupied area. Outside the breeding season and during wintertime, crows become more sociable and tend to sometimes mix with rooks. When releasing juvenile birds or longterm patients, then soft release is the preferred option. For short-term patients or a hard release scenario, the release site should be chosen very carefully. The location where the bird has been found, might not necessarily be the best place for his or her release. Neither crows nor rooks should be released into an occupied crow territory, in particular not during the breeding season. An area inhabited by a non-breeding flock of crows or rooks would make an ideal place for a release. Soft release works best, when the release aviaries are located in an unoccupied crow territory, near a rookery or communal roost.

Misinterpretation of plumage aberrations and their consequences

Leucism is a general term for the phenotype resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation or migration. It is a condition in which there is a partial loss of pigmentation resulting in white, pale or patchy colouration of skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. Leucism can be caused by the reduction of all types of pigment, unlike albininism, which only affects the melanin production. Leucism is occasionally found in corvids, which can show a varying degree of white or pale feathers within an otherwise normal appearing plumage. These abnormal feathers are often more prone to wear and tear and make the bird potentially more conspicuous and prone for predation.

Besides primarily genetic causes, dietary deficiency caused by calcium or folic acid deficiency, or as found in Australian ravens due to a circovirus infection, can also result into this phenotype pattern. It has been also found that agricultural pesticides have a direct impact on reducing food and insect availability. Insects are an essential dietary requirement for almost all bird species, which rely on those for at least a substantial part of the nestling phase of their offspring. Pesticides lead directly and indirectly to the search for alternative and often suboptimal food substitutes and may also result into a progressive weakening of the immune system of adult and young birds, which increases mortality in general, but does more often lead to a varying degree of dietary deficiencies with subsequent plumage and skeletal aberrations.

Recognising the difference between inherited and acquired plumage aberrations is crucial, as acquired plumage problems can be corrected, whilst inherited causes cannot.