When I first started rescuing it all appeared very straightforward. I got a call to rescue a sick or injured bird – I did my very best to catch it and if I was successful I took it to a rescue centre. I did not think much about what happened next. It was very black and white with none of the shades of grey that now appear at so many rescues.
Over the years, as I became more experienced, I gave a lot of thought about what happens after the bird was admitted. Was it the best option? Should I have left it to cope in its natural habitat? When should I intervene?
I now see taking a bird into a rescue centre as the last resort not the first option and yet I still know that with many rescues this leaves the member of the public, who alerted me to the problem, dissatisfied that the bird hasn’t been rescued. I try to explain but I can often tell they’re not convinced!
I often get calls about moorhens and coots with fishing line. I know that they will be almost impossible to catch despite having awful injuries. Therefore, if someone spots a poorly coot/moorhen and can pick them up they certainly need rescuing. They are vulnerable and very likely to be injured by a dog or taken as food for a fox.
However, the difficulty lies when I get a call about a swan, goose or duck with a bad limp or even an old fracture in the leg. If a fracture is old it will have calcified and nothing can be done for it. When I tell someone this they look at me with disbelief. I know they really care about the bird but then again so do I which is why I give up my free time to be a volunteer. I had this scenario only a week ago which I will detail.
I received a call about a poorly Greylag goose that had a really bad limp – he kept flopping down to rest. I went to look for the bird but couldn’t find it. However, the next day the caller saw it and managed to catch it. That was great so I drove over but the journey took me an hour so the caller and goose had to wait patiently. The goose was then taken to the Swan Sanctuary where no injury was found but he appeared elderly and was probably arthritic, which is common in geese. He was quite happy, in an indoor pen at the sanctuary, and ate everything in front of him. However, by day 4 he was just a tad fed up being kept indoors and by day 5 he made it known that he had had enough of staying inside.
So – there’s no treatment necessary for this grumpy goose and he cannot stay inside for long – it would just not be right. However, once he’s put outside there’s a very good chance he will fly off – geese take off vertically. Now as an old arthritic goose he was used to the park he lived in but suppose he flies out and cannot navigate to his home park that’s 25 miles away? He will end up landing in parks or land close to the Swan Sanctuary where he will be treated as an intruder. He won’t know the territory and lame or poorly geese are always singled out. Although not as bad as swans, geese can still be territorial and will definitely single out a weak visitor. The best I can hope for is if he’s foolish enough not to want to stay at the sanctuary that he will find his way home. So why don’t I just take him back there? Which is exactly what I did and he seemed quite happy to be home. There was a lot of honking and calling out to the rest of the flock.
So please, if a rescuer says the best option is to leave a bird please put your trust in them. It really is difficult to make that judgement and always a bit of a gamble. Mostly it’s worth the risk.
The Swan Sanctuary has several acres of land but I still wouldn’t want a bird to be there unless it was necessary – despite being the best of its kind. Often a small charity will instantly pick up the bird I may have chosen to leave but they may have very limited facilities and the bird could be held in a cage for a prolonged period. Think about what is best.
Also, please remember that all non native birds are meant to be euthanised as they are non releasable. Some charities have a few licences to release but the RSPCA will almost certainly have to put the bird to sleep. This covers Egyptians and Canadas. For further reading look up the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and search for Schedule 9. This is not a criticism of the RSPCA they have to follow the letter of the law whereas some small charities have a bit more wiggle room. Larger sanctuaries will often have an area where they can live there life naturally but be unable to fly out.
Sorry if this sounds a bit preachy – that really isn’t my intention but it’s something I feel passionate about so it is my most important blog so far! I welcome your comments and thank you.