When Can I Release My Rescued Corvid Fledgling?

Jackdaw nestling

At this time of the year we are contacted on a daily basis by members of the public, who have found, rescued and raised a corvid fledgling, all with good intentions of course. If we are not being contacted at the very beginning of a rescue journey, mostly for advice about the diet of corvids, then it is usually at the point where people feel that their foster bird might be ready for release soon. Unfortunately, our advice is often a disappointment if not a shock to many of these hobby rescuers, as in most cases the desired immediate release is not an option, or at least not an option which gives the foster bird a sufficient chance of survival. We do understand that circumstances will differ greatly, and that expert help is not always at hand. Therefore it is also important that the rescuer understands, that the likelihood of survival will differ greatly as well, as corvids are not belonging to those bird families, which can be hand raised by their own and hard released immediately after they have fledged. There are of course certain ways to ensure that the rescue bird gets the best second chance he or she deserves. However, to achieve the best possible outcome, decisions should ideally be made before a bird is being hand raised without appropriate company.

Carrion crow Amor and jackdaw Alyona
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Goldfinch Little Prince

Goldfinch Little Prince

Goldfinch Little Prince has been admitted to us as a fledgling in July 2017 after being attacked by a cat. He suffered a fracture of his wing and several puncture wounds, which have been treated accordingly. Little Prince recovered well and after being weaned he has been moved into our communal outdoor aviary, to give him sufficient room for exercise and adequate company allowing him to adapt well to the outdoors.

Goldfinch Little Prince

Little Prince made very good progress, but was not flying well enough to be released at this time. After an extended period of close observation the decision has been made that Little Prince would be better off to be released at a later date, which meant that he had to stay with us over the winter, to give him extra time for exercise and practice.

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House Martins Narziss And Goldmund

Narziss and Goldmund
Editor’s note: This blog post has been updated on 12/04/2018.

Admission – 30/07/2017

Narziss and Goldmund are two premature house martin fledglings, who have been found on the ground being unable to fly. Their nest allegedly came down for unknown reasons. According to the finder, Narziss has been spotted in the morning being on the ground and unable to fly, but has been left there for reasons unknown. Only as Goldmund has been spotted in the afternoon, also being found on the ground, both birds have been collected by the finder and brought to us. The admission assessment did not reveal any external injuries. However, both house martins demonstrated very obvious signs of dehydration, starvation and exhaustion.

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Crow And Rook Release 2017 – 15 Birds Released

Carrion crow Magnus

Yesterday, we closed our release aviary doors, bringing this years’ carrion crow and rook release saison to an end. At the end of September we opened the aviary doors for 17 crows and rooks to be soft released.  Out of these 17 release candidates, 15 birds, consisting of 11 carrion crows and four rooks, have been successfully soft released. Two birds decided to stay and will get another release chance offered next year. These two birds will join a group of birds in our communal aviary already being earmarked for release in autumn 2018.  Out of these 15 released birds, we released three birds, who stayed with us since 2015, three birds, who came to us in 2016, and nine birds, who have been admitted in 2017.

Soft release is a release technique, which involves continuing care for animals at the release site, particularly back-up feeding, and requires a greater commitment of time and effort than a hard release does. Soft release is particularly important for hand reared animals, especially of species which need to learn about their surroundings and need to learn survival skills such as foraging and hunting.  It is also appropriate for older immature or adult birds, who have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods, or are being released at a site distant from their original location, as the original location might not be suitable.

Some of the released birds have joined straightaway our local mixed rook and jackdaw as well as non-territory holding carrion crow flock, which they already got to know very well during their stay with us. Both flocks are frequent visitors to our premises, a fortunate situation, which allows direct interaction and communication between wild birds, patients and residents. Over the past weeks some of the released birds decided to come back into the safety of the release aviary to roost, whilst others came back only to get some extra snacks. Many of them stayed in the near vicinity for longer periods of time. After becoming more and more confident, which is a learning process lasting anything between several days and many weeks, we could observe these birds, when they followed the local flocks flying further and further away from the release site, to participate in daytime activities and to eventually join the night roost.

Although the aviary doors are closed now, backup feeding and shelter will still be provided throughout autumn and winter. Most of the released birds are now staying away completely, or at least for longer periods of time. Some of them  are still coming back to visit their old comrades or to enjoy some food, which we will continue to provide.

When checking out the picture gallery, you will find a short summary underneath every picture telling you a little bit about the individual stories of these fascinating birds.

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Spinal Trauma Rehabilitation – Magpie Anton’s Story

Admission – 28/06/2016

Anton, an immature magpie, came to us as in June 2016. He has been found hiding in a greenhouse after being injured and unable to fly. At admission we found a subacute fracture of radius and ulna of his left wing. The fracture has been treated conservatively and splinted accordingly. Anton made a full and uneventful recovery, and four weeks later he has been successfully soft released. Anton stayed in the area and has been seen daily returning for some snacks.

Update – 20/08/2016

The last three weeks, after we opened the release aviary, magpie Anton stayed in the closer vicinity and came back almost every day for food and to visit some old friends, in particular magpie Ebony. However, today we have been shocked to find Anton near his release aviary lying on his back and being unable to walk or stand. Although we don’t know what has exactly happened, the admission assessment revealed very quickly that our unlucky magpie fellow Anton suffered a severe impact trauma, which has resulted in a spinal contusion with subsequent partial paralysis of both wing and legs. 

Rehabilitation Of Brain And Spinal Trauma Patients

The treatment of corvids in general, but in particular the treatment of spinal injuries in birds can be a controversial topic and is handled inconsistently. Apart from the disappointing species related fact that corvids are often not treated and rehabilitated at all, a spinal trauma or spinal injury with partial or complete paralysis of wings, legs or both, is commonly seen as an acceptable reason for an immediate euthanasia. And even if a rehabilitation attempt is undertaken, often enough these birds are hastily euthanised after only a couple of days without significant improvement. Our own experiences, rehabilitation approach and results are different, focussing on birds without a fracture or on birds with non-displaced spinal fractures only. It has to be noted that displaced spinal fractures usually result in irreversible damage to the spinal cord and a recovery is very unlikely. In these cases euthanasia is probably the kindest option.  However, these kind of decisions have to be made on a case by case basis. In all other cases outlined above, a treatment attempt should be considered. If there is no noticeable improvement within a fortnight, chances of recovery are remote. However, as soon as there is a noticeable improvement observed, chances of a full recovery will increase markedly over time. Under these circumstance the rehabilitation process and timeline will be extended and adapted accordingly. The video clip below shows some of the milestones of Anton’s rehabilitation process and recovery including his second successful soft release. 

Considerations For The Early Rehabilitation Phase

Magpie Anton is a typical example, which proves that birds with spinal injuries should be given a second chance and that these birds can make a full recovery. At admission Anton was unable to stand or walk at all. He was able to fly short distances, but in a very uncoordinated way, which did suggest a mild coexisting concussion. As in any other rehabilitation situation, the rehabilitation process needs to be frequently adapted according to the degree of neurological deficit and should also take the personality of the individual concerned in account. The treatment usually starts off with a secure and padded hospital box in a quite and dimmed light setting, with the primary goal to keep the bird calm and the blood pressure low, without using any restraints (e.g. bird harness or sling). This is in particular important during the first week, as the risk of a sudden neurological deterioration is highest during the first 24 hours after the trauma. Any bleed or haematoma within spine or brain will lead to a compression of the surrounding structures, also resulting in an additional perifocal swelling or oedema, which usually peaks at 72 hours and persists for about 5 days. These findings might explain a second mortality peak commonly seen at the third day post accident and they also justify the necessity to give any bird with a brain or spine injury enough time and a chance to recover. Based on these facts and our own experiences, it becomes evident that the 14 day rule seems to be a good compromise. 

Longterm Rehabilitation Of Brain And Spinal Trauma Patients

For the next phase of the rehabilitation process, a padded play pen or baby cot works very well, which allows the bird to exercise in a safe environment, as the bird is usually not in full control of his or her movements and may be prone to injuries. Not unsurprisingly cleanliness is paramount, primarily to avoid additional damage to and contamination of the plumage, which is at risk to excessive wear and tear in particular in birds, which are unsteady and prone to falls. The added interior of the padded pen has to be chosen carefully, to take again all these facts in account. This also obviously includes water dishes to avoid accidental drowning in unsteady patients. When the bird has regained his or her abilities to control its movements, a transfer into a small safe aviary can be attempted to allow more freedom, entertainment and exercise. However, the progress has to be monitored closely, as frequent adaptations of the aviary setup may be necessary to adapt and optimise the rehabilitation process and to minimise any remaining risks of falls or injury. The final step of the birds recovery will be the transfer into a larger free flight soft release aviary. It goes without saying that these kind of bird patients are not suitable for a hard release at all. Soft release is the only viable option for any young or long-term patient allowing a gradual reintroduction back into the wild. 

Top 10 Mistakes Made In Corvid Rescue And Rehabilitation

Update – 02/11/2016

Magpie Anton made a full recovery and has been successfully soft released for the second time. Anton teamed up with previous inmate Ebony, who has been also soft released together with Anton. Both birds stayed close by and are frequently visiting our garden, even a year after their final release. Stay safe Anton and Ebony!