We all like to encourage birds and other wildlife into our gardens, don’t we? But do we all know how to care for wild garden birds properly?
I have a story to tell you…
We immediately realised that Scruffy was very poorly. However, you can’t catch and seek care for a creature that can fly away from you before you even get close to it. We knew that we had to watch him, and we increased the frequency of the cat patrols that my husband puts himself on. We knew that Scruffy might be vulnerable, as he appeared to be weaker than the rest of his flock – in spite of the fact that he’s obviously quite high up in his flock’s pecking order. Usually a sick bird will be killed by its peers, but every day there’s Scruffy, standing tall in spite of looking like hell. We could see some kind of nasty injury, but obviously we couldn’t get close enough to even attempt to inspect it.
Scruffy’s personality is unique. Even if he didn’t look different I think we could still pick him out from the rest of his flock. Very much “Cock of the walk” with a distinctive way of standing fully upright and almost marching around the garden. A real hard nut, but not at all aggressive; the other Doves in his flock have always given him space.
Until yesterday. Yesterday was Scruffy’s last. My husband found him outside on the patio – alive, but so weak that he was lying there with both wings spread out on either side in an attempt to support his own weight, which had failed.
Scruffy spent a few hours warming up in a box in front of our double radiator. He had food and water, and we occasionally heard him moving around, munching and even squeaking. We took this as a good sign.
However, even somebody like myself – who is quite educated when it comes to our avian friends – doesn’t know it all. I decided that Scruffy was best off with the local wildlife vet, and so we took him there.
We had been home for less than an hour when the phone call came. Scruffy’s “injury” wasn’t inflicted by a predator or another bird. His crop had herniated and he had spent the last four weeks or more unable to digest seed. He had been starving to death, his issue wasn’t operable and so the vet had to do the honourable thing and euthanise him.
There is a suspicion that Scruffy’s crop herniated because he’d eaten something that he shouldn’t. Possibly dry bread, or even something too salty that somebody thought would be okay and put it out for the birds.
So here is a short list of do’s and don’ts:
Drain off fat from cooking/frying meat and allow it to harden into fat cakes. You can add leftover vegetables and chicken, seeds, dried fruit and approved berries to the mix.
Keep all feeders clean – empty and wash them regularly.
All meat should be finely chopped or – better yet – shredded or minced. Birds find it easier to digest.
Lard, dripping or suet is also good for birds, giving them the essential winter fat that they need in order to stay warm against the cold.
Buy approved bird feed from pet, garden and farm centres if you are unsure what to feed your garden birds.
Always make sure that your garden birds have a daily supply of fresh water.
Never feed birds bread. It has no nutritional value and swells inside the birds’ crops before they can even try to digest it. This is probably what happened to Scruffy.
Salty foods are a big no-no. Gammon and heavily salted bacon are off the menu.
Don’t feed birds any nuts that are meant for human consumption. They have usually been roasted and salted and are unsuitable for our garden friends. Only use nuts that have been approved and are meant for wildlife.
No spiced foods. Also, pasta dries out and so your leftover lasagne will have the same effect on your winged friends as bread will – it will expand again on contact with any ingested water and cause tragic consequences.
Absolutely no vegetable oils or pizza crusts.
That is all that comes to mind for now, but I think that’s enough. If you’re unsure about anything else, please contact a bird centre (RSPB here in England; I don’t know about anywhere else) or a wildlife vet.
Scruffy kept himself so upright because of the herniation to his crop. We had no way of knowing, as you cannot – sadly – help a bird until it is, itself, completely helpless. Scruffy spent the last weeks of his life in terrible pain, both from the herniation and from starving to death in spite of eating.
Please. Do not be the person who kills a bird through ignorance. Perhaps what happened to Scruffy was something that was always going to happen to him anyway, but it could also have been down to somebody not knowing enough about what to feed birds. We will never know.
Sleep well, Scruffy. You are already sorely missed by the humans who tried their best to take care of you.