November – aka woodcock month!


I didn’t expect to carry out any rescues in November but I forgot it was Woodcock month!  It’s virtually the only month that rescuers pick up woodcock.  Although not water birds I do get a lot of calls passed across to me about these lovely little visitors. They are migrating to England, for our milder winters, from as far as Russia.  They are exhausted and thin and often if they get blown off course they can be too weak to take off again.  They also crash in to high buildings when they are fatigued which I guess is why they are often picked up in Central London.  It may also be that they are following the Thames as a point of navigation. Woodcock are very stressy birds and do not do well in captivity.  Through trial, error and research I now know the best thing is to release them within 24 hours.  They never seem to want to eat while in captivity yet in the wild they can eat up to their body weight on a daily basis!  Keeping them overnight to rest then releasing them, as soon as possible, seems to give them the best chance of survival.  There is a huge park near me that has a woodcock population so this is where mine now go.  If they want to continue on their migratory  journey then they can but they also have the choice to stay in a park with other visiting woodcock.  I miss the water bird rescues* but I certainly enjoy the privilege of helping these shy little woodcock – a species that I would probably never normally see.

Thank you to London Wildlife Protection for assisting in the woodcock rescues and Paula Redmond for the amazing photo.

*I have helped with a few rescues -or maybe interfered- which will go on my next post!


Where there’s a will there’s a way!

Having had hand surgery and therefore, not able to drive I thought I wouldn’t be involved in any water bird rescues.  I have had some calls to check swans and at least I can report back whether a rescue is necessary or not.  The Swan Sanctuary asked me to check on a lone swan by the Tate Modern, on the South Bank and, initially, when I went there, he seemed fine albeit very hungry.  He clambered out of the Thames and onto the sandy bank when he spied me feeding the geese.  There’s a lack of vegetation in that part of the Thames but there was nothing stopping him from flying off if he wanted to.

A week later the Swan Sanctuary received several calls about the same swan.  I spoke to one of the callers at length and it appeared that the swan had been lying on a wall for over 4 hours.  Members of the public were touching the swan and taking selfies with it.  It never hissed nor raised its wings which is far from normal.  Rescuers are very thin on the ground in London and there was no-one available to go.  Gill said she would come but she lives in Chingford and the ETA was over 90 minutes.  I knew I couldn’t pick up the swan but thought at least if I got up there I could help in some way.  Two lovely couples were happy to stay with the swan until I arrived.  One couple were visiting from Germany and the other from Surrey, up in London for a Christmas Market.  Instead, between them, they spent hours in the rain, standing with the swan and trying to get some help for it.

I got the train to Waterloo and walked the rest of the way, forgetting just how far it is. The swan was very lethargic with his head dropped.  It was so sad to see as only a few days earlier he had appeared fine.  The people with the swan were sensible and I had brought a swan wrap and bag.  With my guidance they were happy to pick him up and get him in the  swan wrap.  Success!  The swan was safe.  By now Gill was only about 40 minutes away so we got the swan to a quiet road where she could park and meet us.   I did say to the couples that if they wanted to get on with their night out i was happy to wait on my own for Gill but they insisted on waiting saying they would see the rescue through!  And as one of the husbands commented “Had we left it my wife wouldn’t have spoken to me for the rest of the week-end”.

Upon arrival Gill decided to drive straight on to the sanctuary, in Shepperton, as we were both concerned for him.  He was so weak and hungry but it was reassuring to see him eat inside the car.  He was ravenous and despite the unnatural environment he found himself in he was happy to tuck into some food.  Always a good sign.

The poorly swan
Lying here for hours
Lovely German tourist carrying him to safety
Safe in Gill’s car

Once admitted to the Swan Sanctuary he was examined and there was nothing obviously wrong with him although he clearly wasn’t ‘right’.  He had a BTO ring and details revealed he was an elderly swan – 11yrs old.  I had also rescued him a few years ago when he was involved in a territorial and got attacked by another swan. This was only a few miles away so we knew this was ‘his’ area.

He has now made great progress and has been introduced to an elderly lady swan who lost her mate earlier this year.  She resides at Southwark Park but was brought to the sanctuary due to a botulism outbreak in the park lake  It has now been dredged and the plan is to release them both back to the park.  Fingers crossed it works out for them.


October’s Highlights – Beware of Canada Geese!

October started out pretty uneventful.  There were plenty of rescues but they were all quite similar.  Cygnets taking their first flight and landing in the road or in other swans’ territories became the norm.  I was looking forward to something different. Mid October I was on my way home after taking a parakeet to a wildlife centre when I got another call about a cygnet.  This one was too small to fly and was becoming more isolated from his family.  It was close to where I live and I had been monitoring the situation but concerned members of the public  were ringing the Swan Sanctuary so I collected it.  I took it home and kept it in my shed with a view to run it in to the sanctuary the next day.

That evening I got another call.  A Canada Goose was running around an industrial estate and although healthy appeared unable to fly, worryingly he was being stalked by a fox!  My sister and niece were stopping with me so my niece, Sarah, came along.  The goose looked uninjured but however close I got to him he showed no signs of flying so he definitely needed catching as the fox was not deterred by Sarah or me shooing him away.  Eventually I caught the goose but he put up quite a fight.  This is not unusual as any rescuers will say that Canadas are far more resistant to being caught than a swan.  My hand hurt as my thumb got bent back pushing him into my pet carrier but I didn’t think about it too much.  We got him home and he was very feisty.  I tried to put him in the shed with my little cygnet who I unimaginatively called Little George, as he came from King George’s Park and was small.  Poor Little George got the shock of his life, the Canada jumped aggressively on to him and whacked him with his wings.  I quickly picked up LG and brought him indoors.  The guinea pig I was looking after got moved to smaller accommodation and LG moved to the guinea’s quarters

By the next morning I knew I couldn’t handle either the cygnet or goose and called another rescuer to collect them.  I rang for some medical advice and was told to go to my local A&E.  An x ray showed that no bones were broken but I got a referral to the Hand Clinic.  An ultrasound revealed I had torn the ligament in my thumb and surgery followed a few days later.

So – I am now in a plaster caste, off work, unable to drive for six weeks and unable to rescue for the rest of the year.  It’s unbelievable that a minor mishap could result in such an injury.  I will continue to publish posts about various things but November and December will very likely be rescue free.

Man v Swan

I would say that the vast majority or rescues involve birds that have been injured, either directly or indirectly, by humans.  It seems that without us the water birds would have a far better life.

Fishing – Most anglers profess to be responsible and always dispose carefully of their unused line and other fishing paraphernalia.  It therefore begs the question ‘why do so many water birds suffer with fishing injuries?’ There is a slight decline in fishing related injuries but this is mainly because fishing is less popular than a couple of decades ago.  Kids are much less likely to take up fishing now and have other interests.  The worst places are usually where there’s no fishing clubs and all that is required is a rod licence.   Bailiffs are usually absent from these ponds too.  Naturally, there are good anglers too and they can be the ones who call rescuers first when a bird’s in trouble.

Pollution – People often think of oiled swans as looking quite black,  having become covered in some type of engine oil or diesel – especially when they are on rivers and canals.  Surprisingly though, around half of the oiled swans that are rescued have cooking oil that has penetrated into their feathers.  It is less obvious to notice due to the pale colour but all oiled swans are reluctant to go on water as they have lost their waterproofing.  If they do go on the water they will sink a little and get wet and soggy so quickly come out again.  If it’s winter they are very likely to suffer from hypothermia as a consequence of the pollution. Their reluctance to go on water means they are vulnerable to fox and dog attacks.  It’s not difficult to clean the swans, just very time consuming and stressful for them.  It must be totally alien for them being lathered up with washing up liquid and they will lose their natural oils in the process.   This means their stay at the Swan Sanctuary can be long as they need to get all their natural waterproofing back before being released.  If you are ever tempted to pour oil down a drain I hope this will make you think again.

Litter – Please discard of litter responsibly.  If the waste bins look full to overflowing then take your rubbish home with you.  Plastic bottle top rings and the plastic holders for 4/6 pack drinks are the worst offenders.  If they’re on a swan they are usually relatively easy to catch but a duck with the same problem is near impossible to catch and usually it’s just a great bit of luck if we get them.

Dog Attacks – Most are not a wanton act of cruelty.  Usually, a dog owner has never thought their dog could possibly attack waterfowl – well, until it happens.  Many dog owners ignore signage that says that their dog should be on a lead and often encourage them into the water.  It is frustrating as if you politely point out the signage you often get told to mind your own business or worse a tirade of abuse.  Swans often die following the trauma of an attack even if  the actual wound is not life threatening.

This summer, I saw many swans at the Swan Sanctuary that had suffered awful attacks and there were many more that never survived their injuries.  Earlier in the year the entire swan family, at Richmond Park, were taken to the Swan Sanctuary as both parents were attacked by dogs while they tried to protect their family. They made great progress and were released a few weeks later but sadly last month there was another dog attack, this time on one of their cygnets.  A woman had a rescue greyhound (known chasers) off the lead of the pond and he jumped on one of the young.  The bite looked fairly insignificant but it was close to the spinal cord and the cygnet has paralysis.  We are hoping it is nerve damage and that he will recover but who knows?  He’s a happy chappy and eats well and has some use in one leg.  However, if the damage turns out to be permanent,sadly he will be put to sleep but we are all hoping this won’t happen.  I wish the greyhound owner could see this cygnet and the damage her

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dog did.

Acts of Cruelty – It’s bad enough getting a call to a seriously injured bird but when you arrive and find that someone has deliberately injured it.  I just despair.  Birds being shot is on the increase and it’s miraculous how many actually survive although a fair few die too.  I used to follow a pair of swans in Morden and they  would come out far from the water to be fed.  They were vulnerable to dog attacks because of this so when I received to say they were both covered in blood I assumed that a dog had attacked them.  That was bad enough but when I arrived I realised they had both been shot.  This was done early in the morning as there was a sighting of the swans at 7.00 am.  Who would get up in the morning and take an air gun with the express intention to kill two swans?  The swans will always swim over to people expecting to be fed and instead they get a pellet in their head.  One swan was dead when I arrived  and the other died upon arrival at the Swan Sanctuary.  I’ve never forgotten these swans and strangely enough they were never replaced by another pair.  I often wonder if Ravensbury Park give out bad swan vibes.

Hit by Cars – Windsor has been a bit of a blackspot for swans being hit by cars.   Surely it must be hard not to see a swan and yet they often get hit by cars.  Sometimes there’s car parks close to a river or pond that swans occupy.  Members of the public throw  bread out of their cars rather than discouraging the swans to be fed and walking a short distance to feed them in the water.

What all these have in common is they are nearly always preventable.  I could write an entire post on each of these but the purpose of this is just to make you think and become more aware.

September’s Highlights

It seems like yesterday that cygnets were hatching and popping up all over the place.  Well, those same grey balls of fluff are now the class of 2018 with some already starting to fly.  Often, if the cygnets fly off when they are only four months old, their lack of experience means they are very likely to crash and need rescuing.   So the theme for September is picking up the first flyers who have landed in inappropriate places.  Some just need relocating others have injured themselves and need admitting to the Swan Sanctuary.

I mentioned in a previous post the I did not think the Wimbledon Flock would survive for much longer and it has now dispersed.  Three years ago we had 65 swans and now there are two breeding pairs with ten cygnets between them and about three additional swans.  The two pairs continue to squabble and I would guess by the end of the year only the most dominant pair will remain.

One rather strange rescue, at the start of September, began with a call about a mum and her ducklings, in a communal courtyard in flats in Rotherhithe.  It seemed late in the year for this type of call but it turned out that the ducklings had hatched ten weeks ago.  The residents had enjoyed them being there but now they were creating a mess and trampling on their plants so they were no longer welcome.  Looking at the layout when I arrived, there was no reason why the duck family couldn’t fly out.  However, despite spending quite some time chasing and often missing them, my friend and I managed to catch them all.  Our original plan was to release them on the closest, suitable, pond but with their ability to fly now in doubt we had no option but to take them to the Swan Sanctuary.  Once they were checked over it became apparent that their wings had not developed properly.  They had not received green foodstuff/vegetation and the food they were fed was not correct so although a good size they were malnourished.  However, with the right diet, hopefully they will go on to become fully flighted and leave the sanctuary.

Quite close to this, at Greenlands Dock, is a family of swans on another pond surrounded by flats and houses.  This pond is much larger and a fabulous lady, named Diane, always keeps a check on them.  Despite fishing being prohibited there have been occasional problems in the past when boys jump out of a van and catch the fish in the pond.  They run back to the van with the fish and drive off.  It seems like it happened again this month as one morning Diane noticed one of the cygnets was caught up with fishing line.  She also said the cygnet’s neck was fat.  This concerned me more than the line as I knew it could mean a torn oesophagus.  Fortunately, another rescuer was able to go straight over and catch the cygnet.  The poor cygnet was trailing tons of line and was taken straight to the sanctuary.  I was right to be concerned – the oesophagus was torn and the vet came in immediately to operate.  It’s a horrible injury as the swan is hungry and eats but the food doesn’t make it down to its stomach.  Instead it just gathers in the neck and the swan begins to starve.  Without immediate surgery the swan will die.  Luckily, Sally, the sanctuary vet, has done in excess of 100 of these ops and our cygnet was operated on,  stitched up and left to recover within hours of admittance.  He is now on an outside pond doing fantastically well.

Some rescues are  little more than collections but are just as important.  Like most rescuers,  I am apprehensive when I see the Swan Sanctuary number come up on my phone or even an unknown number – both probably mean a rescue.  On this occasion there was a swan that had swallowed fishing line and a hook and had been taken, by anglers, to the PDSA.  It was open 24/7 so there was no problem as to when I went.  It was late Friday evening so I left it until Saturday morning.  The PDSA branch, holding the swan, was in Thamesmead which is a long old drive across London, for me.  It was followed by a trip on the M25 to take the swan to the sanctuary and the round trip including driving home amounted to four hours.  These trips are not uncommon and highlights the shortage of both rescuers and drivers.  I am inclined to utilise the time taken up on these journeys to make phone calls – hands free of course – I have precious cargo on board!

When To Rescue and (more importantly) When Not To!

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.



August’s Highlights

Roehampton cygnet with eye infection
Roehampton cygnet. After assessment grass seed removed from his eye
Gull delivered late at night with bottulism
Only a goose with botulism could sit in the car without being in a cage. The dreadful illness literally paralyses them
Barnes cygnet doing well
Goose with botulism. Kept in the bathroom as Margaret the fiesty swan was in the shed. Not the best sight when you go to the bathroom in the morning!


It would be boring to list every rescue as so many are  similar but I left one off in July that in hindsight was worth a mention as it was something I hadn’t ever seen before in a water bird.  I was called out to a cygnet that had developed a very gunky eye.  It was closed and sore and clearly troubling him.  It was a fairly easy catch but it is always sad to take a young cygnet from its parents.  However, there was no other option so off we went to the Swan Sanctuary.  It turned out this cygnet had a grass seed, deeply embedded, in his eye.  He would need a course of treatment so although the seed was removed it still meant he couldn’t return to his family.  However, there are never a shortage of cygnets at the sanctuary so he had lots of new friends

The duckling rescues seem to have come to an end but I hope I haven’t been premature packing away my heat lamp.

The hot weather has made 2018 one of the worst years for botulism outbreaks.  It’s hit swans, ducks and geese.  There’s also been a fair few gulls with it and I have been able to treat some at home, which has been rewarding.  I have found that the larger gulls (like herring gulls) fare better than the smaller gull species.  However, there was one little black headed gull that survived against all the odds and was I delighted!

A wonderful lady, named Angela, who worked at Millwall Docks fished a poorly gull out of the water.  She spent hours trying to get help for him but drew a blank whoever she phoned.  She went to vets who  either said they couldn’t treat it and/or they would put it to sleep.  They said they could find no injuries and suspected nerve damage as it couldn’t move its legs.  After getting my number she rang and asked if I would help.  I said I would like to but was based in Wandsworth.  She was in Woolwich which is miles away.  Maybe not if you are in a rural area but London miles are very different. 16/17 miles could take as long as 90 minutes.  However, if I was happy to accept the gull Angela was happy to do the drive.  It was now about 10.15 and I think she arrived more than an hour later.  At least the traffic was quiet at that time of night.  We settled the gull in, she had a cup of tea and at sometime after midnight she drove back home.  After a couple of weeks, with lots of TLC, vitamins and nutritious food he made great progress and was soft released on one of the Swan Sanctuary’s natural ponds.

Canada Goose families usually stay together for around a year but the hot weather has seen families splitting when they have flown to search for food, as in most places grass had become straw.   I have picked up several injured juvenile geese with injuries from flying – something I haven’t seen in previous years.  They nearly all are underweight too.

Another of the Barnes’ cygnets got taken to the Swan Sanctuary – he was lethargic, not feeding and remaining on the grass when his family returned to the water – very vulnerable to dog attacks.  There is a predictable pattern each year, with the poorly Barnes’ babies – they never do terribly well and seem to go down one by one.

Many rescue calls come from people I know or the Swan Sanctuary but there’s often the numbers that are unfamiliar and when the caller starts with ……’I’ve been given your number’ or ‘Not sure if you can help me’ then I know what’s coming.  This was the case on the Bank Holiday weekend.  A swan was in the road in St Margarets’ High Street.  They said she was sat quite still and could be injured.  The ladies that called me were happy to stay with the swan until I arrived which always makes me feel a bit more relaxed as the journey time was 45 minutes.  When I arrived the swan was calmly sat on the pavement looking in at the coffee shop.  It wasn’t facing the road so looked like an easy rescue.  However, it was torrential rain and as I grabbed the swan it slipped away and started running down the high street.  Oh dear!  Instinct is to chase after it but the best course of action is to step back and wait.  The swan sat down again and with the help of the ladies at the coffee shop I made sure that I wouldn’t fail in my second attempt of capturing it.  However, the swan put up a huge fight and was seriously aggressive.

Having looked at her I felt sure she was a female so I had to name her Margaret.  I couldn’t see any injuries so my plan was to release her in a nearby flock the next day.  However, she was hissy and aggressive and swiped at me with her wings if I went near her.  Her behaviour wasn’t what I would expect and although she had no obvious injuries i began to think she may have been bruised and sore rather than just aggressive. I spoke to the lady who called me and learnt that Margaret had hit her windscreen before landing flat on her stomach onto the road.  That made my mind up – she wasn’t fit for release and needed to be admitted to the Swan Sanctuary.  Off we went the following day and I did warn Mel that Margaret was a very feisty lady.  She came flying out of her swan wrap and lived up to her reputation.  She was given pain relief and anti inflammatories  and finally quietened down – poor Margaret.   A few days R&R though and she was fit for release and raring to go!