Learning to Fly a Kite

Posted on: December 18th, 2018 by Alice

Each year, the training schedule of all new birds is divided among the Bird Team. To get the most out of each bird, we know from experience that it is best to have a one or two people assigned to each bird, at least initially, to build confidence. This summer, Kat Ralph has been working with a young Black Kite and we’ve been catching up with her to find out more about what this process involves:


Hospital Diaries – November

Posted on: December 3rd, 2018 by Alice

Winter can be a tough time of year for wild birds of prey, particularly young birds facing their first winter. We’ve been catching up with Cedric Robert, our National Bird of Prey HospitalTM Manager, to find out more about some of the most recent patients:

“November has been an eventful month for me in the hospital, so I am going to give you an insight to just one week last month. We started the week with only one indoor bay available inside the hospital and all outdoor rehabilitation aviaries were full. I was very eager to be back to work for this week because I knew it would be quite challenging and also because I’d have the chance to release a few birds back to the wild – a real highlight of my job.

“During the week, we released four birds that had been successfully rehabilitated, including:

It doesn’t happen often, but I had the chance to release one of the Tawny Owls and the Barn Owl back to the wild. At this time of the year, despite the cold, it’s great because we don’t have to wait too late for it to be dark enough to release these birds. Watch videos of the release of the Tawny Owl and Barn Owl below.

“I was hoping to release an additional four birds but, unfortunately, with further observations of their flying abilities it became apparent that they needed more rehabilitation time before they are returned to the wild. The two Red Kites in our care required additional time to gain strength. There is a Kestrel currently moulting and we’re waiting for it to grow a full set of tail feathers as without these, it is struggling to fly. There is a second Kestrel who was admitted with a wing trauma and who is still receiving care inside the hospital – I hope to move him to an outdoor rehabilitation aviary soon with the ultimate hope of releasing him back to the wild during December.

“Before any birds are released to the wild, Dr Matt Stevens, our UK Conservation Biologist, fits each bird with a leg ring so that if it is sighted again in the future, we’ll be able to gain further insight to its movements and the success of our rehabilitation work.

“With some birds released back to the hospital, we also admitted three birds during the week, including two juvenile Kestrels and a Tawny Owl, all of which are low in condition.

“Overall, it’s been a very eventful week for me in hospital, but a successful one too. Every bird that is admitted to our care requires a tremendous amount of work and care to get to the point when we can release it back to the wild, but the result always makes it worthwhile. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful volunteers who help me in the hospital, including Caroline, Tony, Ralph, Jeremy, Derek and Don who come in every single week and whose help is invaluable.”

On average, it costs us £174 each day to run our hospital – you can help support this important work by donating or become a supporter.

Breeding and Incubating Birds of Prey

Posted on: September 24th, 2018 by Alice

We’re often asked about breeding birds of prey, so we’ve been catching up with Mike Riley (a senior member of our Bird Team) to find out more about incubation:

Incubation is the artificial brooding and rearing of eggs and is sometimes used over natural incubation for a number of reasons:

  1. In the case of endangered species, you can sometimes encourage the parent birds to have a second clutch of eggs if you take the first clutch for incubation. If successful, this method increases the total number of chicks for the year. This can sometimes happen in the wild if something has gone wrong with the first clutch of eggs, or in really successful years and everything is right they can bring up two clutches of youngsters.
  2. First-time parents don’t always have success if they’re not sure what to do, so rather than risk the whole clutch of eggs we can leave the parent birds with one egg and then incubate the others. Instinct should kick in and they will gain the experience they need without the complete clutch being sacrificed if this doesn’t happen.
  3. When working with birds as we do at the Trust, training is tailored to the specific species and bird. For owls, this involves taking eggs for incubation and raising them from day one. This ensures that the owls are more relaxed and confident around people.
  4. On very rare occasions, we are brought eggs by the public when a tree has come down with a nest in it; incubation gives these eggs a chance that they would not have had in the wild.

Setting up for incubation

To incubate eggs successfully we not only need incubators but the environment that they are placed in also needs to be set up correctly. The room temperature must be lower than 37.7 degrees celsius; large vents in the walls or door can help keep the temperature down, though it can lead to problems with increased moisture into the room. To counteract this, a dehumidifier is used.

The incubators themselves must be set to 37.7 degrees which is why it is critical to set the temperature & humidity of the environment correctly, otherwise the incubators are constantly trying to equalise and the fluctuations will cause the eggs to fail.

If any of these conditions are not correct, it can stop the embryo developing correctly.

Incubating the eggs

Once the eggs have been collected they are candled (a light is shone through the egg to see if there are any signs that the egg is fertile), weighed and recorded. On average, eggs lose 16% of their mass from when it is laid to when it hatches. If we get an egg from the moment it is laid and weigh it, this is known as its ‘fresh egg weight’. Knowing the fresh egg weight and the amount of weight it needs to lose helps us ensure we are providing the correct conditions for the egg. For example, a Harris’ Hawk incubation period is 32 days on average, knowing its fresh egg weight we can work out using an equation that this species needs to lose 0.3g per day. Most eggs are weighed daily to make sure that they are losing the correct weight, If the egg is losing too much weight per day then we can increase the humidity in the incubator to slow it down, or we can decrease the humidity to encourage weight loss. The incubator has rollers inside which the eggs sits between, the incubator turns the eggs 180° one way and then after a period of time it will turn it back the other way.

How the egg develops

As the egg starts to incubate you can see development when candling the egg. The first evidence is the development of veins appearing around the inside of the egg shell, these veins appear like tentacles swirling around inside the egg. Sometimes you begin to see things like the head and later on the chick starting to move about within the egg (if the shell is not too dense).

As the chick develops you will see an increase in size of a pocket of air at the top of the egg; this is called the air-sac and is separated from the chick by a membrane. When the chick is due to hatch it breaks into the air-sac, this is known as internally pipped and gives the chick around two days of oxygen prior to piping the shell itself. When it has internally pipped we move the egg into a wet incubator that no longer rotates the egg. It is kept at the same temperature but with higher humidity levels to allow the chick to move about.

The hard work now starts for the chick, they have to crack the shell of the egg, this is known as externally pip. Once this is done, oxygen can reach the chick from outside so that it can breathe as it starts its long and tiring task of hatching. Hatching can take anything from a few hours to a few days.

If all goes well the chick should hatch problem free at the end of its incubation period.







The Joys of Winter

Posted on: November 10th, 2017 by Alice

This is always a funny time of year for our Bird Team; moving from the hectic schedule of our high season into the winter timetable, there is so much change that happens all of a sudden. (more…)

White-headed Vulture chick named

Posted on: June 23rd, 2017 by Alice

On Thursday 9 March a tiny, fluffy White-headed Vulture chick joined our team and we are now pleased to announce that we have named it Severus.


Another White-headed Vulture chick

Posted on: April 4th, 2017 by Alice

On Thursday 9 March a tiny, fluffy White-headed Vulture chick joined our team and we were ecstatic!


White-headed Vulture Aviary Project

Posted on: December 20th, 2016 by Alice

Each year, all aviaries are given a deep clean and refurbishment where necessary. As part of his apprenticeship, Ben Cox took on the job of working with the White-headed Vulture aviary.


White-headed Vulture hatched at the Trust

Posted on: July 14th, 2016 by Louise

Delight as White-headed Vulture is hatched at the Trust – fantastic news for this Critically Endangered species.


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