Varnish on feathers puts swan in a sticky situation

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At least the weather now is looking more like spring so we are thinking of putting some of our larger hedgehogs that have been kept awake through the winter outside to get them ready for release.

This should give us a little time to spring clean the recovery room.

Jim & co are busy building the new aviary which will be very useful when the orphans start arriving.

We are used to having to deal with swans with some sort of contamination of their feathers. This is usually oil of some sort which we know how to deal with. This week Brian from the RSPCA arrived with a beautiful adult swan with a brown ‘scum line’ where it had swum through something nasty.

We checked the bird over. Fortunately, only the top layer of feathers were damaged. The bird was happy to be in the water which was a good sign as the contaminant had not affected the bird’s waterproofing to a very great degree. We examined the damaged feathers and agreed it looked like varnish. The photograph shows the ‘tide mark’ on the bird.

Brian told us that the swan’s mate was in the same state but he was not able to catch the bird. They were a breeding pair on a lake by a boatyard which confirmed our fears, someone had been careless with a pot of varnish.

We had no idea what would be best to remove the varnish or if we should even try. White spirit is not good for feathers and this was probably the only thing that would remove the varnish.

We consulted the vet who made a phone call to Slimbridge to get some advice. They told us not to treat the bird but return it to its mate and allow the varnish to wear off. After the birds have nested they will moult and hopefully this will bring them back to their ‘Persil White’ look.

Brian happily came up and took the swan back also taking two other birds that had come from the same area to release.

Another arrival this week was a heron. The bird had been spotted by the side of the river hunched up and not looking quite right. It had not been seen looking for food at all for several days. When it came in it had been attacked by other birds and pecked badly around its head.

It looked quite forlorn when I first saw it after David the vet had checked it over. He prescribed antibiotics and painkiller.

After a couple of days treatment it looked a little brighter but had eaten nothing so Kay encouraged it by putting whitebait down its throat while I held it. At first it put up no resistance at all and seemed very weak but after a few days it began to show us it did not want to be messed with. This was a very good sign. I will let you know how it goes on next week.

We have a new volunteer starting this week. If you would like to join us please call in any morning (except Saturday) when someone will be there to show you round and explain what we do.

That’s all for this week.