Now that fire restrictions have been lifted it is a good time to burn that pile of garden waste, grass clippings and other rubbish you may have built into a decent sized bonfire.

Over a 2 week period on perfectly still mornings I have pulled my bonfire apart making a small controllable fire, just in case the wind was to spring up as often happens at this time of year. As long as it stays calm I continue to pull debris from the big pile to feed my small fire, raking the edges all the while.

Why did I not just set fire to the big pile?

When I got to the bottom of my pile what I thought was an old piece of carpet actually moved and there was an echidna. I was ever so thankful that I had taken the time to pull apart the big pile and not just take the easy way out by throwing a match into it.

It pays to remember that many of our unique wildlife species such as lizards, snakes, turtles, echidnas and birds often take shelter under our piles of leaf litter and other debris.

 [Ed. note : we have a number of bird sp that also build their nests in the tangle of branches, bark, leaf litter, etc that we accumulate during the warmer months so vigilance is always needed before lighting fires, taking the time to rake apart this accumulation as Helan did will, without fail, save some species. In years past we have received echidnas,larger skink sp and legless lizards that have become victims of either burning off vegetation or burning accumulated debris].

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All authorised wildlife shelter operators in Victoria operate under the ‘Code of Practice for the Operation of Wildlife Shelters.’ Paragraph 1 of Item 3, Release Procedures, states :

‘This phase of rehabilitation process is most important and must be carefully planned. The long-term survival of the animal is dependent, in part, on the release being conducted efficiently and effectively. To this end, rehabilitation must incorporate not only the physical health and well being of the animal, but must also ensure that the necessary survival skills are present. This is particularly important for hunting animals [such as raptors] or animals with highly specialised diets. In these cases, the animals may have to be taught to hunt or weaned to an appropriate diet prior to release’.

There is little sense in raising a species using artificial food when it is then necessary to re-educate it regarding a natural diet. Trying to persuade possums raised on a luscious fruit diet that gum leaves and blossom are really better is almost impossible, it takes a very long time, is incredibly stressful and not always successful, not only for the possum but for the carer also. So much easier to start with a natural diet. Yes, at times, it may take a little effort to gather the appropriate food each night but how much more rewarding to see your tiny possum clambering amongst the gum leaves sampling the small fresh leaf, then the larger older leaf and deciding which one it prefers, perhaps with a little bit of bark chewing between leaf courses. And how much quicker they learn to easily negotiate the canopy of leaves placed in their enclosure. Birds should also be fed natural, or as close to natural food, as possible. Yummy chicken or beef strips are an easy choice for the carer but these tasty nibbles are not available in the wild.

Unlike leaves and blossom, insects and other live food taken by birds do not sit and wait for capture, it is up to the bird [predator] to recognise its natural food and have the ability to track and capture it. The large hunting raptors who chase live prey must be in top condition in order to survive in the wild. Every attempt to capture prey is not successful. Each attempt weakens the bird making it a little more difficult at the next attempt. Death from starvation is usually the result of birds released without the capability of recognising and being able to capture food. For example a Peregrine Falcon, on average, will make 11 attempts before making a successful strike, each attempt ends with the bird just a little weaker until it is incapable of chasing down prey. We all know peregrines are the fastest flying birds in the world, clocking an amazing 300km+ per hr. That speed is when the bird is flying in a ‘stoop’ that is, in a downwards vertical dive with wings either fully closed or only partially open. A pair of peregrines will often hunt together, one bird will fly high with its mate much lower, when prey has been found and the chase begins, the higher bird will chase from above, the unsuspecting prey will then be caught by the low flying falcon. When flying in a stoop a peregrine may capture prey in its talons and take it to a perch to kill or hit it hard in flight either stunning or causing instant death. It then follows it to the ground to gather and take to a perch for eating. In a typical horizontal flight, peregrines find it much more difficult to capture prey. Fast flying birds, for instance racing pigeons, will almost always beat a peregrine in a horizontal chase. Goshawks are ‘sprinters’ often running down prey very quickly although long chases do occur, they will often chase their prey into the tops of trees following them into and through the leaf canopy.

The following information has been taken from a study done in 2006 by Peter H. Holz, BVSc, DVSc, Dipl ACZM Richard Naisbitt and Peter Mansell, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc. It is a summary only.

The study examined the effect of 2 fitness programmes on post release survival and ability to maintain weight of Peregrine Falcons [15] and Brown Goshawks [12] that had been captive either for treatment or after orphaning. Each bird was either treated or allowed to mature. Two exercise methods were used – traditional falconry methods or by stimulated flight within its cage. Resting blood lactate concentrations were taken and measured at various stages prior to release. [I have not noted the results of the blood tests but concentrations were higher in the cage exercised peregrines compared to those exercised by the traditional methods and there was no difference between the 2 groups of goshawks. After exercise the levels were significantly higher for the cage exercised group of both species]. Prior to release all birds were fitted with radio transmitters and monitored then trapped at various times after release and weighed.

Of the falconry trained birds 3 of 6 peregrines and all 4 goshawks gained weight. All 9 peregrines and 6 of the 8 goshawks from the cage group lost weight after release. Results would suggest peregrines and goshawks exercised using traditional methods were more fit than the cage exercised birds and would be more likely to survive after release.

The birds were individually assigned to one of the 2 groups, sex or time in captivity was not taken into account when the selections were made. The group 1 birds [6 peregrines and 4 goshawks were exercised by standard falconry techniques, initially flown 50m twice a day using a creance [training line] and food based motivation. They were then free flown twice a day for 50m until judged ready for release. Group 2 birds [9 peregrines and 8 goshawks] were kept in aviaries and fed, they were exercised once or twice a week by stimulating 10-18 flights back and forth in a 25m flight cage. They were assessed as being ready for release when handlers considered normal flight ability had been reached. Prior to release they were forced to fly 18 repetitions of an 8m horizontal flight during a period of approx. 5mins.

Birds were tracked and recaptured at variable times after release and weighed. One peregrine and 4 goshawks from group 2 that had lost weight were taken back into captivity. Exercise was then done using traditional methods prior to the second release. Where body weight remained steady or increased birds were re-released without radio transmitters.


Three group 1 peregrines gained weight after release, 2 lost weight and 1 could not be recaptured. All group 2 peregrines lost weight [loss range 4%-32%]. Four of the group 2 peregrines were found dead; one struck by a car. Necropsies on the other 3 found nothing significant other than emaciation.

All 4 group 1 goshawks gained weight after release. Three were recaptured a second time at 15, 6 and 2 months after initial recapture, indicating their long term survival. All 3 birds were in good condition. Six group 2 goshawks lost weight [loss range 9%-37%] and 1 group 2 goshawk died, necropsy showed nothing significant other than emaciation. One group 2 goshawk gained weight and 1 could not be recaptured but was seen alive 16 days post release.

Four goshawks and 1 peregrine in group 2 that lost weight after the initial release were taken back into captivity and exercised as group 1 birds before re release. All 4 goshawks gained weight after the second release. The peregrine lost 8% of its body-weight after the second release but this was substantially less than after the first release [18% of body-weight].

Results show training prior to release using traditional methods increases the survival chances of these birds. None of the group 1 birds died and most either maintained their release weight or gained. Group 2 birds commonly lost weight, all deaths were of group 2 birds. All but 1 of the group 2 birds retrained using traditional methods gained weight after the second release.

Successes between the 2 species were different. The goshawks from group 1 when recaptured had not lost weight, 2 of 5 peregrines on recapture had.

The data suggests peregrines need a more intense training regime than the goshawks. Peregrines tend to spend more time on the wing searching for prey than do goshawks who also search while perched.


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Next Meeting

The next WRIN General Meeting will be held on the Saturday the 5th of August 2017 starting 12:30pm at our usual venue, the Senior Citizen’s rooms Golden Square.

This will be WRIN’s Annual General Meeting and all committee positions will be declared vacant and available for nominations.  As it is the AGM there will be no speaker. All members are welcome please come along and have your say in the future direction of WRIN.

Afternoon tea will be provided all welcome..


Climate Change

A report by Birds Australia says there is mounting evidence that climate change will have, probably already is, having an impact on our bird species. The way they breed, migrate and feed are undergoing great changes even though the measurable increase in temperature in recent decades seems minor. Experts forecast if temperatures rise between 2C and 5C more than they were in 1990 by 2070 extinctions for some species will occur following a progressive collapse of regional populations. It is thought this collapse may already be happening.

The report is a collection of papers by scientists who say tropical and subtropical seabird breeding colonies in northern Australia are in decline. In an area of the Great Barrier Reef numbers of the Brown Booby have crashed by 85% since the 1980’s. In another area the numbers of 2 Tern species have fallen by 30%. The increasing incidence of El Nino weather events is causing the problems as warmer seas reduce fish availability as well as other foods for seabirds, it is thought the food is forced into deeper water. During the 2002 El Nino event the mortality of Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks on Heron Island was 100%. Two thousand [2000] adult birds also died.

The report identifies the birds of the savannas and rainforests of northern Australia as being among the most at risk from climate change with 55% of the 387 species recorded anticipated to suffer big population declines. In the wet tropics of north Queensland a suite of species that are confined to high altitude rainforests face extinction as temperatures rise. The Golden Bowerbird is one under particular threat. Chowchillas and Fernwrens habitat is also contracting upland at a steady rate.

It is believed the rise in temperature will cause sea levels to rise, ultimately vast areas of the wetlands of Kakadu and Gulf of Carpentaria will be covered by salt water, this will destroy the habitat of Magpie Geese and other freshwater birds. Elsewhere in the north hotter and more frequent fires will put pressure on other endangered birds such as Golden-shouldered Parrots and Gouldian Finches, an expected increase in the frequency of cyclones will impact on Cassowaries.

The warming is altering feeding behaviour and creating problems, Kookaburras are moving into higher mountain areas once too cold for them, they are feeding on Alpine Skinks who make no attempts to hide as the new arrivals are not considered a predator by the skinks. This species of skink is being wiped out.

Thirty one birds are considered to be at high risk of extinction, they include the Mallee Fowl, Orange-bellied Parrot, Albert’s Lyrebird, Hooded Plover and Fairy Tern.

The report goes on to say many birds that may have been able to adapt to climate change will be at risk because their habitat has been fragmented by land clearing. The report explains that temperature changes affect bird populations because climate regulates the geographic limits of their distribution; it sets boundaries of environmental conditions within which a species can function. Climate provides the energy and water inputs that determine rates of plant photosynthesis, growth and decomposition. Small changes in temperature may mean the habitat of a particular bird is no longer suitable for its needs. Noted climate related habitat changes in recent decades affecting bird populations include eucalypts encroaching into rain forests and woody weeds into inland woodlands; a 40% reduction in snow depth and the spread of trees into alpine meadows and glacial retreat in the sub Antarctic and Antarctic.

The report comments that all is not as gloomy as it may sound as warmer waters further south are boosting the numbers of temperate seabird species, eg. Australasian Gannet population has increased threefold in the past 2 decades in Bass Strait.

The warmer weather has led to northern bird species spreading south, Figbirds and Common Koels unknown as far south as Sydney are now seen in Victoria. Pied Butcherbirds, White-headed Pigeons and Pheasant Coucals have expanded their range south, their southward journey continues at a rate of between 100km to 150km a decade. This indicates some species have the ability to adapt. Others don’t.

Migration patterns established over thousands of years have markedly changed in a little more than a decade. White-throated Nightjars and Little Bronze-cuckoos, strict summer visitors to some areas now arrive earlier and stay later.

Breeding behaviour is changing, this is probably due to a combination of the warmer temperatures and decline in rainfall over the past 10 years. Studies of Masked Lapwings show birds are nesting 2 days earlier a year in north Queensland and one day later in southeast Australia. Breeding success of this species in Tasmania is declining by 1.5% a year.

Introduced weeds will prosper in the warmer temperatures, fire adapted weeds will accelerate the frequency and severity of fires. The Queensland government warns their extensive savanna woodlands in the north could end up as treeless plains. Invasive species are the big winners from climate change, this is not good for many birds. Increased levels of carbon dioxide are expected to reduce nitrogen levels in eucalypt leaves, reducing the populations of lerp insects. These lerp form a major portion of the diet of honeyeaters and many other bush birds.

Ed note : Over the past 10 years Garry and I have noticed a huge drop in the number of individual birds and the number of species in our region. As for the Lerp on eucalyptus trees, haven’t seen any for years, our gliders in care miss out on that treat each season.


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Extremely young pouch joeys need the high pouch humidity to help them retain moisture, but any moisture loss through the skin is made up for by suckling their milk which at this stage is very dilute. At this stage the immature kidneys cannot concentrate urine so there is a real risk of fluid loss through the kidneys. Passing dilute urine is potentially dangerous to the mother and young and, particularly in the dry conditions found in inland Australia, survival could be compromised but it doesn’t happen because the adult female ingests all waste produced by its in pouch young. This behaviour not only conserves water but also protects the young from bacterial infections in its gut; any bacteria in their faeces that enters the mother’s body induces an immune response in her and antibodies specific to that pathogen is later passed back to the joey in the immunoglobins of the milk.

A large percentage of joeys taken into care have reached the stage where they are able to regulate their own urine concentration. Some however, particularly pinks, may not yet have reached that stage so it is important that at every feed the bladder and bowel are stimulated to pass waste – don’t worry, you don’t have to mimic mums actions, gently stimulating the area between the uro-genital sinus and tail will cause the joey to begin to empty its bladder and bowel – but, failure to do this may end up causing urinary infections and/or constipation, both conditions are fatal if not treated. Stimulation can take place either before or after a feed but it is preferred that stimulation is after the feed, this way there is very little risk of bacteria being transferred to the mouth of the joey. Wash hands as soon as you have finished with the joey. If you have multiple joeys to feed then clean hands between each joey to ensure no bacteria can be transferred from one joey to another.

Always ensure the correct amount of formula is given at each feed, too much and you will end up with a joey that refuses to drink some or all of its allotted amount as it has an overloaded gut, maybe even a bloated gut – remember those delicious Christmas dinners; the ones where we just have to force in that extra cake or glass of wine? Remember how bloated and unwell we feel for hours afterwards? The joey will most likely also develop diarrhoea or at the least a much softer, runnier faecal consistency than normal. Either of these issues will quickly end up with the joey becoming dehydrated either from not taking in enough fluid or from the waste passing too rapidly through the body so the liquid component has not had a chance to be absorbed back into the body. Failure to address the situation immediately will impact on the joey and it isn’t unusual for a joey to end up dead, sometimes after a considerable time, simply because dehydration has not been corrected straight away.

There are several methods of re-hydrating, first the fluids can be given orally if the joey is willing to suckle, if dehydration is minimal and not caused by over feeding that has resulted in bloating, this may be the way to go; if dehydration has been estimated at up to 10% [when doing the pinch test, ie lifting the skin between the shoulder blades with your thumb and forefinger, the skin tents and is very slow returning to its normal position] then giving extra fluid sub-cutaneously [SC] is probably the preferred method, the warmed fluid is injected directly under the skin where it is rapidly absorbed into the body. It needs to be given by someone experienced in this method. I urge all carers to learn how to give fluids using this method or find a shelter who is willing to assist whenever necessary, remember you will not be able to hydrate the joey in one go. Critical dehydration requires intravenous fluid replacement [IV] this must be done by a veterinarian. Failing to hydrate any dehydrated animal will result in eventual, unnecessary death. Rehydrate over a period of 3 days. On day 1 offer the usual quantity of formula and 50% of the calculated required re-hydration fluid; on day 2 offer the usual amount of formula and 25% of the remaining replacement fluid amount, do this again on day 3. If the joey is refusing to take formula try electrolytes at alternate feeds.

To ensure our young animals remain healthy and well hydrated we generally offer 10% of body weight in formula over 24hrs, usually offering it over 5 feeds; 6 feeds if the joey is a small pink and 4 feeds if the joey is larger and spending a good amount of time out of the pouch. It has been my experience over 20+ years that young animals arriving for care will rapidly dehydrate if we offer much less than 10%, fluid over 24hrs, 8% often works well for most furred animals but pinks appear to dehydrate if not fed 10% and sometimes requiring more. Be particularly vigilant during the first few days to ensure the amount of formula you are giving is keeping the joey well hydrated.

It is also my preference to offer formula rather than electrolytes at each feed while also replacing the required amount of fluid SC to correct the dehydration.. An electrolyte replacer [Lectade, Vytrate, etc] is the preferred oral fluid if not using formula. For SC fluid use sterile 0.9% sodium chloride [saline]. Always warm to body temperature before use. I hope this is not too confusing. Call me anytime  if you have any queries.

A friend recently asked if giving fluids SC hurt. Yes it does, but it is over very quickly. You need to prepare everything prior to taking the joey from its pouch, as soon as the joey is in position you begin injecting the fluid that has already been warmed and is already in the syringes, it is over in minutes with the joey put straight back into its warm bed. Far better than trying to force unwanted fluid orally over half an hour, maybe much longer, this is extremely stressful and can cause gut discomfort and maybe pain, later on. It may also result in a joey being reluctant to take the teat and suckle.


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Shelter operators are sometimes stumped by the descriptions of birds or animals they receive over the phone and find it impossible to offer an identification. Similarly, when a patient arrives it can often be far removed from what has been expected and prepared for. Owls are mostly frogmouths, baby snakes are often legless lizards, baby rabbits are wombats and pinkie possums turn out to be rats! One of my most memorable was the day I received a call for a baby wedge-tailed eagle and what a bugger that was, Garry and I had just returned from transporting a juvenile Grey Goshawk and a Black Falcon to Healesville to Richard Naisbitt, Keeper-of-the-Mews, who shortly after became my mentor on anything raptorial as well as a very good friend to Garry and I. Another raptor, particularly a chick was not in my immediate plans.

Arrangements were made for the caller to bring the chick to me. About half an hour later I noticed a car driving through the second gate in our driveway – this is not on, no-one drives through that gate – I charged outside and signalled the driver to reverse back through the gate then pointed out the rather obvious sign attached to the gate to the person who had opened the gate. She then reached into the car and lifted out a feathered magpie chick sitting quietly in its nest. After her first few words I became a bit confused and asked “are you the people with the baby eagle?” Yes was the reply. I was then compelled to ask what seemed to me to be the obvious, if they knew the bird in the nest was a magpie. The response to this was the person holding the bird hit the driver on her shoulder and yelled “I told you it wasn’t an eagle” to which the driver replied, “but there’s lots of eagles nesting in that tree, they’re there all the time” [the tree was, apparently, a cypress in the front yard of their home] and with that she lifted the ‘tinny’ resting between her legs and took a long drink. I took the bird, the passenger climbed back into the car and the driver reversed down the drive and off they went leaving me more than a little in awe of how the driver had safely negotiated her way through the 2 gates going forward then managed to also reverse back to the road, but oh so thankful she had!! Mostly we try to reunite magpie young with their parents but I thought in this instance it possibly wasn’t in the best interests of the bird so settled it, still in the nest, in a suitable cage and it was eventually released with others.

The goshawk I mentioned needed flight and hunting practice prior to release [I had received him for care some time earlier as a few day old fluff ball]. The falcon had been in care for a number of weeks after being found on the ground, luckily for it the finder brought her to us immediately. She had a break to the radius, the smaller of the 2 bones that connect to bones at the wrist at one end and the elbow at the other [the same as our lower arm], hopes for her survival were not great but the radius was secured in place using those plastic fasteners used for securing garbage bags and our fingers were firmly crossed. With lots of care and good food she was finally ready to go but, being one of our rare raptor species, I wanted Richard to work with her prior to release.

What a magnificent bird the female falcon was. One of our more rare species and as angry a bird as we have ever cared for. Her food [her natural diet of other birds and mammals – dead of course] was thrown to her each morning and once or twice a week any remnants were cleaned up using a long handled plastic rake that I poked through the door, she would constantly attack the rake as it was being pushed backwards and forwards gathering the bones and feathers she left. I often commented to Garry that if he came home one day and couldn’t find me he should first look in the aviary where we kept the falcon, if my boots were in there then I hadn’t moved quickly enough and she’d dragged me through the door and had me for breakfast. I reckon 15 minutes would have been all she would have needed to reduce me to boots and bones.

I have special memories of taking those birds to Healesville, first, the weather – it was freezing; second, the trip – we got to the Macedon Ranges where the fog descended like a solid wall and within minutes we came to an abrupt halt behind a long line of stationary cars, it took a while before we found out there had been an accident. We were held up for almost 2 hours. Every 10 minutes or so I leapt out of our car – a large Toyota Hi-ace van – ran to the back door, opened it and threw myself into the back to check the birds – the people in the car behind must have thought I was crazy; and, third, after being stuck for so long in the fog panicking about the birds, I began to doubt my identification skills and wonder what Richard would think of my identification talents, as at one time I’d called him and said I thought the young Goshawk was actually a female Sparrowhawk as it was so tiny, then later called him again to say no, it’s just a very small male Goshawk.

On arrival Richard met us, gave the birds a quick look through the doors of their cages – he said he thought the ‘goshawk’ was a female sparrowhawk! Damn! He told us to go for a quick coffee while the vets checked the birds then come back to the surgery which we did. To my great joy he said the bird was a male Goshawk, but it was incredibly petite and made the comment that the Black Falcon was the first one taken to Healesville correctly identified, all others had been dark phase Brown Falcons and that was what he had been expecting. He was also pleased that only natural food had been given to both birds as he said most arrived in poor condition having been fed mince or chicken fillets. We were given a tour of the mews, visiting all raptors in care and I was privileged to be given permission to hold a fluffy rare Grass Owl chick that was being hand raised. A very long but immensely rewarding day.


And then there are the correct identifications that we have a little trouble believing :



Earlier this year I received a call from the WRIN phone operator to say she had received a call for a crocodile. It was on the footpath outside a particular building. The location had been given to the rescuer and he was on the way. My suggestion to the surprised operator was that it was probably a lizard.” Well, just goes to prove not all people have difficulty identifying wildlife. The rescuer called in, from a distance he was sure it was a crocodile, yes, it was definitely a crocodile. Our rescuer, apparently, approached the small specimen with care, picked it up and placed it in a box, it had a leg injury – the leg was hanging off – he also mentioned there was sawdust trickling from the ‘wound!’ I saw it later on and it sure looked real. In fact it was a mounted specimen.

This funny episode got the phone operator telling me about the call she had on New Years Eve regarding an elephant in a dam, she said she played along with the caller saying she would send a rescuer but some heavy equipment would be required to lift the elephant out of the water. I suggested perhaps it should be investigated – tongue in cheek – as some years ago I received a call about an elephant in one of our local forests, it had been seen in a garden, the caller said it had damaged a couple of fences and left several serves of fertilizer. Being summer there were a number of logical explanations to the sighting – too much sun; too much liquid refreshment, etc. There was eventually a logical answer and many apologies made to the caller whose garden had been visited. Seems there had been a circus in Dunolly, a few kms north of our place and Jenny the elephant had decided a jaunt through our local forests would be something of a change so she spent several days wondering through our bush. I’m still amazed that it took several days to refind her after the reports from all the people whose gardens she had visited. trampled and fertilized. It’s not as if a full grown elephant could hide behind a tree, at least not the trees in central Victoria, most are smaller than SEC poles! But goes to show we should never disregard calls.

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I’m often asked why a baby bird has died while being hand raised. There can be many reasons, the most common are : incorrect temperature – usually no heat provided; dehydration; blocked vent; starvation and stress.

Starvation is often a problem as food may be being offered only 3 or 4 times a day. Most baby birds need feeding often, as much as every half hour. Heat is critical and even in the extremely hot weather we are currently experiencing new arrivals will probably need some artificial heat, single birds definitely, at least for a few days. It is important to supply a nest, don’t leave the chick/s sitting in an ice cream container with a handful of tissues. Ice cream containers suitably lined with soft cloth with extra padding on the bottom make comfortable nests. It’s also a good idea to twist a roll of soft cloth around the inside of the container to make the ‘nest’ into a suitable size, for instance a clutch of Thornbills, even Wattlebird chicks will rattle around in the container unless the inside size is reduced so the birds are packed neatly together. Place the nest on a heat pad. I most often use an old electric saucepan, lined as for the ice cream container, it is fabulous and is also used for tiny sugar gliders, antechinus, and possums, as well as the occasional bat.

In the natural situation the heat generated by the adult sitting bird and the young chicks is moist, our heat is a dry heat so include a container of water covered with net. Although baby birds do not drink, in our artificial situation, and when the weather is very hot, you may need to offer the chicks fluid. On arrival my chicks usually have their food dipped in full cream natural yogurt – warmed – a few times, then food is dipped either in the Wombaroo First Aid for Birds or plain water.

For parrots, doves, etc that are fed a hand raising mix I prefer to feed directly into the crop using a crop needle, this method is quick, clean and most importantly I know exactly how much the bird has taken in, there is no risk of starvation. The parrots we have had in care over the last 6 or 7 weeks were fed every 2 hours for the first 48 hours so I could establish their requirements then every 3 hours for the first month. For the first two weeks between each feed they were given water, also with a crop needle directly into the crop. Most of these birds arrived for care within 24 hours of hatching so ensuring they didn’t become too dry in the saucepan was critical. After the first month they were left for up to 4 hours between each feed then the routine became 4 hourly the same as the joeys, 5 times each day [checking the crop regularly to see if it is emptying should be done before each feed]. Then their hand rearing mix was mixed with budgie starter this is coarser and contains small seeds. This was offered on a spoon, it took 2 days for the birds to become proficient feeding off the spoon, it also meant I had to check the crop of each bird after each feed to see if enough had been taken and thoroughly clean any food from around their mouths. Seeding grasses were also placed into their cage to encourage pecking as well as a water container and perches, after a few days small seed [canary mix] was also sprinkled on the floor of their cage.

When insectivorous birds have begun to pick up their own food, I continue to dip any artificial mixes in water to provide moisture but a container of water is also placed in the cage. Nectar feeding birds have a container of nectar mix in their cage but it is not left there all the time, it is important that honeyeaters don’t overdo the nectar mix and not take the supplied insects, bugs, etc. Nectar should make up no more than 15% of their total food intake.

Whole body eating birds – frogmouths, owls, magpies, currawongs, etc should not be fed fur or feathers for a few days when very small, try to keep any artificial mixes to a minimum and progress to the natural food including fur, feathers and bone as soon as possible. Natural food is vital to grow a strong healthy body.

When passing waste, some species will back up to the edge or entrance to their nest and squirt the faeces away from the nest; the parents of some sp will remove the faeces and some just poo straight into the nest. In the artificial situation the poo generally stays within the confines of the nest. This must be removed at each feed and at least once each day check the vent of the chicks to ensure the faeces are not stuck on the vent and preventing the passing of further faeces. You will notice that some chicks may poo as soon as they realize a feed is being offered, some after the first offering, have a tissue ready and collect the dropping, this will assist with keeping the nest and chicks clean. Change the nest liner as often as necessary, do not let soiled liners stay in the nest [I have had one instance where a bird arrived for care after being kept for several days in a nest that had never been changed, the bottom of the nest was crawling with maggots – and so was the chick!

As with all species, stress will also kill chicks, stick to the usual no stress routine – no handling unless necessary; no predator species close by; no loud, sudden noises; warm food; suitable nest.

Do not assume that because your bird can pick up food in a cage or aviary that it can find and catch its own on release. A slow death will be the result of a bird suddenly left to fend for itself.

All young birds will need supplementary feeding for some time after release. Soft releases are best for hand raised chicks, if you cannot soft release then it is in the best interest of the bird[s] that they are handed over to a carer who can when they first arrive, not when it’s time to release. Seed eating birds will recognise seeding grasses if these have been supplied throughout their time in care so provided there is plenty to choose from they should be okay but birds that eat live food will not be able to sustain themselves without some help, sometimes for a few weeks. Even magpies have to perfect their hunting skills, yes they hear the food underground but digging into the dirt and making a strike doesn’t happen for some time. Birds that take food on the wing take a long time to hone their hunting skills, without some training, and assistance with handouts for a time, these birds will not survive.

Crimson Rosella, almost 3 weeks being crop fed

Full crop, no mess,no fuss

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The  White  Winged Chough [pronounced chuff and sometimes known as Black Jay  locally]  is  still fairly common in our area although we see them less now than we used to, perhaps they are having to enlarge their food gathering areas so take longer to complete the circuits. A  Chough is a large black bird that has a white under-wing patch that is  only visible  in  flight or when the bird is displaying. Another  feature  is  the down curved bill and the red eye of birds over 4 years old.

In over 20 years I have only received one or two young Choughs in the shelter for care. Once the bird has been checked to ensure it is healthy and not injured the only way to ensure its survival is to return it to its family or find another group and persuade them to take the young bird under their wing, so to speak. It is rare the offer of a new member for the family is rejected, the young birds are usually quickly accepted into the new group.

Choughs have a very interesting and tough life, an article published in the Australian  Nature magazine several years ago  gave us a peek into the lives of these large, gregarious birds.

Life for a Chough is particularly hard and a pair simply  cannot  breed without help. This explains why Choughs are found in groups of 4 to 20  birds during the breeding season. When not breeding more than one group of Choughs’ may come together to a regular food source. A  lot  of their food comes from beneath the ground and  therefore  the  birds spend  a lot of time digging holes, some up to 20cm deep. Digging uses a  lot of  time and energy and old birds learn that digging around grass tussocks  is more  likely  to  yield  a  beetle larvae  or  something  else  edible.  More importantly,  mature  birds learn when to give up digging in  an  unproductive patch whereas young birds will continue to dig and end up with nothing for all the energy expended. Choughs are interesting to watch as they search for food on the forest  floor, often they are so engrossed in their search that they don’t notice an observer and  will  carry on tossing leaf litter from side to side in search  of  their elusive meal.

Choughs  build a large bowl shaped mud nest approximately 35cm  across.  Four eggs that take 3 weeks to hatch are laid by the breeding pair, the young  then take  4  weeks to fledge; young are fed for up to 8 months.  Many  songbirds  only  look after their young for twice the  nesting  period  but Choughs  continue  their support for up to 8 times the  nesting  period.  The young  must  have  this  support  until  they  master  their  basic   survival techniques. The  time and experience needed to find food means that one pair alone  cannot supply  all that is required to feed a clutch of young.

Of the  few  recorded attempts  by  single pairs of Choughs to nest they have lost  their  young  to starvation. The minimum viable group size is 4 and even so these 4 will  only raise  one  chick. Each additional helper increases the chances of  a  chicks survival to where a group of 10+ can occasionally raise all 4 chicks.

The offspring from previous years help in all instances from building the nest through to caring for the fledglings.

Neighbouring  groups  of  birds  will sometimes  destroy  each  others  nests, intruders peck at the foundations of the nest in an attempt to dislodge it, if this is unsuccessful they will destroy the eggs.

If  the  nest  is destroyed it often stops a group from  breeding  again  that season  as the mud needed to rebuild may not be available at the time.  These delaying  tactics reduce the competition for food from groups close by  giving the intruders young a better chance of survival.

Kidnapping also occurs amongst Choughs with large groups ganging up on smaller groups. Some birds from a large group will engage members of a smaller  group in  battle  whilst others approach a juvenile and attempt to entice  it  away using  a tail-wave and wing-wave maneouvre. If the enticement  is  successful the  young bird is fed immediately and within a short period it acts as if  it has  always been with the group. Young Choughs appear to be  easily  confused and  perhaps have not developed a bonding with their group so early in  life. Kidnapping  doesn’t  occur later than a month or so after  fledging  when  the birds have more than likely bonded to their home group. A  group  of birds willing to feed someone elses offspring for 7  months  must surely be an indication just how desperate a group is to gain another  helper. Does this show how hard life is for a Chough?

DNA  fingerprinting has found that when the structure of  a  group  of Choughs is stable one pair dominates the reproduction year after year but when deaths  in  the  family  have fragmented  groups,  helpers  try  out  different combinations  with others that they meet in their travels until they work  out who is likely to produce the best offspring.

Chough groups are highly inbred, often the breeding pairs are closely related. Disasters such as droughts that cause members of groups to die may well be the way new blood is brought into family groups.

Chough's Mud Nest


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HARRY POTTER [named because nobody wanted him]

Thanks to phone assistant Jenny there’s also a happy ending to the story of Potter, a small wallaby whose mother was hit and left alive in the Woodend area on 9th September. Jenny was unable to get anyone to respond either to the injured adult or the small joey so called a member of her family who lived in the region and who agreed to pick up the joey to ensure it was safe and didn’t also become a road victim. Jenny then drove to Malmsbury to pick up the joey,placed it into a pouch with a hot water bottle and then transported it to me.

A check showed very erratic, difficult breathing, this could have meant fluid, possibly blood, in the lungs; he could not stand although no structural damage could be found. He was also dehydrated despite his mother still being alive that morning and the caller assuring Jenny he had been the person who had hit her. Our only theory is that mum had already been injured when she made her way onto the road, possibly up to a couple of days before, and she had stopped producing milk or perhaps been in enough pain to not want the joey to suckle [I have had this experience before]. Pain relief was given as were antibiotics to cover any possible problem to the lungs and the joey was then placed into a warmed bed to settle. The joey was checked a little later, breathing was still very much abnormal. I considered soft tissue damage was probably the reason for its being unable to stand despite there being no swelling to any part of the body, neither did any area feel warmer than it should which would indicate damage. It was decided to take the joey to the vet as soon as it could be arranged. Being Saturday afternoon, this took a little time as I traced my vet from place to place – what did we ever do before mobile phones?

A thorough check was made by the vet who diagnosed a possible collapsed lung, with probably lots of bruising. Antibiotics had already been given on arrival so they would already be doing their work. The inability to stand was also put down to soft tissue damage only despite nothing being visible. Twenty four hours later while feeding him I noticed underneath one foot had swollen to almost twice its normal size, the swelling was not noticeable on the top of the foot, it was worse around the heel area. Despite lots of probing and manipulating I could still not find any injury. After another 24 hours I decided to ask my vet to call in to check the swelling. After a thorough examination I was assured there were no broken bones, damaged ligaments or any other damage that would prevent Potter finally walking [although I had to promise not to be mad if something eventually surfaced]. Three weeks down the track Potter was able to stand and a little later began to tentatively explore around my feet. Soon he began hopping around the kitchen and then explored further around the house, each time he disappeared I waited with held breath for his return, always fearful I would have to go looking and would find him laying unable to move. These days Potter is spending time outside, he loves nothing more than standing up to Mitzi, a larger wallaby, and when bottle time comes around he’s always first in line and thinks nothing of attempting to beat up the much larger kangaroos; if he isn’t fed first everyone suffers. He’s come a long way from the little 900gm animal whose daily routine included pain killing injections, antibiotic injections and sub-cutaneous fluid therapy [fluid given directly under the skin]. Despite all his problems he has more than doubled his weight in the 2 months he’s been in care.


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Rosie, the first of the burnt wallabies to arrive weighed 4.6kg, the pads on the underside of both feet had been burnt away. Vets had washed her feet and applied wet dressings, her hands had also been treated and strapped; eyelashes and whiskers were also burnt, her fur was singed, especially around the end of her tail. Rosie had then been taken to the Alderson home where Garry and I had picked her up along with her medical treatment chart from the triage area. She was made comfortable in our bedroom so she could be constantly monitored and not frightened by the other animals in care. Exactly one week later [WRIN meeting day] Garry and I again drove to the Alderson’s and this time picked up 2 smaller wallabies, one with badly burnt and blistered feet [3.5kg], the other smaller and not burnt but with a non-fixable leg injury. Although a medical chart was written up for every animal that was taken to the triage area, there were so many animals arriving that records and animals became separated so positive ID’s became impossible.

Ros showed me the feet of the second wallaby and asked what I thought, her pads had been burnt away but the flesh on the underside of the feet was also blistered, particularly on one foot, I said I would give her a few days to see what happened. Wet dressings were done every morning on both burnt wallabies. After 4 or 5 days the wet dressings were discontinued and daily dressings using a specific burns cream [Silvazine] began. I was pleased with their progress, especially Lily’s. After about a week the upper side of the feet of both wallabies developed the same problem, presenting first with Lily. There had been no indication of any problems anywhere other than the underside of the feet, but then I had seen the same thing happen to Icarus, a Black Wallaby treated for burnt feet 12 months earlier. Lily was having her feet flushed one morning – this is done gently but firmly – when an area of furred skin on the upper left side of one foot sloughed away and exposed an area of bare flesh about 1cm x 1cm with pus around the edges, the area was cleansed with saline then treated with a different cream than what was being used for the burnt area, a cortisone based ointment, a mix of antibiotic, anaesthetic and pain reliever and it worked exceptionally well. The same happened to Lily’s other foot and she ended up with 2 large raw areas on the upper side of each foot as well as burns coming out along the outer edges of both feet. Exactly the same thing happened with Rosie. Also at some stage prior to capture but after the initial burns Lily must have stood on a still burning twig that had burnt deeply into the flesh, this had been covered over by the drying off of the burnt flesh over the entire foot and was exposed as we gradually sloughed off the dead and dry burnt skin, what a shock that morning as the dead flesh slowly sloughed away exposing a long weeping jagged burn line beginning on the main toe and extending about a third of the way down the foot, it looked as if someone had pressed a scalpel blade into the flesh and ripped downwards.

The day before Lily arrived I had noticed Rosie was beginning to walk unevenly as though it was painful to walk – what a silly statement when you consider both feet were burnt raw! On examination I found what looked and felt like a corn developing right in the centre of the main toe. The next morning it was off to the vet to have this area checked out. It was diagnosed as a corn but the vet wasn’t sure whether to surgically remove it right then or wait for the burn to heal before opening the foot. I suggested doing it right away rather than waiting several weeks then opening up a freshly healed area and risking infection problems so it was done straight away. The large hole healed over amazingly fast, in less than 48hrs you would hardly know a crater had been gouged out of the flesh and Rosie was obviously feeling much better, so much so that she decided to liberate herself by trying to break out through the bedroom wall.

It was decided a change of scenery was needed and that’s when the computer room was cleared out and the wallabies moved in. Everything that couldn’t be removed was covered with sheets. It was relatively plain sailing for a while, dressings were done daily for 3 weeks, the 14 large towels covering the waterproof sleeping bags and blankets that were covering the floor were changed and washed daily before my helper arrived to hold the sedated wallabies while I did the dressings. Lily was never happy and not long after arriving it became necessary to board up the lower half of the full length window. As more time passed it became obvious that the 2 wallabies were not getting on and we had outbreaks of fighting and even more mess to clean up so the room was laboriously divided in half so each had a separate area, this behavior wasn’t all that unusual as we were dealing with larger animals, nowhere near adult but definitely not pouch babies.

After 3 weeks the dressings were changed to every second day, this went on for about 3 weeks then extended to every third day. Eventually the time between became longer. After about 7 weeks it was decided to leave the feet unwrapped to see what happened. By this time the feet of both wallabies were developing small areas of new grey pad except for the area around where the corn was removed from Rosie’s toe, there was no sign of new pad growth in this area. A concern with leaving the feet uncovered was damage to the fresh new skin which was quite dry and looking really good. It was decided to try an over-the-counter Vitamin A healing ointment to assist in 2 ways, firstly to keep the new skin moist and prevent cracking which would be disastrous and secondly to hopefully assist with new growth. The Ungvita was put on reasonably thickly and the feet covered with gauze then vet wrap, at the second change of this new dressing the Ungvita was applied in a thinner layer and I spent several minutes gently massaging the ointment over all new areas and between the toes, this application and massaging went on at each foot examination, occasionally I would choose to apply a dressing if I thought it necessary.

By now the time required for treating the feet had been reduced from a minimum of 2 hours to about an hour. Soon I began sedating them once a week to give the feet a thorough check over, Lily was never easy to capture but once in my arms was fine, between the 2 of us we developed a routine that I named the ‘capture ballet’ the scenario was exactly the same each time, slow and quiet manouevres culminating in a bottle of formula once in my arms. Rosie allowed herself to be picked up but once in my arms told the world she wasn’t happy with loud screams, growls and meowing, all the time kicking her legs, she was picked up only for sedating. Funnily enough right up until the day of release she would tumble herself into the hanging pouch in her section of the room, she would either lay in bed or stand for her milk [not once did Lily ever get into her pouch voluntarily].

One morning it was obvious that I would no longer be picking up and sedating Rosie to check her feet, she had grown into such a big strong animal weighing almost 7kg that I could no longer hold her securely and there was too much risk she would injure herself – she drew blood on my arms or legs every time without fail. From then on brief checks were done while she lay in bed taking her milk, these checks were mostly accepted with good grace and little, if any, vocalisation.

Several days prior to their release it was becoming obvious that both animals wanted to be gone, their behavior had been changing dramatically over the previous few days, my nights were spent listening to their arguing and banging and worrying that one would attempt to leap into the others area and be injured. It was with mixed feelings that I rang Ros early one morning after very little sleep and said they had to go, preferences would have been another couple of weeks in care. Their stress was showing in a number of ways, one of the most common and obvious – the poo – it was changing from beaut easy to pick up balls to a much softer consistency and a much greater volume, I was now changing the 14 towels at least twice a day, thank heavens for those hot summer days.

The following day they were sedated for the last time and transported back to a safe spot with lots of fresh food, water and nice soft substrate. How Ros Alderson managed all her charges I’ll never know, she had many more burn victims in care plus all the regulars. Lily and Rosie combined with the dozen others in care took all of my time and energy which was made much easier with the assistance of Katja who missed only 2 days of helping with the dressings and feeds of the other animals in care.


Rosie, about day 3 after fresh wet dressings applied to hands and feet. Still wearing ID necklace

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