REHABILITATING BIRDS Dr Phillipa Mason Healesville Sanctuary
Birds represent the largest group of wild animals seen at Healesville Sanctuary annually. Of the approximately 1,300 animals admitted to the Sanctuary by community members, government employees and carers, 56.5% are birds. Despite the need for experienced bird handlers and carers, there are very few who have the experience, the knowledge or the facilities to adequately rehabilitate birds. This paper outlines the main housing facilities, feeding regimes and handling required by a variety of bird species. First aid and the commonly seen injuries and diseases in Australian birds are also covered. The role of the wildlife carer is one of profound importance. They are the first point of contact and often offer advice to the public. It is a rare bird that is able to be caught and does not need veterinary attention. Any delay in rescue and treatment by a veterinarian can influence the fate of the bird. Quick, accurate diagnosis is essential to ensure injuries can be treated correctly with the most favourable outcome. After veterinary attention, wildlife carers are often the people that look after the birds until they are fit enough for release. With all birds it is important to seek veterinary care quickly. Find a vet that is knowledgeable or at least keen to learn more. Open wounds have a small window of opportunity to be fixed and often need to be attended to within 24 hours of the injury occurring. All fractures into joints will lead to arthritis and birds should be euthanised for humane reasons. Feeding can be complex and should be altered for different species. As a general rule, if a patient is eating one thing all the time (not including whole prey items which consist of multiple dietary requirements), the diet will not be balanced. Rehabilitation facilities can be modified to suit different birds, but should include staging enclosures to increase the room for exercise as necessary. Adequate fitness for the lifestyle of the bird is essential before re-release should go ahead. Birds make interesting, challenging and rewarding patients. They do not require the same intensity of care as hand-raising marsupials and the average time they spend in rehabilitation is around 6 weeks. There are many different species to become familiar with, so the case load is never boring. Best of all, watching a bird fly again, makes all the effort worthwhile.