All wildlife casualty updates and release information will be found at http://chrissperring.blogspot.com/
Wildlife casualties Newsflash!
The gang of 6 Little Owls has just been released.
Read about progress at http://chrissperring.blogspot.com/
The most common birds brought to me are Tawny Owlets, which are often mistaken to be orphaned when they are found by well-meaning members of the public. Young tawny owls leave the nest when they are still very fluffy and unable to fly - this stage is called 'branching'. Once the owlets have branched they do not return to the nest but climb and jump around in the trees whilst still being fed by their parents. Sometimes they fall from the trees and if near to dawn will be unable to climb back up before day breaks. If this happens the owlet's instincts tell it to stay still until dark. It is then that people come across this pathetic-looking ball of fluff and 'rescue' it. This is a real shame because baby wild animals are always better off when reared by their parents. The simple message here is
'if you find me leave me alone!'. If you come across a young tawny owl (see picture) and feel that it may be in immediate danger put it somewhere out of sight and reach of dogs in the vicinity of where you found it and leave. If you are still worried quietly check back from a distance after dark and you should find a noisy and lively owlet.
There are of course many other reasons why wild birds end up being rescued, including nest sites being destroyed, road traffic accidents, poisoning and disease.
My background in Rehab.
I have been involved in wildlife rehabilitation for a very long time. When I was young people would often bring injured wild birds to me, or I would find them when out birdwatching or studying owls or badgers. Unlike today there weren't specialist centers for the treatment of wildlife and I just had to do my best. My success rate varied but many of my charges were returned to the wild. Of course my knowledge and experience grew over the years and I became realistic about what was possible and when it was time to give up! I am lucky to have been friends for many years with specialist avian and wildlife vet Dick Best who would always diagnose and fix (when possible) any injury or sickness that I presented, or quickly end the suffering of those many impossible cases.
My role now
Working in conservation inevitably brings me into regular contact with wildlife casualties. Thankfully there are now specialist centers which can deal with these far more effectively than any individual. I have worked closely with Secret World Wildlife Rescue in Somerset for many years, in fact I am a Patron of their Charity, and I greatly admire the work that they do. They have a highly efficient team of staff and volunteers, along with a well equipped hospital, specialist vets and rescue vehicles. I will however always come out when people ask me to collect injured owls or birds of prey because I have many years of experience in handling these species and have a brilliant vet, large aviaries and suitable release sites. I now specialise in rearing a small number of wild owls each year (without ever imprinting), finding release sites, effecting gradual release and monitoring these birds post-release. I also release and monitor a few adult owls and birds of prey which for one reason or another are unable to be released back into their original territories. Everything else is passed on to the very capable hands of Secret World.
Breeding to release
Breeding barn owls in captivity in order to release their young into the wild is now illegal after many years and many thousands of young owls being released failed to have any effect on the dwindling wild population. This is mainly because the real cause of barn owl decline is habitat loss, and the only way to help them is to reverse the decline in their favoured habitat rough grassland which supports their main prey species the Field Vole.
Other species though can be helped by releasing captive-bred animals into the wild. Water Voles for example are also victims of habitat loss, but suitable habitats can be isolated and therefore existing populations cannot spread to new areas for example when new habitats are created. In these situations releasing animals in order to create sustainable new populations can have real conservation value and long-term benefits. One such project has taken place at Royal Portbury Dock in North Somerset by Bristol Zoo Gardens. This project was instigated and monitored by myself through the close working relationships that I have formed with BZG and the Bristol Port Company over many years. This new population has now increase to such a degree that it has spread over a large area away from the original release site.
Of course the hot topic facing anyone involved with wildlife casualties at the moment is bird flu or Avian Influenza to give it its proper name.
There still seem to be very many unanswered questions about bird flu, but my understanding is that like all varieties of flu bird flu has been around for almost as long as its hosts, and there are many hundreds of varieties of it. The difference with h5n1 of course is that it has mutated and is now capable of infecting mammals, including humans. At this stage though this is still a bird flu so is spread by feaces, and is not airborn like mammalian flu's. This being the case close contact must be made with an infected bird or its feaces for there to be any chance of a person catching it. Because of the way it is transmitted water birds are the most at risk from bird flu, and although the risk from wild birds is minute (and of course no confirmed cases have occured in wild birds in England) I would recommend the following:
1. If you find a wild bird (alive or dead) do not touch it.
2. If it is sick or dead in suspicious circumstances contact the DEFRA helpline to report it.
3. If you have to pick up a wild bird (for example if your cat brings it into the house) use gloves and disinfect surfaces it has touched.
These are simply standard health and safety precautions that should be adhered to because all wild animals can carry a variety of parasites and diseases. Above all the risk from bird flu is tiny and we should all continue to feed and encourage birds to our gardens. The small number of people who have contracted this disease have worked in unsanitary environments with little consideration for health and safety or the welfare of their birds. If we are all sensible I am convinced that the hysteria over bird flu will soon pass.
For more information visit the DEFRA website.
What to do if you find an injured wild animal
Firstly you must establish whether it is infact injured or orphaned. As a general rule wild animals have a natural fear of humans and if you are able to get close to it there must be something wrong.
The following is a useful list:
- If you are able to easily catch the animal you should do so - but remember that it will see you as a predator and assume that you are going to kill it, so will defend itself with every once of its remaining strength. This is fine if we are talking about a blackbird, but not very funny if you find a Badger, Fox or Heron! You must use your discretion, but always wear gloves and treat your own safety as priority. Often the easiest way to catch injured wildlife is by throwing a coat or towel over it before gently restraining it.
- Once caught put the animal in a box, ideally one that is just slightly larger that the animal itself so that it can't move around too much and cause more damage. Then place it somewhere warm and quiet and call for help from a specialist or ring your local vet who may be able to help.
- If you can't catch the animal (either because it is dangerous or still able to move) ring for a wildlife rescue organisation like Secret World Wildlife Rescue (Somerset, UK) who will come out or advise who you can call nearer to your location. If possible ring from your mobile phone and stay with the animal, or leave someone else to watch it. This will save valuable time when the rescuers arrive as they won't have to find the animal first!
* Additional tip: find the number of your nearest wildlife rescue organisation and save their emergency number in your mobile phone - hopefully you will never need to use it, but will save valuable time if you do.